Foreign Policy Blogs

"Uncle" Walter and the American Image

“Uncle” seems almost condesending — I don’t mean it so.  Walter Cronkite was more than an avuncular presence in American homes.  He was a serious newsman at a time when TV news was being invented and we were all a bit in awe of the new medium and its ability to broadcast images as well as news.  The image that Cronkite presented of himself (along with the news) was trusted and familiar in American households because it was unadorned and unretouched — “reality” TV before the term came to mean something else entirely.  This is why so many of the tributes and obituaries in recent days have sounded nostalgic for the Cronkite era in American news and society.  There is a yearning by many for broadcanewsst news that is plain-spoken and factual, and not the product of gossip, emotion or speculation.

We all see the drawbacks in the way we currently report the news and the alarming demise of once-trusted media as well as their “newsmen.”  The New York Times reported today on the near-death agreement of journalists at the Boston Globe to accept wage cuts from its owner, The Times Company.  The NYT account called the Globe “venerable.”  Which news media truly deserve to be called “venerable” today?

If it is true that a country eventually gets the kind of government it deserves, then it is certainly the case that a democracy gets the kind of news media that its citizens want and support.  Murrow and CBS News lost battles with their network but the Murrow-Cronkite generation never retreated from its ideal that to do their job meant to gather the news and convey it, without artifice.  Somewhere along the line, as the media became more image-conscious and fast, we stopped demanding the content that “Uncle Walter” and his team provided.  What we are left with, too often, is image and celebrity, not substance and fact.  It is, sadly, our own doing.



Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy