ALLAN JEFFEREYS: Too Many Pretty Boys in News Now: Missing Walter Cronkite and His Peers
It is always a treat to read an article by Mohsin Ali. This modest gentleman is a superb journalist who can teach the best of us.
His recent column on "Media -- Then and Now" (June 21) was a perfect example.
As he pointed out, today the line between hard news and soft is blurred and the kewpie-doll reporters with cleavage and bare knees are more important than credentials or even good speech.
I watch a lot of Fox News, but too many of its stars seem more like disc jockeys than journalists. Not just Fox, but all over the dial you find so-called newscasters who seem determined to reduce our alphabet from 26 letters to 25. G is dropped from most words ending in "ing." I'm sure they think it is cool and laid back, but it is simply sloppy and amateur. Role models they ain't.
My problem (and Mohsin's problem) is that we go back to an era where journalistic integrity was the rule rather than the exception. I worked with Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Bill Shadel and a host of the best of CBS. They were so unlike today's pseudo-journalists, who cannot separate opinion from reporting, that you would be hard pressed to know the politics of Murrow's group from listening to their broadcasts. They did not do commentary, preferring analysis, which lets the listener come to his own conclusions.
Murrow's boys were on radio, which was still king. Another newsman who was barely on the fringe of that tight team was shunted off to an upstart called television. His name was Walter Cronkite.
The story of his rise to superstardom is familiar: He was tapped to anchor (a new word then) the 1952 political conventions, where his trustworthy, avuncular style made him an overnight sensation.
Like most so-called overnight sensations, he had already earned his stripes when success came. We almost met during World War II's Operation Market-Garden. As a United Press reporter, he went on a mission in a glider right next to one I towed. But it was not until years later, in Washington, that we finally came to know each other. There, we were friendly but not close friends. Our relationship consisted more of bumping into each other in the halls.
We both moved to New York on divergent paths. Interestingly, whenever we met, I noticed that, as Walter grew into superstardom, his manner became more humble. Whatever ego he may have had was well hidden. When I left CBS for ABC, our encounters ceased, but we did join forces in our union's newsman caucus, which he chaired.
We locked horns once, and even that was friendly. I owned a powerboat but had fallen in love with a sloop docked nearby. When that sloop was put up for sale, I went down to the yard to buy it. I was told that Walter Cronkite was interested and had asked them to hold it until he returned from an assignment in the Middle East. The owner admitted that he had not put down a deposit nor agreed to buy it. I offered $25 more than the asking price and gave them my home number to pass on to Cronkite.
A few weeks later, the phone rang and Cronkite chewed me out in language I never thought he knew. I told him that he could afford a new version and should buy one because it was a sweet sloop. He laughed but agreed.
That summer, we ran into each other in the middle of Long Island Sound and held a reunion on bobbing 23-foot sailboats. For Cronkite, that was only the beginning, as he became quite the sailor.
He has been reported quite ill recently. I pray it is an overstated rumor. After all, he is only 92. I treasure my memories of Walter Cronkite just as I treasure my friendship with Mohsin Ali. They are both examples of what true journalists should be.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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