CNN’s much-publicized documentary series on the ‘80s debuted, Thursday, with a nostalgic longing for a time when Americans trusted the media. After playing a clip of Walter Cronkite’s last broadcast on the March 6, 1981 CBS Evening News, journalist Lesley Stahl repeated the much-loved legend of reporters: “Uncle Walter had dominated, certainly CBS, but in a way, the country. People used to say he was the most trusted man in the country.”
NPR television critic David Bianculli mourned, “Once Walter Cronkite retires, all three anchors, within a couple of years switch over to a new generation. The '80s may have been the last gasp where people watching the media liked and trusted the media.”
Of course, the latter half of the ‘80s saw the birth of the Media Research Center and a more concerted effort to expose and undermine the biases of the so-called mainstream media. After all, it was in 1988 that Dan Rather famously ambushed then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, yelling at him: “You’ve made us hypocrites in the face of the world!”
As for Cronkite, far from being a trusted, neutral journalist, he secretly pushed Robert Kennedy to run for president and even admitted he would have run as liberal George McGovern’s 1972 vice presidential running mate. In a July 25, 2009 Washington Post piece, former press secretary to Robert Kennedy Frank Mankiewicz wrote:
Decades later, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. “On the contrary, George,” the senator told me Cronkite replied, “I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war.” At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.
A partial transcript is below:
The Eighties: Raised on Television
WALTER CRONKITE: This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News. For me, it's a moment for which I long have planned, but which nevertheless comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we've been meeting like this in the evenings, and I'll miss that. And that's the way it is, Friday, March 6th, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Goodnight.
LESLEY STAHL: Uncle Walter had dominated, certainly CBS, but in a way, the country. People used to say he was the most trusted man in the country.
DAVID BIANCULLI: (Television critic, Fresh Air): Once Walter Cronkite retires, all three anchors, within a couple of years switch over to a new generation. The '80s may have been the last gasp where people watching the media liked and trusted the media.