President Barack Obama and his 2008 election opponent Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) both released statements on the death of Walter Cronkite. McCain expressed his personal sadness, while Obama said, “This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly missed.”
McCain said, “I’m saddened to learn of the passing of Walter Cronkite – one of the most influential newsmen of our time. I will never forget our memorable visit together to Hanoi on the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.”
Obama said, “For decades, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted voice in America. His rich baritone reached millions of living rooms every night, and in an industry of icons, Walter set the standard by which all others have been judged… But Walter was always more than just an anchor. He was someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world. He was family. He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly missed.”
I think that it is difficult for younger people to comprehend why, and just how important, Walter Cronkite was. Cronkite was at his peak before 24 hour cable news and the Internet during a time when news divisions weren’t seen as profit centers for their corporate owners. This is a time when news divisions spent money to report the news, and the focus was on journalism.
In his later years, I would see Cronkite on television and I would wonder if he would have been able to flourish in the media environment of today. In era where outrageousness and loudness trumps facts, Cronkite’s earnest and trustworthy style would have either set him apart from the pack, and made him a star, or else he would have never made it to national television.
Cronkite is the gold standard by which all other public figures are measured. It is unfathomable that a news anchor today could be named the most trusted person in America, but Cronkite was twice. Cronkite had a level of public trust that no media figure, or politician can touch today. Cronkite embodied a trustworthiness which doesn’t exist today.
We have heard the word icon thrown around too much in the media these days. The media referred to Michael Jackson as an icon, not a cultural icon or a pop icon, just an icon, but Walter Cronkite was a true icon, because his name took on a definition all its own. Cronkite was a one of a kind, the likes of which may never be seen again.