Walter Cronkite: Liberalism in the Guise of Objectivity

Punitive Cronkite

What James Piereson would call Cronkite’s punitive liberalism had developed slowly, as with many of his fellow leftists, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy by a deranged Marxist. Which makes it all the more frustrating that in addition to the above examples, throughout Brinkley's book, he constantly praises Cronkite's vaunted "objectivity," despite the CBS anchorman's eagerness to violate it whenever it suited the left's causes. Or as Mark Steyn wrote in 2009 in an obit brilliantly comparing the CBS anchor to Michael Jackson, another then-recently deceased pop culture phenomenon, "he wasn’t that trustworthy, not when it mattered."

One of the worst examples occurred in 1964, when Cronkite and then CBS newsman Daniel Schorr tag-teamed to attack Barry Goldwater, an especially egregious example of a smear, considering that TV of that era consisted almost solely of three national networks:

As managing editor of the CBS Evening News, Cronkite seemed to relish pricking Goldwater from time to time for sport. In late July, he introduced a report from CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr, a hard-and-fast liberal working from Munich. With an almost tongue-in-cheek smile, Cronkite said, “Whether or not Senator Goldwater wins the nomination, he is going places, the first place being Germany.” Schorr then went on a tear, saying, “It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign in Bavaria, the center of Germany’s right wing.” The backstory was merely that Goldwater had accepted an invitation from Lieutenant General William Quinn for a quick holiday at Berchtesgaden, a U.S. Army recreational center in Germany. But Schorr made the takeaway point that Berchtesgaden was once “Hitler’s stomping ground.” Goldwater, trying to show off his NATO bona fides, had granted an interview with Der Spiegel in which he mentioned a possible trip to Germany soon. Some Democratic opposition researcher floated the idea that Goldwater was infatuated with the Nazis. It was ugly stuff.

Indeed it was, and it was part of a pattern. A decade prior, during the 1952 GOP convention, as Brinkley notes, “Long before the Nixon administration bugged the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate in 1972, Cronkite, after much deliberation, had a CBS technician wire the committee room under the shady rationale that the covert act was good for democracy.” If Dan Rather thought he could get away with promulgating false documents to attack George W. Bush in 2004, well, consider the environment in which he worked for over 40 years. The big difference being that by 2004, Rather was but one voice among many, and had to answer -- kicking and screaming all the way -- to charges from bloggers and Internet message board contributors. In contrast, Cronkite's entire career as anchorman took place in an environment which consisted of three television networks and one or two newspapers per city. As more and more Americans came to receive their information from the TV set, this gave Rather a near-monopoly status on the news.

This was not a healthy environment for the truth, to say the least. Nowhere was this more apparent than on February 27th 1968, when Cronkite declared the Vietnam war a “stalemate”:

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that the military and political analysts are right, in the next few months, we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend Democracy and did the best they could.

Cronkite then signed off, "This is Walter Cronkite. Good night."