In 1974, Walter Cronkite demonstrated to his credit that he was willing to poke fun at his courtly manners and stentorian voice by appearing alongside Ted Baxter, his fictional doppelganger, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which appeared each week on CBS, the network where Cronkite had made his home since 1950.
But in retrospect, there were more than a few similarities between Ted Baxter and Walter Cronkite; both men succeeded as a result of their deep voice and trustworthy looks, rather than actual knowledge of the world. And both men were more than a little silly; Baxter deliberately so, Cronkite by embracing every fad aspect of liberalism that came down the pike.
According to Douglas Brinkley’s 2012 biography of Walter Cronkite, a year after yucking it up with Ted Baxter, the veteran CBS newsreader claimed that his favorite album of 1975 was Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, whose title was “an apt description for a wizened TV survivor like himself,” as Brinkley writes.
As with much self-deprecating humor, there’s more than a little truth in Cronkite’s claim. Brinkley’s biography is a story of a man moving further and further to the left, as his party did over the years, before collapsing into insanity.
In 1991, Christopher Hitchens wrote that “television is a megaphone for the transmission of official wisdom.” Outside of the Soviet Union, nowhere was that more true than the news shows of the original big three American networks, which by the late 1960s served essentially as the dissemination mechanism of Democrat Party talking points. In Cronkite, one of Brinkley’s worst conceits is that he repeatedly seems to imagine that his eponymous subject simply moistened his index finger and placed it into the breeze ever few years to determine what the public was clamoring for. In actuality, Cronkite simply adopted whatever was the current pose of his fellow liberals (at least as they described themselves back then) to serve as a national mouthpiece.
Books such as the first volume of Steve Hayward’s The Age of Reagan, and How We Got Here, David Frum’s look at the 1970s, do a far better job of explaining how liberals moved further and further to the left, using weapons such as poisoning American support for the Vietnam War and, shortly thereafter, radical environmentalism to increasingly sink America’s vitality.
Two Cronkites In One
While I doubt this is Brinkley’s goal, because of Cronkite’s longevity as first a reporter and then a television newsreader, Brinkley reveals numerous examples of plenty of hypocrisy from his subject, as Cronkite internalizes leftwing pose after leftwing pose. For example, in December of 1973, “the Gay Raiders,” a protest group designed to generate a more sympathetic portrayal of gays on both fictional and news TV programs, sent Mark Allan Segal and Harry Langhorne, two of its representatives. to sneak into Cronkite’s TV newsroom set in New York under false premises, to hold up a sign saying, “Gays Protest CBS Prejudice” while Cronkite was live and on the air nationwide with an audience of over 60 million viewers. While they succeeded, the CBS cameras quickly went black.