Liberal historian and biographer Douglas Brinkley is out with a new book about the late Walter Cronkite and in its pages lie plenty of revelations that damage the late anchor's objective journalist "halo," according to media critic Howard Kurtz, who reviewed the book for the Daily Beast. Among other things, Brinkley wrote about how the allegedly Cronkite bugged a committee room at the 1952 Republican convention, how he literally begged liberal Sen. Robert Kennedy to jump into the 1968 presidential race, and how the avuncular family man figure had a penchant for partying at topless bars.
Yet on the May 31 edition of Now with Alex Wagner, neither Brinkley nor Wagner nor anyone else on the panel brought up any of those interesting revelations, focusing instead on such trivialities as how Cronkite, who got his start in the wire service UPI, perfected his on-air news-reading skills. [MP3 audio here; video follows page break] [Related: Read the MRC's Cronkite "Profile in Bias" here]
"Honestly, this is one of those days where you wish you just had the whole hour to play Walter Cronkite clips, bow in adoration, and then talk about the man," Wagner gushed as she opened the segment, going on to say that when she was "very, very little," she would watch Cronkite's Evening News before heading off to bed.
"It is understated to say he was America's television anchor." Wagner insisted.
Of course, that's exactly why Brinkley's new revelations about Cronkite's liberal biases would be germane for discussion on a cable news network, but Wagner and her panel had no use for history, preferring hagiography instead:
ALEX WAGNER, host: I want to read the artistry of Cronkite, or the talent. Cronkite had trained himself -- I should really listen to this -- Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in a broadcast so that TV viewers could easily absorb the newscast.
Americans typically average about 165 words per minute, and hard-to-understand speakers -- such as myself -- average 200. Blessed with a mellifluous voice, Cronkite slowed the verbiage down like an old muddy river, and TV viewers approved en masse
S.E. CUPP, conservative columnist: That's delicious.
Moments later, Wagner gushed again about Cronkite vis-a-vis his mannerisms and TV image, not his substance as a journalist:
WAGNER: What is amazing is, he understood the theater of television in a way that I think a lot of folks at the time didn't. And you talk in the book about that moment when he's announcing Kennedy's assassination and takes his glasses off, which of course is a seminal moment in TV history.
And you say, "Walter was really in his element," remembered producer Sandy Socolow. He was like an actor in the middle of his performance of a lifetime. It's possible that the scene of him taking off his glasses was consciously staged. Any director would tell you that what Walter did with those glasses, the fidgeting, was a fine prop to convey both human emotion and an air of spontaneity. The performance worked. The proof is in the pudding. Walter's glasses are constantly being replayed. Everybody knows it.
WAGNER: I need a pair of glasses.
CUPP, who wears glasses: I will take notes from that. Work on my timing here.
[amused reactions from rest of the panel]