On Cronkite as (Belatedly) ‘Courageous Truth-Teller’

Norman Solomon has noticed (Common Dreams, 7/20/09) that “media eulogies for Walter Cronkite–including from progressive commentators–rarely talk about his coverage of the Vietnam War before 1968.” An “obit omit” Solomon deems “essential to the myth of Cronkite as a courageous truth-teller”:

But facts are facts, and history is history–including what Cronkite actually did as TV’s most influential journalist during the first years of the Vietnam War. Despite all the posthumous praise for Cronkite’s February 1968 telecast that dubbed the war “a stalemate,” the facts of history show that the broadcast came only after Cronkite’s protracted support for the war.

In 1965, reporting from Vietnam, Cronkite dramatized the murderous war effort with enthusiasm….

Also in 1965–the pivotal year of escalation–Cronkite expressed explicit support for the Vietnam War. He lauded “the courageous decision that Communism’s advance must be stopped in Asia and that guerrilla warfare as a means to a political end must be finally discouraged.”

Why does this matter now? Because citing Cronkite as an example of courageous reporting on a war is a dangerously low bar–as if reporting that a war can’t be won, after cheerleading it for years, is somehow the ultimate in journalistic quality and courage.

See Solomon’s book and film War Made Easy for an extended look at Cronkite’s important contribution to the U.S.’s war on Vietnam.