Getting Cronkite wrong

Kathleen Parker pays tribute to Walter Cronkite, claiming that he represented a time when substance was more important than style:

During a bumpy time in our nation’s history, he filled a psychic need for order amid chaos. By showing up every night at the same time, same place — speaking simply and without drama — he conveyed a sense that someone was in charge. . . .
He had the looks and voice of the sort of man one could trust for good directions. Nonthreatening and, it seemed, untempted by vanity, his prevailing affect was of seriousness and humility. . . .
What mattered more than fame or celebrity was content. Cronkite enjoyed fame, but his was the result of his labors in the vineyard. More workhorse than show horse, he was more Rushmore than Rushbo.

This, I think, is an untenable view of Cronkite. How, for example, does Parker find “humility” in a man who concluded his newscasts by asserting “and that’s the way it is”?
Cronkite did not speak “without drama.” Unlike the matter-of-fact David Brinkley, Cronkite’s tone was imperious and portentous. That is how he “conveyed a sense that someone was in charge.” Thus, Parker is closer to the mark when she attributes the trust Americans had for Cronkite to his “looks and voice” and to his “prevailing affect.”
In short, Cronkite didn’t represent the victory of substance over style, but rather the victory of a style that implied substance over substance itself.


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