I admit to being unmoved at news of the passing of Walter Cronkite. I'm sure he was a decent guy on a personal level. And professionally, yes, he became the news industry's voice of authority for a time. But that age, that industry, passed long, long before Cronkite did. I never liked his "and that's the way it is" sign-off. It bespoke a certainty that the papers, the networks, and the wire services understood stories and could be relied upon to get them right, a certainty that the product never justified. Some notable exceptions aside, I'd argue that the strength of the news media then was the persistence to get the story right eventually. The process might take years, but you'd get there. In the meantime, you settled for what appeared to be a straightforward recitation of the facts. Sometimes, you'd get more, as with Cronkite's famous pronouncement against the Vietnam War; but remember that Cronkite and many other journalists arrived at that view and became willing to voice it only after years of seeing that our government's story about the war didn't hold water.
Listening to a radio show this morning on which Cronkite's name came up, I considered how I'd convey to my kids the scope of Cronkite's reputation. Then I thought: Rudy Vallee. He was still kicking around on TV throughout my teenage years and beyond. I was given to understand that he was a big, big star once. The impression I had was a guy in a raccoon coat and funny hat, crooning corny ballads. Impossibly quaint and dated stuff. There was no way to look at him from the culture in which I'd grown up and understand why anyone would have cared.
Unlike me and my siblings, whose TV news world was dominated by Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and Howard K. Smith, my kids grew up in an age where the vision of "Network" had started to become reality. Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings presided over shows increasingly infused with entertainment values; their audiences shrank as CNN, Fox News, and the rest of the cable menagerie came to life. Like many people of their generation and mine, they've come to see comic versions of news as a more compelling reflection of reality than network news is inclined to offer. The culture in which they've grown up simply doesn't have a Cronkite. He's the guy in the raccoon coat.