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And That’s the Way It Was

From the Scrapbook

Jun 4, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 36 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook likes to think of itself as sophisticated, although we realize that we’re probably not as sophisticated as we like to think. Having just read a book review by Howard Kurtz in the Daily Beast, however, we’re feeling especially urbane, all-knowing, well-schooled, and, well, sophisticated.

President Clinton with Tasha Reign (left) and Brooklyn Lee.

Bill Clinton in Monaco with adult movie starlets Tasha Reign (left) and Brooklyn Lee.

Kurtz, of course, was for many years the media critic for the Washington Post—and a pretty good one, as media critics go—before he jumped ship to Tina Brown’s dubious enterprise. But last week he took up Douglas Brinkley’s new biography of Walter Cronkite (“sweeping and masterful”), and the scales seem to have fallen from his eyes.

“In the early 1970s,” writes Kurtz, “the most trusted man in America did a very untrustworthy thing.” 

It turns out that, while serving as chief news reader for the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite made a private deal with Pan Am to fly him and members of his family to a series of vacation destinations around the world. In Kurtz’s words, “Together with a handful of friends, they roamed from the South Pacific to Haiti, with Cronkite snorkeling, swimming, and drinking, thanks to a friend at the airline.” 

The president of the CBS news division, Richard Salant, correctly regarded this conduct as a conflict of interest, but (according to Kurtz) “took no action against his star anchor.” Cronkite, after all, was the most trusted man in America, and, apparently, the elementary rules of ethics in the news business seem not to have applied to him.

From The Scrapbook’s perspective, however, the problem is not the revelation that Walter Cronkite was a greedy anchorman with a taste for the high life and a well-developed sense of entitlement. The problem is that people like Howard Kurtz (and presumably, Douglas Brink-ley) seem to believe the mythology that Cronkite was anything other than a television announcer, with a mustache and stentorian voice, who parlayed his job reading other people’s words in front of a camera into the status of “journalist,” and whose employer propagated the dubious notion that their favorite news reader was the Most Trusted Man in America.

Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that Walter Cronkite was a standard left-wing ideologue who happened to have a job that enabled him to spread the word on network TV in the guise of an objective newsman. Kurtz pays the ritual obeisance to the Cronkite fable—Brinkley’s biography “recounts the remarkable career for which he is justly revered”—but proceeds to demonstrate that, for years on end, “he was far more liberal than the public believed, and he let it show in unacceptable ways.” Cronkite consistently shaded, twisted, misrepresented, and misled, as Kurtz relates; among other things, he personally lobbied Bobby Kennedy to run for president against Lyndon Johnson.

What surprises The Scrapbook is that all this appears to be a revelation to Howard Kurtz. Is that possible? In Cronkite’s heyday, you didn’t have to be all that discerning—all that sophisticated, if you will—to detect the fact that the most trusted man in America had his prejudices and let them show every weekday evening on his television franchise. Is The Scrapbook more naturally skeptical, more perceptive, more journalistic than the onetime media critic for the Washington Post

We’ll give Howie the last word: “That [Cronkite] endured and prospered, essentially unscathed, until his death in 2009 reminded me of how impervious the monopoly media were in those days, largely shielded from the scrutiny they inflicted on everyone else.”

 

Romney’s Three Rs

People of good will (and ill will, too, for that matter) will disagree over the education reform plan Mitt Romney released last week. 

On the one hand, Romney’s approach does nothing to extricate the federal government from the tarpit of America’s public schools, where it has done little good and much harm through both Republican and Democratic administrations. On the other hand, he promises to use the federal government’s massive power to advance admirable reforms—notably school choice. It’s hard not to like an education reform that the National Education Association insists will “hurt students and schools” (translation: “will imperil the sclerotic education bureaucracy that the NEA depends on”).

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