The Cronkite Network

When you watch Walter Cronkite, my recent piece should have read, “you not only CBS but hear it too.” That was certainly true, particularly of Cronkite’s Vietnam coverage, but as Douglas Brinkley explained in the 819-page Cronkite, there’s more that people should know.

Cronkite had worked with Sidney Lumet to adapt the radio show “You Are There” for television. Lumet directed Network, which Cronkite saw in a private screening. As Brinkley notes, the film “hit close to home,” as “much about TV newsgathering was a sham.” As anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) explained:

Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business! So if you want the truth. Go to God! Go to your gurus! Go to yourselves! Because that’s the only place you’re ever going to find any real truth.

But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We’ll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker’s house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don’t worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he’s going to win. We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in illusions, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I’m speaking to you now! TURN THEM OFF!

Network also cast Walter Cronkite’s daughter Cathy as Mary Ann Gifford, an heiress kidnapped by the Ecumenical Liberation Army. In the style of Patricia Hearst, kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, Gifford joins the Ecumenicals in bank robberies, which they record on film. When the Communist Laureen Hobbs (Marlene Warfield) uses the footage in her “Mao Tse-Tung Hour” show, Gifford calls her out.

“You f—— fascist! Did you see the film we made of the San Marino jail breakout, demonstrating the rising up of the seminal prisoner class infrastructure?” Hobbs tells Gifford to “blow the seminal prisoner class infrastructure out your ass!”

Network bagged four Oscars, and for cinéma vérité about television it’s hard to beat. On March 10, if anybody watched Network instead of the Academy Awards it would be hard to blame them.

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