Okay, you had to do it. I’m talking to you, media people. There weren’t enough weird things happening in the world; you found it necessary to sic a ghost on us. And not just a ghost, an ANGRY ghost. I can already hear him storming back into the world he so peacefully departed a few years ago. His dark, tailor-made suit has been pressed for the occasion. His conservative silk tie rests carefully on a white, spread-collared dress shirt. Elegant cufflinks shimmer in the dim light as he walks. The polished cap toed shoes glisten with authority. Walter Cronkite is back, and he’s not happy.
If you’re on the younger side, you might take this announcement lightly. Big deal, you may mutter disrespectfully under your contemptuous breath. It’s not Kurt Cobain. Go ahead. Make that mistake. This ghost is one to be reckoned with. When you look into his deep-set eyes, blazing beneath those bushy white brows, you’ll know what I mean. And if that were not enough, there’s the schoolmaster mustache and the flowing white hair. He seems to have been painted by Michelangelo.
The physical appearance harmonizes with the voice. It is gruff and somewhat clipped, as tough as Mark Twain’s Missouri, his home state. The first thing that voice is going to ask is “Now just who is this Jay Z fellow?” The reason for his asking this is the Elevator Affair that recently dominated what now passes for network news. Mr. Cronkite has returned to avenge his craft; he was America’s “most trusted” newsman for most of the 20th century. He wants to know why a tiff between celebrities in a posh hotel was given wall to wall coverage for days. And days. And days.
You see, Mr. Cronkite is accustomed to real news. The only time he gave stories extended coverage, the topic was something like the assassination of President Kennedy or the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Beyonce’s sister Solange flailing at her brother-in-law, Jay Z, during an elevator ride doesn’t compute with Mr. Cronkite. He wants some answers as to who’s responsible for giving such drivel a level of attention equivalent to the first moon landing. And more broadly, he’s trying to find out what’s happened to the news in general.
We were once made of sterner stuff. In Mr. Cronkite’s day we took it for granted that the news would be news. Pushed aside in favor of celebrity gossip have been the hordes of children (and adults) living in Internal Displaced Persons camps in Uganda. Did you know these people survive in part on fried rats? These people need intervention. They need an international outcry and international pressure brought to bear. Mr. Cronkite always paid attention to things like that.
Perhaps the reason we don’t have a Walter Cronkite today is that we have changed. We settle for less now, much less. Events that are shaping the world in which we live take a backseat to the latest celebrity snafu. Did you hear that Rihanna accidentally dropped the cell phone of an LAPD officer while snapping a selfie? Mr. Cronkite hasn’t. During the Vietnam War, Mr. Cronkite donned the type of combat gear he’d worn as a correspondent in World War II, and plodded into the jungles to tell us what was really going on. There he was, helmet firmly planted on head, giving us the real news from the place where it was happening. Now he’s waiting, arms folded expectantly over elegant jacket lapels. Who wants to tell him he’s just a faded blast from the past, a quaint antique from a bygone era? Who will step forward to put old Walter wise on how his kind of news isn’t cool? No one? Maybe those hip members of the modern media are all off covering a celebrity bash somewhere. While life transforms around us, we’re preoccupied with the latest development on Dancing with the Stars. Our whole concept of news is defined by TMZ. And sadly, that’s – to paraphrase the closing line of every one of Mr. Cronkite’s classic newscasts – the way it is.
I wouldn’t keep him waiting if I were you.