I mentioned in my last post that during the 50s and 60s we had very limited news sources. We had TV and radio news, magazines and newspapers. That was about it. Because we were not a part of the ‘instantaneous -quick as a flash culture’ of today, our weekly magazines were excellent and popular. The three biggies were Look, Life, and Time. Look and Life are both out of business, but in their day, they provided photographic in-depth articles of national and world events. Today, no one would buy any magazine that is touting news that is one week old. (Okay. I forgot about National Enquirer, Star and all the other gossip rags.)
We also had terrific television news personalities. The big three networks, NBC, CBS and ABC all had their headliner news broadcasters. John Cameron Swayze, Douglas Edwards, Edward R. Morrow, Walter Cronkite and the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the biggies.
Edward R. Morrow gained notoriety by providing ‘on the spot’ reports for radio listeners about World War II. In particular, he would report from a rooftop in London during the Blitz. German and English planes were dogfighting, bombs were dropping, sirens were blaring and Edward would verbally paint a very descriptive picture of what was going on. The bombs exploding and the sirens blaring could always be heard in the background. He never occupied a full time TV anchor desk once TV became popular after WWII. He would provide details of world events while on special assignments that would be shown during the newscast.
John Cameron Swayze and Douglas Edwards were both experienced reporters. Most of the eventual newscasters started in either newspaper reporting, radio reporting, or both. The one thing about both of these guys was that they were both credible and reliable. Swayze may be remembered for being the spokesperson for Timex watches for years. His phrase: “Timex, it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” They were both on national networks and both got replaced once the ownership of a TV got to be more mainstream and news reporting became more competitive.
As an aside, we got our first black and white, 19″, cabinet TV in late 1952. I was four years old and became addicted to the newfangled electronic babysitter. My mother was delighted! We got our first color TV in 1963. It was also a 19″ , cabinet TV. It cost $750! That was a very princely sum at the time. If I remember correctly, it was about 8 weeks of my dad’s salary. All for a 19″ TV! Our first color programs? Bonanza and the Wonderful World of Disney were absolute mainstays in our house. Less than 10 % of the TV shows at that time were in color. When is the last time you called a TV repair man? If you are under 50 years old, you most likely have never called a TV repair man. We had one in our home town and he was at our house often to keep those televisions working. That darn color TV always needed some type of tube or adjustment. It was a major household expense.
As television became more popular and newscasts became more competitive, the networks upped their game. Edwards and Swayze were replaced because even though they were excellent reporters, their TV personality came off as rather dry. Douglas Edwards was replaced on CBS by the man who became a household name, Walter Cronkite.
Cronkite made his notoriety during WWII, just like Edward R. Murrow. He flew in bombing missions over Germany, he was with the 101st Airborne during Operation Market Garden, and he reported on the Nuremberg trials. My most vivid memory of Walter Cronkite was when he reported the death of President John F. Kennedy. Even with all his vast reporting experience, Cronkite could barely keep it together while he was notifying the people of the United States that they had just lost their president. He reported the death, removed his glasses, and wiped the tears from his eyes. It was all on camera. In this man, you could see his sorrow and as Kennedy was a very popular president, we all felt it with him. During the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 moon missions, he was the most watched newscaster in the nation.
But the most amazing item to know about Walter Cronkite, was that he had the unofficial title of, “the most trusted man in America.” He was often referred to by this title.
Swayze was replaced on NBC by the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. This was done to eat into the popularity of Walter Cronkite on CBS. Chet Huntley reported from New York City and David Brinkley reported from Washington, D.C. Initially, they enjoyed great success and did draw more viewers than Cronkite. This went on for a few more years, but eventually Walter again dominated the news reporting business, especially after Huntley retired in 1970.
The reason for all of this? As our generation grew up, we absolutely trusted all of these men delivering our news. Not only that, but we were confident that anything that appeared in our newspapers and magazines was indeed, factual. The general consensus was that if Walter Cronkite said it, it had to damn well be true. If trust in our media sources was not 100%, I would bet it would have been pretty darn close.
In a recent Gallup Poll, it was determined that confidence and trust in our media was at an all time low since the poll was initiated in 1990. Overall, only 40% of the population expressed a ‘great deal or fair amount’ of trust in the media. Those numbers were lower, 36%, for people in the 18-49 age bracket. People 50 and older had a 45% trust rate in the media. Oddly enough, liberals had a higher trust rate than conservatives by about a 10% margin. (Apparently, those liberals will believe anything!)
What happened? Isn’t this the Age of Information with all our electronic gizmos and computer/internet/social media capabilities? And now that we have gotten all this capability and information, we don’t believe its true? What’s with that?
Well, the Gallup Poll had one theory. Their theory was that people do not trust the United States government or governmental institutions. If that is indeed the case, that should be an indication that the general public is getting wiser! That, coupled with the fact that as government gets bigger, it becomes less efficient and less trustworthy. Benghazi. Tea Party/IRS scandal. Iranian Nuclear deal. Fiscal cliff. National debt. Funding of Planned Parenthood. Foreign Policy. I am guessing by the results of the poll, the public is not issuing any “A” ratings to the manner in which our government has handled any of the aforementioned concerns.
I have another theory. Here is the Grandpa T, common sense theory. With all the media sources today, with all of the personal devices that can be cameras or make movies, with all the social media capability, the mainstream news sources have to compete for the advertising dollars with a whole different bunch of ‘personal news sources’ as well as with each other. Additionally, because we have become the ‘instantaneous – quick as a flash’ society, it has got to be published or broadcasted immediately. Never mind authenticating the news source. Never mind assuring accuracy. Get the darn thing published or televised or broadcast immediately before someone else does!
I believe there is another reason. Look at all the news shows on cable and on the primary networks today compared to what we had during my youth. Instead of three networks, there are hundreds with many of them having news shows. All of these news shows are competing with each other for advertising dollars. Additionally, they are always trying to differentiate themselves from the field of competitors. They have a voracious appetite for anything that approaches being newsworthy, and they have to feed that beast with news to survive. If something does not appear newsworthy, embellish it. If it is a slow news day, make something up! If I want to appear to be the Indiana Jones of newscasters………..
Enter the antithesis of Walter Cronkite……..Brian Williams. Not only has Brian been accused of 32 lies and embellishments over a decade, but apparently NBC knew of it and allowed their fair-haired boy to continue broadcasting these lies. Brian lied about everything; from being in a helicopter that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Afghanistan to seeing someone commit suicide during Hurricane Katrina. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley have to be absolutely rolling over in their graves! Huntley and Brinkley dominated the news business for years for NBC. Now, with the egotistical Brian Williams, their news credibility rates slightly lower than the Kardashian Christmas special, and that’s pretty darn low. I am sure that Brian wanted to make his mark by emulating many of the deeds that his predecessors had done during WWII and Viet Nam. The problem is that when we combine an ego with a corporation wanting advertiser dollars in a ‘instantaneous – quick as a flash’ society, the public ultimately gets garbage. Unreliable, fictitious but fast garbage.
Brian Williams is not the only fabricator. Dan Rather was so vehement about President George W. Bush’s military record, that he fabricated information to strengthen his accusations against the President. It became obvious that Rather was becoming obsessed with the topic. It also became obvious that he was using his stage to wage a fabricated vendetta, even though some of what he said was true. That did not work well for him. Ultimately, he was exposed…and forced to retire.
Maybe during the 50s and 60s we were a little naïve about our news and news sources, because we pretty much believed all of it. I prefer to think we had better newscasters, writers and reporters that believed they had a moral obligation to get it right. There is a lesson to be learned. Electronic devices, for as marvelous as they are, have only power cords and batteries. Humans are the only device that contains a ‘truth filter.’ Much like our old TVs in the 60s, some of these may need their tubes replaced or have an adjustment.