An American Hero For Our Future:
"And That's The Way It Is..."
Commentary by SJSU Prof. Bob Rucker
On July 17th, 2009, I first heard the news of Walter
Cronkite's death by way of a text message
from a good friend and former student out in Las
Vegas. My friend knew, from our classroom
years ago at San Jose State University, when this
all of America would reflect and mourn profoundly.
So soon after the death of world icon Michael Jackson,
we face in this nation yet another great loss of
another incredibly powerful figure whose
contribution is now deeply rooted in the lives and
history of the baby
Like with the
King of Pop, we grew up with this man too, but with
our beloved "Uncle Walter,"
as so many of us respectfully called him in our youth, we would wise up and
of the most unthinking
realities of any lifetime
with the kind and steady hand of the
"The Most Trusted Man In America."
Cronkite's insightful journalistic efforts left footprints of wisdom
thousands, like me,
to follow in his path, seeing the field of broadcast
as a special public service and a noble endeavor in
Walter Cronkite's gentle, every man,
say-it-like-it-is style would help all of us face
and understand so much of our troubled world,...
help us to wake up and hold accountable our
most ambitious and sometimes foolish leaders,
...and Cronkite, a rare newspaper man who would be
comfortable on TV from the start,
would ignite, with the showcase
of his own honest emotions, a national
excitement of pride on many occasions, most
memorable on July 20, 1969
when man first landed on the
moon. TV's unflappable anchorman was noticeably
that day, I recall, when mankind's impossible dream
of touching our closest neighbor
in the cosmos would finally be realized after
thousands of years of romantic fantasizing.
Cronkite was more than a great journalist. He was a genuine man
who instinctively seemed to know what Americans
wanted and needed in terms of news
in our free society. From flickering and unstable
film reels of racial unrest and injustice
during the civil rights movement, and the horror and
deep sadness from a presidential assassination,
to the first time color jolting images of war in Vietnam or a president's
resignation in disgrace,
Walter Cronkite was welcomed into our homes
as our chief neutral source of truth.
He walked us through them all and much more, working
insanely long hours
pushing others to prioritize getting it right first
before rushing to get it out to the public,
a lesson seeming lost in today's internet news &
Instead of evolving into
one of those ego maniac, all-about-me obsessed
Cronkite avoided most inquiries about what he
thought about the news
believing sharing his opinions on the news would
jeopardize his credibility. As a result he
influenced American thinking with a much clearer
filter than we have today
from most network operations.
That advantage helped him find ways to calm and
console millions during times of
triumph and tragedy. He helped viewers sort through
and make sense of the powerful
or historic moments without imposing his analysis or
That's why, a few years ago, even at his advanced age, Uncle Walter traveled
to San Jose to be the guest of honor at a Chamber of
Commerce function. I encouraged
several SJSU print and broadcast journalism students
to go, hear and cover his remarks.
What better teacher or field experience could there
be for these students, although I do recall
great disappointment in hearing most of these
weren't interested, were too busy or couldn't find
the time. Sad.
The few who did walked into that event were uncertain about
this old man knowing only a few tidbits
of info from their parents. These students had not been born
when he was anchoring the CBS Evening News. They had
very low expectations.
By watching the crowd that packed into that ballroom
room, and seeing people from all
cultures and walks of life hanging on every word Walter
Cronkite, slowly these
student wordsmiths became dumbfounded by the command
of this sage of world current events.
They warmed up to Cronkite sensing the feeling of
in the room were showcasing. These students had
stumbled upon greatness and
to their credit, they began to listen intently and
want to ask him questions.
Eventually everyone with a recording device wanted a quick interview or
taking a photo
with THE MAN.
Although noticeably frail and slowed by age, Mr.
Cronkite enthusiastically obliged everyone
who asked...even me.
During the general Q & A session, I nervously raised my hand
to ask my professional hero how
focus today's students on the importance and value
of news writing for TV versus technology.
The room quieted and Walter Cronkite looked directly
at me and said...
"Teach them that every word counts, so be precise.
Know what you are talking
about first. Do your homework. Be prepared. Don't
let anyone snow you.
And as a teacher, make them understand the
importance of journalism, be tough on them.
People are counting on you and them to get it
I just had
to shake this man's hand before I departed his
Sure I had met mayors, governors, presidents, even
Pope John Paul II as a reporter,
but this man's strong handshake and eager smile
meant SO MUCH more.
My hero, Walter Cronkite,
the greatest broadcast journalist of them all
knew it was never about the new technology or being
an "anchor person star."
For that's a faulty dream, rooted in impatience and
Real success has always come by earning people's
through consistent hard and creative thinking, then
having the guts to
tell people the truths they need to
know....and not just the junk they crave.
After all this is a constitutional right and a noble
public service in America,
one, this greatly admired and honored broadcaster
said often gave him so much pleasure.
Certainly his efforts earned him lasting universal
respect across the most
powerful nation on earth.
Cronkite's shining examples will live on forever,
his life's work to viewed and studied
by countless generations to come, all looking for ways to separate
their work as quality journalists from the torrent of
short term, splash videos and other
distractions we now see flooding the internet, cell phones, television
( and no doubt
yet to be discovered.)
In a world
always so mesmerized by new techno toys, money and fleeting fame,
The most respected TV journalist of all time
showed good writers how to truly stand out and
make a huge, memorable
and meaningful difference.
As he put it...And that's the way it is.
Thank you 'Uncle Walter.'
Prof. Bob Rucker
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
San Jose State University