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 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 21-Jul-2009
Boomers celebrate themselves on the death of Walter Cronkite

Web Log - July, 2009

Boomers celebrate themselves on the death of Walter Cronkite

Boomers never really celebrate other people - just themselves.

I was never really impressed with Walter Cronkite, largely because he didn't understand 4th grade percentages. I'll come back to that.

Walter Cronkite made his mark as a journalist in World War II. He was part of the GI Generation (generational Hero archetype) that fought the war. His bravery in reporting on the ground during the European battle following the landing at Normandy established him as one of the greatest journalists of the 20th century.

But that was only rarely mentioned in the flood of news reports that have accompanied his death in the last few days. His coverage of the 1969 moon landing was frequently mentioned, but that's because we're celebrating the 40th anniversary of the moon landing.

The main thing that Boomers are proud of was his opposition to the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, beginning with his February 27, 1968, commentary on saying that "we are mired in stalemate" in the war:

"To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."

This statement, coming from one of the most powerful newsmen of the time (Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were more powerful at the time), shortly after the Summer of Love, energized the "antiwar movement," and led to President Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run for a second term as President.

Cronkite had been a balanced journalist up to that time, but after that he moved farther to the left, conducting a virtual media war against President Nixon's administration, much to the delight of the Boomers.

The first "4th grade percentages" moment that I recall happened around 1975. At that time, there was an ideological battle going on over the "socialist" takeover of the economy, with conservatives claiming that the government's share of the economy had increased by 25% in the preceding few years. Cronkite commented on this, saying (I'm paraphrasing from memory), "That's not true. The government used to control 19% of the economy, and now it's only 24%. That's only a 5% increase."

Now, for those of you who also have trouble with percentages, that's a 26% increase. (24 is 26% higher than 19.) Perhaps others may think that that's a trivial matter, but to me it means that he should stick to stories about the war and women's lib, and not report any stories that contain a number, since he can't do simple arithmetic.

The second "4th grade percentage" moment came late in the 70s. OPEC had been raising the price of oil, and so gasoline (petrol) prices had been going up. The ideological battle was over how much profit the oil companies were making, especially when a gallon of gas (petrol) reached the astronomically high price of $1.00 per gallon.

As I recall, Mobil was making about 1.5 cents per gallon in 1977, and 1 cent per gallon in 1978. Then in 1979 it went up to 1.60 cents per gallon. This meant that Mobil's profits had increased by 60%, but it also meant that if Mobil made no profit whatsoever, the price of a gallon of gas would only go down by 1.6 cents.

Cronkite reported this with a huge graphic on the screen next to his head saying "60%" in big numerals. He made it appear that Mobil's profit was 60%, not 1.6%. So which was it? Was he too stupid to understand percentages, or was he purposely lying for ideological reasons? I report, you decide.

I actually still respected Cronkite, and kept watching his newscast, as it was the best one on at the time. But then, in 1981, he was replaced by Dan Rather, who was really the pits. I still remember the day I vowed that I would never watch Rather again. It was around 1982, and it was a news reports on AIDS, which just beginning to make itself widely known. Rather reported that some Soviet-controlled medical academy had "found" that AIDS was a plot perpetrated by the American CIA. Rather didn't report this story as a joke. He reported it as a serious news story, just as if the American Medical Association had made the claim.

I decided I would never watch the jerk again, which wasn't too much of a sacrifice since CNN had begun broadcasting by then. In the years since then, I've probably violated that rule less than five times. It serves Rather right that he ended his career in disgrace with that ridiculous forged document scandal that occurred in 2004. To this very day, Rather still sticks to the flawed story that ended his career.

This is your brain on ideology
This is your brain on ideology

But that brings me to the point of this tale. How dumb does Rather have to be to allow a ridiculous story like that destroy his whole career? At any point, he could have said, "OK, the evidence is piling up that the document is forged. I apologize to my viewers, blah, blah, blah." Instead, he took the story to his (professional) grave. How can anybody be so stupid? That's the problem with these journalists. They're so ideological that their brains are fried.

The fact is that few people younger than Boomers ever watched Rather or his peers. As of ten years ago, the average age of a viewer of one of the network newscasts was 55 years old. That's when the Fox News Channel started taking off.

As I described a couple of months ago in "Vile 'teabagging' jokes signal the deterioration of CNN and NBC news," the network newscasts continue to disgrace themselves. They are no longer barely recognizable as news casts; they're mostly ideological recitations.

That's the real accomplishment of Walter Cronkite. He opened the door to replacing journalism with ideology, and by not being able to deal with 4th grade percentages, he opened the door to journalistic stupidity. May he rest in peace.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Fox News Channel vs CNN and MSNBC thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (21-Jul-2009) Permanent Link
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