Walter Cronkite’s death brought a flood of admiring quotes from journalists around the country and offered more evidence of why legacy media organizations have such a hard time with change. As the journalists wish for the days of an “authoritative voice,” most of their audience has long been celebrating the loss of those voices. Cronkite’s most famous and self-proclaimed “proudest” moment, when he declared in 1968 that the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive was “a draw” and that “it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could,” was based on a misreading of the outcome of the battle. While not as egregious as Dan Rather’s reliance on forged documents during the presidential campaign of 2004, had it been uttered today, Cronkite’s statement would surely have been refuted immediately by citizens and journalists alike, as was Rather, deepening the discussion and bringing more clarity to the issue.
Cronkite had a great impact on the media landscape, but that was yesterday, and let us not wish for it today, because it will not and should not be duplicated.