The death of Walter Cronkite, like the death of Michael Jackson, brings to mind the fact that we once lived in a different world--not necessarily better, but certainly different. To even imagine that a single voice in the world of news could be so highly respected and universally tuned in is virtually unimaginable today. TV news itself isn't what it once was; millions now get their news from the internet. "The most trusted voice in America," people said of Cronkite. When he publically withdrew his support for the Vietnam War, LBJ knew the cause itself had died--the man had that kind of voice, that kind of standing.
And now, oddly enough, after doing the research throughout the country*, Time magazine's polling operation declared The Daily Show's Jon Stewart as the most trusted newsperson in America. I'm not kidding.
The two of them--Jon Stewart and Walter Cronkite--seem opposites, from totally different planets. Cronkite's determined objectivity is a pipe dream, to someone like Stewart, self-delusion; Stewart's political spin operates nightly at full throttle. What's more, the nightly news on The Daily Show is peppered with f-bombs and junior high, locker room humor. Get a couple drinks in him, and apparently Walter Cronkite liked to do silly folk dances--but that certainly wasn't the on-air Cronkite America grew to love. That Cronkite was a Gibralter, rarely even spicy, steady and calm and blessed with the kind of gravitas we used to (and maybe still do) desire in our leaders. Stewart is a shill. He's a horse fly, a smart aleck, a wise ass. And, he's drop-dead hilarious.
But I understand why people trust him because nobody I've seen on television--certainly not CNN's Larry King--can do an interview like he can. Nobody. What's amazing about him is that he can be deadly--honestly, deadly--serious. But there's never a question about where he stands, never.
Stewart is as funny as Cronkite was sober. But you know where he stands.
Journalistic objectivity has always been something of a myth--for reporters, a goal, an ideal. Myths require faith because they defy our sense of what's real and actual. Today--for whatever reason--much of our culture doesn't believe the objectivity myth. We seem to like our newspeople up front about where they stand--witness the gigantic audience Fox maintains.
When Jon Stewart turns around, after all, Bill O'Reilly appears, his counterpart. Or Rush. Today's newsmen. For better or for worse.
But let's throw this into the mix--all of them are (were) really, really good at what they do (did). All are (were) excellent performers. All three draw (drew) huge, adoring crowds because of the immense quality of their individual professions (and that's an interesting word right there).
But what they do (did)--what Stewart and O'Reilly and Rush do on one hand, and what Cronkite did on the other--is just plain polar opposite.
Does Jon Stewart's ascension to the Walter Cronkite throne spell the death of the empire? What if Rush had won--would it then?
Pardon the pun. Stay tuned.
*Before presuming the decline and fall of Western culture, you should know that the poll conducted by Time was on-line.