Cronkite Hits Dangers of Anti-Communist "Nuts," Says Iraq and Vietnam "Almost Exact"

In a talk with the editor of the liberal Texas Monthly that airs on Texas PBS stations, former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite uncorked some more liberal opinions. In praising the CBS-boosting, Joseph McCarthy-trashing movie "Good Night and Good Luck," Cronkite liked how it reminded Americans that "one nut could endanger the democracy," was "locking up our democracy in a very dangerous way," and persecuting people who were "simply good Americans." When pressed to compare Vietnam and Iraq, Cronkite declared that the comparison was "almost exact."

On Thursday, the Poynter Institute’s Romenesko web site linked to an interview that Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith did with Cronkite for broadcast on Thursday night in thirteen TV markets.  First, they discussed the danger of Sen. Joseph McCarthy to our democracy. It's a bit surprising that at this late date, with all the archival information we have now on the Soviet state and its espionage activities, Cronkite still can't acknowledge any Soviet spies in the United States in the 1950s, and how that was a danger to our democracy.

SMITH: You like the movie?

CRONKITE: Oh, yes.

SMITH: Yeah? Did it feel authentic to you?

CRONKITE: I thought it was a superb movie. Beautifully done. George [Clooney], the producer, a good friend of mine. I followed the production of it but I think he made one mistake which he, he appreciates that. He says that he made a mistake.

SMITH: Yeah.

CRONKITE: And that’s the program needed a, a foreword. It needed a little bit of history for the present generations. There was a great movie and a very important movie regarding dangers to our democracy. But the, most of the generation today didn’t know what we were talking about in that movie.

SMITH: Right.

CRONKITE: And it needed a little foreword, which would have helped, I think, a lot.

SMITH: Explain to me what you mean by dangers to our democracy as it relates to that movie and what you see today.

CRONKITE: Well, of course the enemy at the gate was clearly defined in that picture with the threat to our democracy that one nut could endanger the democracy.

SMITH: Right.

CRONKITE: He was putting people’s feet to the fire who did not deserve it and for whom he did not have an adequate charge. But it was, it was locking up our democracy in a very dangerous way. People were being persecuted simply for being good Americans. He himself defined what an American was.

SMITH: Right.

CRONKITE: And it wasn’t our definition of it.

SMITH: How is the relationship between the government and press in your mind today? This is obviously not the days of Senator McCarthy, but I wonder if you feel like the press is doing a good job in dealing with the government and is the government doing a good job of dealing with the press?

CRONKITE: No on either one of those counts. This administration, of course, has been the most secret group in office in the White House that we’ve seen in my time and almost any time. It covets all of its information and is not sharing it with the people. We’re not really given all that we need to know about our our government and what’s it’s doing for us, or to us.

Later, Smith asked Cronkite for his best TV moment. Cronkite began with the 1952 political conventions, and complained "I’ve been in favor of not covering the conventions, at least to the extent we have, to the full week covering. It’s, we’re giving them the free time. We shouldn’t do it." Smith continued: "Is there any other moment that you think about maybe later in your career?"

CRONKITE: Well yes, the Vietnam War.

SMITH: Yeah.

CRONKITE: And my story coming out, Tet Offensive, saying that we ought to get out of there was a highlight of my career certainly, a very important highlight. The uh…

SMITH: Well, makes me want to ask you about coverage of this war, of the Iraq War, because people try to make comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq.

CRONKITE: I think the comparison is almost exact.

SMITH: You do?

CRONKITE: Yes, I do. I do. I don’t think… I think we made a mistake in getting into that war, even as we made a mistake in getting into the Vietnam War. John Kennedy did that to us, originally, and then Lyndon Johnson did his best with it. But he inherited it, and he had a difficult time getting us out of it. He did his best. This war is the same thing precisely. We shouldn’t have gone in there. We got in by mistake. We got in thinking we could do something for democracy, save a democracy. Same thing we were saying, Kennedy said, for Vietnam, we were saying for the Middle East.

SMITH: Yeah.

CRONKITE: And that we were in danger, and we had to save democracy. They didn’t have any democracy, just like they didn’t have in in the Far East. Uh they, Vietnam was a monarchy, and a very mean one. And much the same. Of course, we knew that we were getting that kind of situation in Asia. I mean, in the Mideast.

SMITH: Yes.

CRONKITE: But we didn’t know the full extent of it. We thought we could create the liberties of a democracy there. A sad mistake, of course. We thought we were protecting us against terrible weapons of war today when they didn’t have any such thing.

SMITH: Right.

CRONKITE: Mistake after mistake. And then a mistake in sending too few troops and not equipping them well enough.

SMITH: Well, Mr. Cronkite, you are as ever candid. No one tells you what to think, which was always the case when you were a journalist, and I’m so pleased to see that that’s the case today. We’re out of time. You’re so kind to be here. It’s an honor to get to talk to you.

It's fascinating how liberals congratulate each other for the boldness of their opinions, when they're so comfortably in vogue inside their own cocoon. But couldn't Cronkite at least acknowledge how Iraq and Vietnam are not exact? If they were exact, American soldiers would have liberated all of Vietnam, put the communist dictators on trial, established a constitutional order, held three democratic elections. Does that sound like history? No, but reporters rub their crystal balls and see the same end: ignominious American defeat.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis