18 July 2009 • 8:27 am

Walter Cronkite and the Erosion of Trust

walter_cronkiteReading the obituaries and fond remembrances of Walter Cronkite, who died yesterday at the age of 92, I am struck by the simplicity and power of the label “the most trusted man in America” that was his – exclusively. Cronkite was, of course, the anchor of the CBS Evening News on American television from 1962 until 1981, an era when there was no internet, no cable TV, and far fewer sources of news. In contrast to the newspapers that delivered yesterday’s news in depth, ¬†television journalism was about immediacy – it was today’s news – and about brevity. Cronkite’s 30 minute newscast format (which had been expanded from 15 minutes shortly after Cronkite became anchor) required less detail and more thoughtful editing than any newspaper story.¬†

Cronkite’s passing gives us pause for reflection; on his remarkable career, on the evolution of news and information sharing during our lifetimes, and the increasing irrelevance of network television news. Like many of my generation, I especially remember Cronkite for his role in two of the moments that defined 1960s America – his genuine emotion in November 1963 when he told us that President Kennedy was dead, and his boyish excitement at the triumph of the success of the Apollo moon landing, exactly 40 years ago this week.