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.
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”).
There’s much less to quibble about when Romney turns to the subject of higher education, which is emerging as a second-tier issue in this campaign, owing to parental anxiety about rising tuition (and unemployment rates for recent grads) and President Obama’s shameless pandering to the college students whose enthusiastic support he will require this fall. One hugely expensive pander was the vast expansion of the Pell Grant program, so that it now constitutes another unaffordable middle-class entitlement.
“Flooding colleges with federal dollars”—a nice summary of Obama’s approach to making college affordable—“only serves to drive tuition higher,” Romney said. And he makes a surprising connection between rising college tuition and Obamacare: By forcing states to pay for health reform’s expansion of Medicaid, Obama guarantees that state legislatures will cut aid to public universities, which will require tuition increases, which will increase demand for student aid, which will enable still higher tuition, requiring more student aid . . .
To end this vicious spiral, Romney proposes to consolidate redundant student loan programs and bring private lenders back into the process, which Obama’s feds took over in 2010. He aims to tighten eligibility requirements for Pell Grants, reserving them for “the students that need them most.” Perhaps most important, he promises to end the administration’s assault on for-profit schools—an increasingly competitive part of the higher ed landscape—by repealing some of its most onerous regulations and opening a path to online courses of study.
These are real proposals rather than a pander, which is why Romney might lose a debate with Obama on a college campus. Pandering is a contest in which Romney can never beat his rival. But pandering caused the crisis in higher education, and Romney deserves credit for trying to stop it.
Who Will Guard the Guardian?
Last week, the Guardian’s website published a column by Emer O’Toole decrying Anglo-European “cultural imperialism.” Reading such pronouncements in the left-wing British daily is like finding sand on the beach, so O’Toole went to some lengths to ensure she got noticed. The more literate among you might guess the target of her ire:
Recently I went to the theatre, as I am wont to do. The acting was impeccable, the direction insightful, the costumes fun, the music accomplished and the set damn sexy. Only the writing lacked salt. Here’s a summary: the long lost twin of a local gent shows up in town. The identical brothers run around being mistaken for each other for a few hours. Hilarity is supposed to ensue, but doesn’t. In the end, everyone lives happy ever after.
There have been many critical complaints about productions of The Comedy of Errors over the centuries, but rarely is Shakespeare’s script fingered as the problem. And O’Toole’s antipathy goes much deeper than her aversion to this particular play. “Though grateful to the World Shakespeare Festival for bringing such talented companies to the UK, I’d rather they performed something else,” she writes. She’s actually lamenting that they perform Shakespeare at a Shakespeare festival, because well, he’s a dead white male:
Shakespeare is full of classism, sexism, racism and defunct social mores. The Taming of the Shrew (aka The Shaming of the Vagina-Bearer) is about as universally relevant as the chastity belt. I’m sick of directors tying themselves up in conceptual knots, trying to frame poor Katherina as some kind of feminist heroine. The Merchant of Venice (Or The Evil Jew) is about as universal as the Nuremberg laws. . . . Today, while the doctrine of European cultural superiority is disavowed by all but the crazies, the myth of Shakespeare’s universality hangs tough. There’s something uncomfortably colonial about this.
The Scrapbook hates to be a killjoy, but far from disavowed, the “doctrine of European cultural superiority” is alive and well, as demonstrated by everything from military might to infant mortality rates. Not that we expect O’Toole to recognize that Western civilization in general, and Shakespeare in particular, are worth defending. The title of her previous contribution to the Guardian is “Ladies: why you should stop shaving,” and her bio informs us she’s a “doctoral student at Royal Holloway, University of London” and writes for a publication called Vagenda. Cultural imperialism would appear to come in many flavors.
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
‘So Warren’s claim to be ‘part Indian’ is correct in mythical terms. Every old-school white Oklahoman is in this regard even if this is nominally not true. But it is not a lie to want to be Indian . . . ” (“Elizabeth Warren’s true American lineage,” Bernie Quigley, The Hill, May 21).