It's hard to believe that Walter Cronkite has not been a staple on the air for over 28 years. Through all that time, he has achieved something few in this age of information overload could do when removed from the spotlight for so long. He remained the standard bearer, the person so many journalists wished they could be. His name is not just synonymous with industry greatness, but with an industry that no longer exists. And so many believe his passing represents more than the end of a television news icon, but the end of iconic news television.
For anyone in the news business, just the name "Cronkite" conjures up images of a bygone era when journalists covered, and could at times impact, the most important stories of the day, rather than the most "compelling" or salacious. Redford and Newman's All The Presidents Men was the big screen image of journalists rather than Will Ferrell's Anchorman.
Even if that memory has been glorified a bit, it's for that reason that every major journalist is now vying to be part of the Cronkite coverage (including, I suppose, this one). No question so many grew up watching Cronkite's masterful work over the years -- from war zones to the White House. And those who knew him well have offered moving tributes to Cronkite the man. But showing one's respect for Walter Cronkite also means paying homage to what the Cronkite name has come to represent -- a time when it would have been unthinkable to cover Michael Jackson's death day after day. When the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would still be front and center rather than the vicissitudes of the hottest reality show. As some in media speak wistfully about the Cronkite days, they are also making decisions that would make Cronkite cringe. To watch a rerun of a Cronkite news program today is to see something more akin to a current PBS broadcast than much of what appears on network news.
Actions speak louder than words. Even in reporting on his death many journalists have violated one of Cronkite's basic tenets: report the news don't become it. How many times this weekend have we heard top journalists memorializing Cronkite with sentences beginning with the word I. "I met Cronkite in. . ." or "I remember seeing him. . ."
Let's be honest, the Cronkite era passed long before his death. Financial pressures, the demand of ratings, the changing tastes of the American public all led to new decisions in newsrooms about what to cover and how. Having reported on many of the most notorious trials of the past two decades (including that of Michael Jackson) I have no claim to Cronkiteian journalistic purity.
The same applies, however, to some of my colleagues now attempting to tether themselves to Cronkite's legacy. I am confident Cronkite would have frowned on that too.
This post originally appeared at Mediaite.com.