Friday, July 17, 2009

And That's The Way It Was....

…forty years ago, when I was a wee lad of 4 and put to bed early by my folks. Of course, on that magic night, when Neil and Buzz were to gambol on the lunar dust for the first time, my parents did me the courtesy of waking my sorry, skinny ass up and plonking me in front of the tee-vee to watch what was happening on the screen.

Not that I had no idea; schools were running non-stop with programs and studies of nothing but the “Space Program” and had been for years. Children of my day grew up wanting to be a fireman, a policeman, or an astronaut; the latter a profession that was unbelievable to even the previous generation. Due to my ignorance of astronomy (not atypical for a 4-year-old) and the lucky alignment of some stars, I actually believed I could see Columbia and Eagle near the moon during that week. Like I said, I was ignorant of a lot of things; probably, at age four, the last time that was ever charming. And, of course, the magic was damn near everywhere; supermarket clerks gushed on and on about it; next-door neighbors called each other over for cocktails and BBQ; the talking heads didn’t just babble on about it – instead, the whole freakin’ newscast covered basically nothing but the progress of the lunar voyage.

A-and, guess what?! We did it! When I say we, of course, I don’t mean that I, a dinky kid, had anything to do with it, nor am I so sure that it was all America’s doing, as there was a race that captivated the entire world at the time. It could have been just the zeitgeist of humanity during that decade, but there was a lot of forward-looking, progressive ideals shared worldwide, of which the space program was easily the most impressive.

Through it all, however, there needed to be a narrative, a tale told that would entice everyone to believe and to participate in the story, so that there would be, in today’s terms “buy-in” towards the idea. Luckily, the space program, was able to capture the world with the unimpeachable voice of a great and singular man: Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr.

Although Cronkite himself admitted to “much glee” during the lunar flights and could often be seen on camera smiling broadly and rubbing his hands together in anticipation, he was pretty much the voice of the networks when it came to following the Apollo program and especially Apollo 11, not to slight Shorty Powers, who was commonly known as the 8th Astronaut during the Mercury program. But by the time of Apollo, it was Cronkite who ruled the airwaves and mesmerized the audience with his commentary on the moon missions. His complete amazement and exuberant exclamation of “A man on the moon!” as Neil Armstrong walked down the LEM ladder on that day is one of the best monuments to that program.

His death today, coincident with the 40th anniversary remembrance of Apollo 11, is one of those serendipitous moments that life throws at us; Cronkite is probably best remembered not for Apollo 11, but for his outstanding coverage of the Cuabn missile crisis, JFKs assassination, his coverage of Vietnam and Watergate, and the fact that his persona embodied the concept of “news anchor”; a position that will likely never be equaled again given the fragmentation of news channels and organizations in our time. And this, after serving as one of the top American reporters during World War II, earning accolades in reporting bombing raids over Germany and later covering the Nuremberg trials.

In comparison, today’s “journalists” are, unfortunately, not cut from the same cloth. Quite possibly, because today’s journalists, much like today’s citizens haven’t really had to face too many crises; 9/11 notwithstanding, America has been a pretty safe place since the 70s. Because of this, they’ve never been “forged under fire” or “tested their mettle” or any other b.s. journalistic phrase. And if they have, they only had to once, before they got out, got a book contract, and retired to the lecture circuit. Versus, of course, the lifetime career of Cronkite.

In more recent years, he championed the idea of a freer political press, such that the press should provide free airtime to candidates as they pursue office; indeed, he argued for a provision to the Feingold-McCain Act to provide exactly that, although it was never attached.

We all knew he had been ill lately. But people have an illogical (but understandable) reason not to dwell on death, as we will all make friends eventually. He is survived not just by family, but by his mark on the world: a Cronkite school of Journalism (at ASU) and the leading journalistic award, the Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. And, I am sure that his voluminous collected papers will continue to show his outstanding ability for years to come.

RIP, Walter Cronkite. May the hereafter stand your observation and commentary. May any celestial tapes be preserved so that if the rest of us ever get there, we can follow your reporting on the items beyond our ken. In the meantime, we’ll be content ourselves to remember and admire your work here and aspire to follow in your steadfast footsteps of curiosity, honesty and integrity.

1 comment:

gandhisxmas said...

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