Speak about the icons of the Boomer generation and you'll call up images of dead rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin or long-jowled, big-paunched live rockers who can't give up the concert stage. But for those of us who took our activism further than handing out flowers to cops, Walter Cronkite, the man who told us the way it was each week night on CBS, was a true icon.
Our generation can't claim him as a member. That would be our parents' generation, and that's what made it all the more significant when the man who made objectivity his motto, came over to our side on the Vietnam War, taking our protests out of the realm of hysterical naivte amongst a generation that had not fought Nazism and couldn't appreciate the Domino Theory, into the realm of serious politics.
I noted in an earlier post that my generation enjoyed what may one day come to be known as the "golden age" of news reporting. If that's the case, then Mr. Cronkite was the "gold standard." Back then we didn't want our news anchors cute and perky. We wanted them solid and dependable. In the early days the nerdy glasses and receding hairline wouldn't win him any beauty contests (though as a tan, broad-shouldered septuagenarian, he looked darned good), but the baritone voice and the unerring delivery made us feel, well, anchored, in a world that seemed constantly to shift under our feet.
Not that news wasn't already moving toward entertainment. As I recall, Mr. Cronkite was pushed aside ever so briefly when the ratings lemmings thought all news had to be delivered by a duo like the extremely popular Huntley-Brinkley Report, but he came back even stronger and retired at the top of his game. I just can't picture Walter Cronkite ending his newscast with a cutesy story and an ironic smile or letting the ratings guide him on whether to be soft or tough in an interview or presiding over a shouting match.
Mr. Cronkite was the father we all wanted, who would guide us through the two Kennedy and the Martin Luther King assassinations, through the Vietnam War and the only ever resignation of an American president with a calm and steady hand. Even as we decried the "generation gap" and vowed not to trust anyone over 30, we trusted him. Our president might lie. Our law makers might lie, but Walter Cronkite told the truth. We could depend on it. They were different times when the news media wasn't the politician's best buddy but his worst enemy.
That's the way it was.