To millions of TV news viewers, Walter Cronkite might well have been the most trusted man in America. But, according to a new biography, he committed unethical, biased no-nos that would get him fired these days, writes Newsweek's Howard Kurtz.
Kurtz describes the new book, Cronkite, by Douglas Brinkley, as "sweeping and masterful" in its portrayal of the newsman who anchored the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981.
Kurtz draws on his own first-hand dealings with Cronkite, who died in 2009. After reading the book, which will be released May 29, Kurtz notes that the former anchor was not exactly the man he knew.
In reading this first major biography of Cronkite, I came to realize that the man who once dominated television journalism was more complicated—and occasionally more unethical—than the legend that surrounds him. Had Cronkite engaged in some of the same questionable conduct today—he secretly bugged a committee room at the 1952 GOP convention—he would have been bashed by the blogs, pilloried by the pundits, and quite possibly ousted by his employer.
Kurtz also writes that Cronkite was much more liberal than TV viewers would have thought. He dissed Barry Goldwater on the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
In another questionable move, he met privately with Robert Kennedy and encouraged him to run for president, only later to get an exclusive interview to discuss Kennedy's plan to run for president. Kurtz adds:
I am shaking my head at the spectacle of a network anchor secretly urging a politician to mount a White House campaign—and then interviewing him about that very question. This was duplicitous, a major breach of trust.
There also was the time when Cronkite spliced unflattering segments of an interview with Johnson about the Vietnam War—editing that was later undone by CBS.
And despite the news anchor's "pipe-puffing family man" image, Cronkite did get into a bit of, er, manly mischief. Kurtz notes a reference in the biography to a night that Cronkite went to an "infamous topless bar."
[Cronkite] was later spotted dining with a go-go dancer in a miniskirt and plunging neckline. Cronkite drew a bit of tabloid attention for his exploits; I can only imagine what TMZ would have done with the inevitable paparazzi shots.
Indeed, you do have to wonder.