And That's the Way It Wasn't

It seems somehow oddly appropriate that the passing of TV news giant Walter Cronkite should have produced in turn a gigantic correction in the New York Times, which we reproduce here for your delectation:

An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite's career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite's coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. "The CBS Evening News" overtook "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents' reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of "The CBS Evening News" in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International [New York Times, July 22, 2009].

A lot of blather and nostalgia issued from the press on the occasion of Cronkite's passing. But the story of his ascent from news reader to secular saint is a simple one. He became a hero to the antiwar movement of the 1960s (i.e., the establishment, media and otherwise, of today) for his central importance in convincing LBJ that the Vietnam war could not be won. And not simply that: He sanctified the New Left's contention that nothing the government said was to be trusted. As he pronounced in his famous broadcast following the Tet Offensive, "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds."

In particular, he disbelieved the American generals who told him that Tet was a military disaster for North Vietnam. It was the biggest story of his career; it made him a legend. But the generals were right, and Cronkite was wrong. Except for a few noble exceptions Cronkite's fellow journalists lionized him for an act of malpractice. (The exception that springs to mind is the Washington Post's Peter Braestrup, the late author of Big Story (1978), which recounted his Captain Ahab-like pursuit and correction of the press's colossal misreporting on Tet.)

So we hope the Times doesn't beat itself up too much over all those errors: It was a more fitting sendoff than they probably intended.

Fake Hunger Strikes (cont.)

Last week marked an important first in our grand American experiment: the first celebrity hunger strike during the Age of Obama. Longtime readers will recall that THE SCRAPBOOK is four-square in favor of a good hunger strike-the only problem being that modern hunger strikes are even less rigorous than the Lenten Fridays of a lapsed Catholic. And last week's "strike" was no different.

On July 22, some protestors assembled in front of the United Nations to demonstrate against Iran's detention of political prisoners-a position with which we find much sympathy. They were scheduled to hold a three-day "hunger strike," loosely interpreted to mean no eating between 8 A.M. and 8 P.M. each day. (As we went to press, it was uncertain if they'd be able to hold out for the full 72-nix that, 36-hours.)

In the run-up to this awe-inspiring example of self-denial, various left-wing celebrities wrote in to express their solidarity with the hunger strike. "I am pleased and impressed to learn about the hunger strike in which you are participating to support human rights and release of political prisoners in Iran. It is a very worthy cause. I hope to be able to join you at the United Nations," wrote Noam Chomsky.

"A hunger strike in front of the United Nations is one way of drawing world attention to the plight of political prisoners in Iran. I support this effort and my daughter, Amy Redford, will be there as an expression of solidarity with the Iranian people," wrote Robert Redford.

Even more wishy-washy in his support was Sean Penn, who only backed the hunger strike (rhetorically) after first defending Obama's handling of the Iranian despots who are behind the entire problem in the first place:

"The U.S. government has no moral or political authority to tell Iranians what they should do," wrote Penn. "Iranians are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves. That's why citizen diplomacy is so important. Iranian demonstrators welcome the support of ordinary Americans. Joan Baez recorded a Farsi language version of 'We Shall Overcome' that has shot around the world on YouTube. . . . Iranian activists are holding a hunger strike in front of the U.N. in New York from July 22 to July 24 demanding that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon send a special commission to Iran."

Bearing witness was never so pathetically easy.

Kim Jong-Il's Little Corner of Hell

Full credit to the editors of the Washington Post for devoting an unusual amount of attention to the horrific North Korean gulag: Blaine Harden's 2,000-plus-word report ran on the front page July 20 with a headline that summed up the cold-bloodedness of the State Department, which has been unsuccessfully panting after some deal, any deal, with the Pyonyang regime for the better part of two decades: "N. Korea's Hard-Labor Camps: On the Diplomatic Back Burner."

Hard-labor is a euphemism. Usually it's a drawn-out death sentence. A horrifying example of the capriciousness of totalitarian terror:

Kim Young Soon, once a dancer in Pyongyang, said she spent eight years in Camp 15 during the 1970s. Under the guilt-by-association rule, she said, her four children and her parents were also sentenced to hard labor there. At the camp, she said, her parents starved to death and her eldest son drowned. Around the time of her arrest, her husband was shot for trying to flee the country, as was her youngest son after his release from the camp. It was not until 1989, more than a decade after her release, that she found out why she had been imprisoned. A security official told her then that she was punished because she had been a friend of Kim Jong Il's first wife.

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