August 17, 2004

LOTS OF READERS are sending me links to this story on Walter Cronkite, in which he warns of those awful Internet folks who are ruining journalism with their carelessness and willingness to smear the innocent via unfounded accusations.

Cronkite -- as is typical of old journalists when they talk about the prevalence of fact-free smears on the Internet -- doesn't fortify his claim with any actual examples. But let's look at the golden age of journalism at Cronkite's own network, back before this newfangled Internet thing ruined it, as recounted by Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax:

So it goes for a couple of years, gets really popular, then in the early '80s a backlash begins. People are saying that the game encourages devil worship and causes kids to commit suicide. . . .

In many ways I still resent the wretched yellow journalism that was clearly evident in (the media's) treatment of the game -- 60 Minutes in particular. I've never watched that show after Ed Bradley's interview with me because they rearranged my answers. When I sent some copies of letters from mothers of those two children who had committed suicide who said the game had nothing to do with it, they refused to do a retraction or even mention it on air. What bothered me is that I was getting death threats, telephone calls, and letters. I was a little nervous. I had a bodyguard for a while.

Goodbye, Walter. Journalism is unlikely to suffer in your absence.

(Second link via John Cole, who observes: "At least 60 Minutes has maintained their standards throughout the years.")

UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, Cronkite's piece is getting a generally poor reception throughout the blogosphere.