Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Praising Uncle Walter

President Obama took time before his address before a joint session on Congress to pay homage to Walter Cronkite, the veteran CBS News anchor and journalist who died in July. Artfully embodied in that tribute was a call for journalists to live up to Uncle Walter’s principles — and a quiet rebuke to the spinmeisters of the media who pervert the First Amendment to wholly partisan ends, or to media outlets more enamored of profits or the travails of celebrities than pursuit of the facts.

The statement, and the mission to those ethically-challenged journalists, speak for themselves.

“Through all the events that came to define the 20th century, through all our moments of deepest hurt and brightest hope, Walter Cronkite was there, telling the story of the American age,” the president said today at a Cronkite memorial at Lincoln Center in New York City.

“And this is how we remember him today. But we also remember and celebrate the journalism that Walter practiced — a standard of honesty and integrity and responsibility to which so many of you have committed your careers. It's a standard that's a little bit harder to find today. We know that this is a difficult time for journalism. Even as appetites for news and information grow, newsrooms are closing. Despite the big stories of our era, serious journalists find themselves all too often without a beat. Just as the news cycle has shrunk, so has the bottom line.

“And too often, we fill that void with instant commentary and celebrity gossip and the softer stories that Walter disdained, rather than the hard news and investigative journalism he championed. "What happened today?" is replaced with "Who won today?" The public debate cheapens. The public trust falters. We fail to understand our world or one another as well as we should –- and that has real consequences in our own lives and in the life of our nation. …

“Our American story continues. It needs to be told. And if we choose to live up to Walter's example, if we realize that the kind of journalism he embodied will not simply rekindle itself as part of a natural cycle, but will come alive only if we stand up and demand it and resolve to value it once again, then I'm convinced that the choice between profit and progress is a false one -- and that the golden days of journalism still lie ahead.”
Image credit: Obama and Cronkite: Pete Souza, The White House (public domain):

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