Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Walter Cronkite kept speaking out for democracy when he could have played it safe and wins Wings of Justice

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Originally published on WingsofJustice.com on July 22, 2009

Walter Cronkite

The assassination of JFK. The moon landing. Iconic moments in TV news that belong to one man — Walter Cronkite. In a world where you had to wait for the national news at 6:30, Walter Cronkite was king.

Cronkite’s long career at CBS would be enough to warrant giving him the Wings of Justice award. However, what really set Cronkite apart from the rest was what he did after leaving the CBS Evening News in 1981.

Cronkite could have spent his later years sailing with his wife, Betsy. And at 65 years old, he deserved a long and relaxing retirement. Instead, Cronkite stepped up for truth, even if it risked his reputation.

We learned first-hand last summer and fall what happens when a retired news anchor — Tom Brokaw — takes the safe way out after leaving the anchor desk. Cronkite had much more to lose in public luster, yet he felt the truth was more important.

For his “retirement,” among many other things, Cronkite was an occasional special correspondent for CBS, CNN, and NPR, wrote a syndicated opinion column for King Features Syndicate, and contributed to The Huffington Post.

He spoke out on areas that he felt were important not to him, but to democracy. Cronkite was clearly passionate about freedom, liberty, and democracy.

Cronkite fought hard for free airtime for political candidates. In an essay from November 4, 2002, he spoke of the impact that the purse strings had on democracy:

The battle for the airwaves cannot be limited to only those who have the bank accounts to pay for the battle and win it. Democracy is in danger. Seats in Congress, seats in the state legislature, that big seat in the White House itself, can be purchased by those who have the greatest campaign resources, who have the largest bank accounts or own riches.

That, I submit to you, is no democracy. It is an oligarchy of the already powerful. It is no less than a conspiracy of the powerful to deny access to government to those who literally cannot afford to run for public office with any realistic hope of getting elected.

He noted that of “all the major nations worldwide that profess to have democracies, only seven — just seven — do not offer free time. These are Ecuador, Honduras, Malaysia, Taiwan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States of America. Does it make us proud to be on such a list?”

Cronkite spoke out against George W. Bush and the Iraq invasion.

At a Drew University forum, Cronkite said he feared the war would not go smoothly, ripped the “arrogance” of Bush and his administration and wondered whether the new U.S. doctrine of “pre-emptive war” might lead to unintended, dire consequences.

Then there’s the classic Cronkite moment on video with his scathing remarks about the Fox “News” Channel in Robert Greenwald’s “Outfoxed.”

“It was quite clear when they founded the Fox Network that they intended to be a conservative organization — beyond conservative; a far-right-wing organization.”

And Cronkite spoke out against another war — the War on Drugs

“And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.”

In the tributes, we have heard extensively about Cronkite’s Tet Offensive editorial from 1968 after Cronkite personally went to Vietnam and went to see what was going on for himself. Even though he took that extensive risk, the public stayed with him.

But even in 1968, there were enough people who felt the same way as Cronkite did. In many of the subsequent post-CBS battles, Cronkite wasn’t on the side of popular, but he was on the side of right.

There is literally a whole generation who knows nothing firsthand about Walter Cronkite sitting behind the anchor desk for a famous event or just to tell us what was going on in the world. However, they — and the rest of us — got to see a different side of Cronkite, one who stood up when he saw injustice. Long after his final official sign-off, Cronkite told us the truth missing from the stoniness of TV news. For the last 28 years, that’s the way it is — and was. Rest in peace; You’ve earned it, Uncle Walter.

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Written by democracysoup

July 22, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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