Saturday, July 18, 2009

"That's the Way it Is"

Walter Cronkite died tonight at the age of 92.

It seemed strange to me that he could be dead.

It seemed strange to me that news this important...should be announced by someone other than Walter Cronkite himself.

I remember watching him as a kid. He wasn't as cold and hard or scolding sounding as Huntley, Brinkley and the rest. He seemed kind of an affable Uncle. And more so, when things went wrong in the world, he seemed like he would, if not be able to make it all better, he'd protect us from getting hurt.

I remember him in 1972 announcing that we would be calling our troupes home from Vietnam. I kind of knew there was a war on (I was 9) but I wasn't really sure where or with who or even if it was still World War II. I did know that it was wrong for us to be in though. That it was more wrong than war is wrong anyway. And I think I knew it because of the stern way Walter Cronkite announced it, and the relieved way he said our boys were coming home.

I remember in 1974 (I was 11 then) when the most powerful man in the free-world was accused of doing something he shouldn't have been. I think I was a little scared to be in a world where the man who was President would do something he wasn't supposed to be doing. And I felt good knowing people like Walter Cronkite were keeping an eye on guys like that.

I understood what "The Fourth Estate" meant on that day.

I can faintly remember in 1969 seeing him commentating on the live broadcast of man's first step on the moon. I remember being perturbed that it all didn't look as cool as "Star Trek" or "Lost in Space" and finding it annoying that most of what we could see was the guys at Houston Control and the news guys talking about it all. Then when it happened I saw Walter Cronkite cry. I saw a grown man who I knew was responsible and serious and someone in charge (I was 6) wipe tears from his eyes. That was the first time I had ever seen a grown man cry, and in the 40 years since then I think it was the only time I ever saw a man cry that didn't make me feel uncomfortable. But he didn't make me feel uncomfortable. I, even at 6, understood why he broke down. And it could only have been because he had made me understand why, with what he was saying.

I learned what "The Fourth Estate" could mean on that day.

A week or so ago I overheard a TV newscast from the other room and the anchor had to stop in the midst of his/her top story (some important findings on the relevance of what color panties Paris Hilton and Lyndsay Lohan flash on any given day, and how it pertains to disturbances in the Van Allen Belt) to announce with a quavering and breaking voice that his/her childhood idol, a pedophile with scores of other mental disorders, had died of drug related causes. He/she commented that he/she wasn't sure how the world could go on without the "grand" contribution this freak brought to the world. What would we do without a septic-bubble-gum-Pop spewing child molester around? Luckily the anchor composed his/herself in time to throw the show over to the cupcake cooking demo and then come back, orange-spray-on-tan all aglow, to give out the results of the previous nights "Dancing with The Surviving America's Got Talent Idols" and sign off with a wink, a brilliant capped-bleached-toothed smile and a "shout out" to his/her Twitter followers.

I learned how fragile "The Fourth Estate" was.

And now it feels weaker, without a Walter Cronkite to suddenly jump out of retirement and make it all right again.

Rest well Mr. Cronkite. That's the way it is. Good night.

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