Walter Cronkite As Radio Show Actor In WWII, Reporter Showing Journalism’s Push For Democracy

One of the joys of this blog is to divert off the front-page headlines of the morning newspaper into a topic that warms my heart.

From Chapter Seven of Cronkite, Douglas Brinkley’s perfectly-toned biography about ‘Uncle’ Walter comes this nugget.

Cronkite and legendary Edward Murrow remain heroes to me. The nostalgic history of radio and the role it made for itself with news reporting from Europe during World War II is among the best pages to be studied from the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

The role of radio broadcasters in the war zones was as much about giving the American public the facts of the military campaign, but also to bouy the mood of the public. Driving home the need to understand reporters were helping uphold democracy was also stressed.

That was the role Cronkite added when he played a part in the radio series Soldiers of the Press.

Here then is Program #27: United Press syndication, World lateral transcription. “Dry Martini”. U.P. correspondent Walter Cronkite’s story from a U.S. bomber base in England.

Ronald Reagan’s Patriotism No Longer Part Of Republican Party

As we approach the first anniversary of the insurrection and rioting at the United States Capitol, which was fomented by Donald Trump and his strategists and carried out by his thuggish supporters, I thought about another political event from the Republican Party.

Though it occurred in 1980 and was vastly different from the January 6, 2021 events of death, bloodshed, and attacks on law enforcement shown on national television, it does lend itself to better understanding the gravity of the situation today. Our democracy is under attack.

I recall the excitement from July 1980 when CBS’ Walter Cronkite interviewed former President Gerald Ford. There was an electrifying buzz that reached from the convention hall to the home in Hancock where I was thrilled by the unfolding political drama. It was broadly speculated that Ronald Reagan had selected Ford as his vice-presidential running mate. The constitutional questions were talked about among correspondents and guests concerning Ford reportedly wanting more authority than any other vice president had ever been given.

That episode remains the most exciting convention moment of my life, which also underscores the diminishing role such gatherings play in the presidential nomination process.

That memory, however, also serves as a reminder of what the Republican Party once was, the timber of the people center stage who wished to serve and be elected. No one doubted the patriotic mindset of Reagan, the moderate and process-minded character of Ford. So much since then has changed in the Republican Party that it now can be reported with a vivid image of what that party now represents.

This is how The Economist framed the issue.

The Republican Party has been consumed by grievance politics–recall how conservatives once used that term on liberals and swore to be above such behavior? The modern GOP also has proven to have a stunning degree of swallowing capacity for conspiracy theories.

True to form they have continued to attack Jews, be it George Soros or an outlandish notion of space lasers used by Jews to start forest fires. In the process, the party has catered to a base of voters not concerned with institutional norms, and let’s be frank, not the ones completing the reading assignments in civics or history classes.

The issue at hand, the survival of our democracy, should not be a partisan contest. Tax policy, education funding, and transportation infrastructure can and should create partisan coalitions. But the procedure for counting Electoral College votes, the availability of places to cast a ballot without undue burdens, the need for an end to gerrymandered political districts, and not placing in statutes undemocratic restrictions to fundamental rights should all be broadly accepted.

But, as we sadly are all too aware, they are not.

The Big Lie about a ‘stolen election’ that Trump spawned and continues to repeat has found a wide range of converts within the GOP. The threat of more violence in the years ahead from those who might lose an election is a very plausible possibility. Especially, if the laws and penalties for taking such actions, like that occurring almost a year ago, are not put into effect.

There was plenty of room to argue with Reagan in the 1980s over policy moves regarding unions, tax cuts, and massive defense spending. But no one doubted for a nanosecond that Reagan was not immersed in the love of country and abiding faith in democracy. When was the first time anyone accused Trump of being like-minded?

Today, the Republican Party has reversed course on many philosophical underpinnings that were at their core (free trade and international alliances), and instead openly and deeply embraces an autocrat who shuns morals and openly cheats and lies. How far removed the Republican Party is from the days of Ronald Reagan.

Let us be honest, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford would find it hard to even be elected delegates to a national Republican convention today. Much less be national nominees.

And so it goes.

Space Travel Takes A Most Important Step, Thank You Jeff Bezos

What a grand day in our nation. Jeff Bezos did what he said he would do. He went into space in a short journey of 65 miles in a spacecraft that was built by his company.

For history buffs and lovers of space this was a mighty fine date to have this happen.

On July 20, 1969, two American astronauts landed on the moon and became the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.

This morning a rocket, while not really resembling the ones which launched my childhood heroes into space, still produced that deep sense of awe within me. Today’s rocket and capsule were called New Shepard after Alan Shepard, the first American in space. The connection of the dreamers of today with those who helped pave our original thrust into space is a sign of respect. But also a grounded determination to make great strides likes those brave men who climbed on top of rockets of flame in the 1960s.

We have all heard the constant carping and backbiting about Bezos and his company, Blue Origin. We have heard the litany of reasons that we should scorn the man for being rich, or using his money to exert ourselves into space with a commercial edge. While I have read and listened to such commentary for a long time, I simply disagree. After all, I was reading as a teenager the reasons why space program dollars should have been used for a list of other purposes. Such arguments were wrong then, as they are today.

Human nature is to explore, to learn, to know.

I applaud the decades-long effort of Bezos to reach upward and out and into space. I am confident his work will be a real stepping-stone to advancing our further exploration of space. As a boy who lived the pretend life of an astronaut in 1969, and watching over the decades since as satellites and rovers expand our reach I can say with enthusiasm how thrilled I am today.

I am filled with pride in our nation for producing a private citizen like Bezos, who was schooled to know that unlimited dreams can come true. I also feel deep optimism this is but another step in our desire to be space-bound. What happened today will engage others and drive our curious nature further to better know and understand the heavens.

The same lift of spirit and imagination over the space program that impacted me as a boy (thanks to Walter Cronkite’s narration) surely has struck many a kid today who watched in homes around the country as New Shepard made a dandy performance. That infusion of hope and wonder is priceless for the country.

We are all winners today. Even if some can not acknowledge it.

And so it goes.

Helicopter Flies On Mars, Walter Cronkite Is Smiling

Truly a remarkable day for NASA. And all of us who champion space exploration and the advancement of science.

The Ingenuity helicopter has successfully completed its historic flight on Mars and safely landed back on the surface, according to NASA.

The helicopter’s navigation camera captured a view of the Ingenuity’s shadow on the Martian surface during its first flight.

As I cheer this news and marvel at the pictures being returned to earth I also am thinking about Walter Cronkite.

I fondly recall him asking about the Lunar Rover vehicle on the moon and how it operated. He was, after all, the reporter who made the space program and the glorious moon landing understandable and the type of news coverage that those of us who witnessed it still recall with smiles galore. I recall vividly Cronkite reporting that story and making it so real that even a boy could understand. In time Cronkite would be as memorable a figure to me from that time as Neil Armstrong. As a young boy, it was Cronkite who made the biggest and best adventure possible. He also needs to be thanked for bringing science into our homes.

Today I just know ‘Uncle’ Walter is smiling over this news.

Walter Cronkite: 40 Years After Signing Off CBS News And Why We Have Reasons To Miss Him

American journalist and TV news broadcaster Walter Cronkite anchors the news desk for the ‘CBS Evening News,’ 1981. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

On March 6th, it was 40 years ago that Walter Cronkite, or as he was fondly called by many in the land “Uncle Walter”, signed off for the final time on the CBS Evening News. Our nation rarely notes such anniversaries about journalists, but given the ill-treatment that reporters often face in these recent years it merits calling forth the memory of Cronkite on this occasion.

Readers to my blog know Caffeinated Politics doesn’t need to be reminded of Cronkite, as here we have never forgotten. The tagline on the banner reads “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” It was a concise and truthful summation from the most trusted man in America. As we think back to his legacy and his professional regard for news and reporting there are many ways to see the wisdom he left us.

Cronkite knew the immense pile of information that makes for news each day, and the very limited amount of time an anchor can report on the nation and world. That is why he knew his newscast was only able to skim the headlines and for the public to get a more complete view of the world they needed, as he said, to read their morning newspaper.  His idea was sound when he first said it, and it is just as accurate today.  Newspapers should play an integral part in a citizen’s daily life. 

He was a curious man, and when it comes to reporters the best ones are those who ask the questions and probe the topics that the viewers or readers at home are asking and wishing to know more about. We all have become very aware of, and fascinated by, the various computer gadgets and viewing pleasures to be found on the news networks at election time. We now take for granted the computer touchscreens, ‘magic walls’, and even well-produced holograms that in 2020 explained a caucus setting as actual reporters stood around looking at the clear table-top in front of them where the display took place.  It was fun, light-hearted, and futuristic.  But I just know Cronkite would have found it not only interesting–but like his home audience wanted to know–how was it happening.

He would have asked the questions about the computer program much like the ones I fondly recall him asking about regarding the Lunar Rover vehicle on the moon and how it operated. He was, after all, the reporter who made the space program and the glorious moon landing understandable and the type of news coverage that those of us who witnessed it still recall with smiles galore. I recall vividly Cronkite reporting that story and making it so real that even a  boy could understand. In timem Cronkite would be as memorable a figure to me from that time as Neil Armstrong. As a young boy, it was Cronkite who made the biggest and best adventure possible. He also needs to be thanked for bringing science into our homes.

The biggest change that we face since the years when Cronkite delivered the evening news regards our losing a sense of commonality as citizens. With his reporting, we were informed about the news of the day.  No matter where we lived, or what we thought, we had a point of reference as a nation when discussing the news.  To some extent, the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times can still make the same type of claim today.  For it is these papers that now often set the topic for discussion on radio, or by the pundits on the evening cable news shows.  But with the sharply divided electorate who wishes to get their television news from the perspective of partisan sources it breaks down the need of the nation for commonalities concerning the who, what, where, when, and why of a story. We do not start from the same foundation as a country when dissecting the news. Our politics underscores that truth.

The common point of reference is important for a democracy to have and when it is lost it becomes most obvious as to why it mattered in the first place. With 22 minutes of news each weeknight Cronkite gave us the beginning point on understanding the major news events of the day. When too many in the nation get morphed and tortured segments of news folded in among the all-news networks attempt to play for ratings, rather than provide for objective reporting, we all can see how much we lost with Cronkite’s final statement to his viewers.

“That’s the way it is.”

Reporters Are Not Enemies, Have Huge Role In 2021

It was more than a mere adornment for the top of my blog when in 2017 I placed a quote from Walter Cronkite about journalists and reporters in this country. “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” The purpose of that quote was to push back on one of the most insidious aspects of the term of Donald Trump in the White House. The relentless attack on the media and reporters is without parallel in our nation’s history. Even Richard Nixon, no fan of the Fourth Estate as the tapes well demonstrated, understood the foundational role it played in our democracy.

Trump clearly does not and that was displayed when during his first weekend in the Oval Office he admitted to having “a running war with the media”. That set a tone that would not diminish over the following four years. In addition to the verbal challenges to the press, there was also the actual physical actions taken to stem the work of reporters who dared ask questions and press for fact-based answers.

During a press conference, Trump was asked by Jim Acosta of CNN why he characterized the migrants as an invasion?  Trump said, “because they were a invasion”.  When Acosta challenged that answer a press aide grabs the reporter’s microphone. Over the Trump years, more than one intrepid reporter would get labeled as an “enemy” of the people.

That was simply horrifying.

The reason is clear as it fits with the words used throughout history when speaking of totalitarian leaders. Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, out-of-favor artists and politicians were designated enemies and many were sent to hard labor camps or killed. Others were stigmatized and denied access to education and employment. In China Chairman Mao was also known to use the phrase against anyone who opposed him, with terrible consequences. So it was most troubling when Trump used the same words as Russia’s “Man of Steel” about members of the American press.

As the days are ticking down to the time Trump will exit the White House (willingly or not) my thoughts turn to the next chapter of press relations with a new president, Joe Biden. Without a doubt, the demonization of the press will be ended and a return to the robust roles of journalists sparring with government officials, with each knowing the role they play in our nation, will again be the norm. (Norms will feel so good!) Gone will be a president who aligns with a television network that has as a mission not the conveyance of information and news but rather a partisan echo chamber 24/7.

What I found baffling over the past four years was the degree to which many people I knew to be educated would repeat the most absurd and factless blather about current events. When I was able to coax out of them where they had heard such ‘information’ I was told Fox News was the source. (Have you noticed how reticent some conservatives are to share where they learn of current events?) That type of conversation, over and over, alerted me that Trump was succeeding in having his base watch Fox and receive upside-down and misleading views while at the same time he would undermine journalists from respected news organizations like NPR and the Washington Post who deal with facts..

This all leads me back to Walter Cronkite.

One of the most corrosive and damaging aspects to our democracy is the attacks on the press by the leader of our nation. When facts are made out to be expendable and reporters are turned into an “enemy” then it is no shock to understand why there is a massive divide in the nation.

I have long argued that this nation no longer starts at the same foundation when talking about current events.  As a teenager, it was Walter Cronkite who reported the news stories that impacted our lives.  He reported the headlines of the day and stated to get a deeper understanding one should turn to their morning newspapers. As an adult, it is very clear as to why ‘Uncle Walter’ mattered so much.  He allowed for a sense of commonality to guide us as to what the basic facts were to the news events that made up our world.

It is my imperative as we start with a new face in the Oval Office that the reporters who are stationed at the White House strive to their utmost to be the ‘Uncle Walters’ of our time. Our democracy is needing each one of them.

Man Landing On Moon At Grandparent’s Home

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July 20th, 1969 remains a most wonderful memory, not only for our nation, but also for what unfolded that day in my grandparent’s living room.  Today the world is one in memory regarding what is, without doubt, the most amazing feat ever accomplished by mankind.  The landing of humans on the moon.

My family gathered in my grandparent’s Hancock, Wisconsin living room that evening where the large black and white console TV allowed us to watch history unfold on the moon.  I was the youngest in that room, but at the age of seven, I can still recall my heart was on the moon that night. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon it was something akin to a miracle.  So far away, and yet man was there!

Later that evening as we walked back across the road to our home my brother, Gary Humphrey,  joked that the dark shadows on the moon were the dust being kicked up by Armstrong.  I was still young enough to think perhaps he might be correct.  It was a wonderful time to be a kid.

I recall vividly Walter Cronkite reporting that story of what was about to happen, making it so real that even a  boy could understand, and be awe-struck.  In time Cronkite would be as memorable a figure to me from that time as Armstrong.

As a young boy, it was the biggest and best adventure possible, to be recreated many times afterward in the backyard with the picnic table made with my father’s hands serving as the space ship.  There I was, positioned underneath with my legs up in the wooden frame much as the astronauts were on their backs for traveling through space.  It is amazing that the wooden table never burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere.  White pine is durable!!  (NASA should look into that!)  Walter’s voice of the events would be unfolding and echoing in my head as I moved slowly to impersonate the gravity-free conditions that the famed astronauts encountered.

The Apollo program and those brave men who journeyed to space on rockets of flame were my childhood heroes.  But so was Cronkite, with his authoritative voice which allowed us all to be so informed.  One of the things I still recall about Cronkite was that he seemed as excited as I was over the events.  Later in life I would come to understand that he was!

My grandparent’s home produced many memories for me in my childhood.  They lived across the road from my family out in the country, and since we did not have TV while I was a young boy, it was a pleasure to head over the road to watch the big events, such as the moon landing.  The astronauts would change, as would the number of the Apollo mission, but the anchor of the CBS News broadcasts stayed ever-present and informative. Cronkite was as much a fan of the unfolding drama as we were in that living room.  I recall a Saturday morning as if it were yesterday that Walter Cronkite explained with a plastic model of the moon buggy about how it would operate, and what precautions needed to be taken to ensure its successful movements on the lunar surface.

I sat there in rapt attention, and Grandma true to form for these big occasions, would have chips or cookies to nibble on.  She sat in a larger chair off to the side and behind me, while I sat on the sofa and we would watch Walter.

There is less mystery and excitement–or so it seems to me–for kids today when it comes to the space program.  Not that there are no missions to follow, or untold questions to be answered. But with so much technology in our homes and video games to dazzle, I suspect there are no kids these days pretending to be scientists aboard the space station.  I strongly suspect no picnic tables are also serving as space capsules.

Times have changed, but the real heroes of the space era must still be honored.  With deep respect, I offer thanks to Neil Armstrong for all that he gave to mankind.  And to Uncle Walter for bringing science and space into our homes with as much enthusiasm as we were feeling.

Honoring Stephen Goddard

Dad

This morning, while reading my daily listing of political news from Taegan Goddard on his Political Wire, I came across this sad news for his family.   His father, Stephen, died yesterday.  But it was the way Taegan presented his dad, so the rest of us could glimpse a view of how his life was lived, that caught my attention.

My dear father, Stephen Goddard, passed away yesterday afternoon.

So much of what you see on Political Wire was influenced by him. Although I was just a child, he took hours to explain the historical importance of the Watergate hearings and how our system of government worked. In 1976, we sat in front of the television with yellow legal pads counting up electoral votes as Walter Cronkite called each state in the presidential election.

When the Hartford Times shut down — a newspaper where he once worked a reporter — he taught me about the importance of journalism to the workings of government. We even spent time thinking about how to resurrect the Times in the digital media era.

He was an attorney, teacher, author of three books and a devoted Red Sox fan. But his greatest legacy was his love for his family. We will miss him terribly. 

This nation would be much better off if we had more fathers raising children the way Stephen did in his home.  What a wonderful tribute.