Each evening at the dinner hour, we’d sit in front of our mid-century Philco black and white console or sit around the meal table and take in the news events of the day. The news was just the news—without opinion and lengthy editorial. Some broadcasts ended with an editorial opinion for about 60 seconds.
News broadcasts back in the day were all about telling you what happened—and without political commentary and an exhausting panel of pundits. In fact, the evening news in the golden age of television began as a 15-minute evening news brief that grew to 30 minutes by the cusp of the 1960s. Thirty Minutes has been the evening news standard ever since. News has also become big business with abundant advertising dollars for the networks.
The News has become entertainment.
The most trusted news anchor in the business back in the day was the late Walter Cronkite, who began his career in radio in the 1930s in Oklahoma City, moving on to United Press International (UPI) in 1937. He was offered a job with CBS and initially accepted until he was offered a raise in pay from UPI.
Cronkite swiftly became one of the most respected reporters in the business as America entered World War II in 1942. He covered the war in dangerous places across Europe, North Africa, and Russia. As a result of his excellent reporting, he was chosen along with seven others by the U.S Army Air Force to fly on board B-17 bombing raids over Germany in certainly the most frightening period in his career in a seasoned group of savvy war reporters known as “The Writing 69th.”
Cronkite operated in a machine gunner’s position in a B-17 aimed at a German fighter plane to grasp what it was like to be a gunner. He flew with the 101st Airborne Division over Germany. He also covered The Battle Of The Bulge in brutal subzero cold. Few covered the war like Walter Cronkite. It took raw guts and a commitment to real reporting to take such bold steps during the war to get the news to the people. Cronkite not only covered the war, he brought the action into our living rooms and kept us informed. Cronkite became an all too familiar voice we came to know and trust.
With a wealth of reporting experience, Cronkite joined CBS in 1950 at the invitation of the legendary Edward R. Murrow, serving with WTOP-TV, a CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. at first. Cronkite anchored CBS’ “Up To The Minute” broadcast in the 1950s. In the years to follow, he moved up through the ranks covering virtually every major news story imaginable at CBS News, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Being the quintessential reporter, he choked back his emotions delivering devastating news to the American people that Kennedy had died.
When it came to the space program, no one reported it, nor got as excited about it like Walter Cronkite. He followed the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions right up to man on the Moon in 1969. He was as giddy as a child when The Eagle touched down on the lunar surface and Neil Armstrong made the most legendary announcement of our time. We all joined in Walter’s raw emotions.
CBS tried Cronkite on for size with a number of news programs and time slots before awarding him the CBS Evening News anchor chair in 1962, replacing a retiring Douglas Edwards. Cronkite was in great company with other legendary news anchors across the three major networks. Dan Rather succeeded Cronkite in 1981 in the coveted CBS News anchor chair and kept us all company for 24 years. Rather began his career rise in Dallas with the Kennedy assassination. These great pioneers of television news brought us what we needed to hear each evening. Just the unvarnished facts without editorial.
I’m not a television news expert. All I can tell you is what I’ve seen as a lifelong news hound. The evening news has been a tradition for me personally since I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. Television news became more of an entertainment venue during the Clinton scandal in the 1990s— becoming tabloid-style programing in the years to follow. It became a place for juicy gossip as we entered the new millennium, swiftly followed by the horrifying events of September 11, 2001.
In due course, television news has become more opinion than being just the news. CNN, MSNBC and FOX News all put their spin on events, however, there is but one basic truth in any news story. It boils to interpretation and the politics of a news event. These news stories turn into a wide variety of opinions enlisted by these news networks and it isn’t always accurate.
It is unlikely television news will ever be the way it was when we were kids because, these days, it is all about manipulating what you see and hear, and getting you to believe as the network reports, not necessarily what really happened. A greater danger today is social media and the spreading of misinformation. This is not only creating conflict, but also getting people maimed and dead.
Social Media must get to the bottom of misinformation and how to stop the epidemic poisonous spread. This would be a challenging task at best because it is a hornets’ nest not easily controlled. There is then that tricky matter of freedom of speech in privately owned enterprises like Facebook and Twitter. America has always been a work in progress. We are always compelled to examine what we’ve done and how it has needed to be done differently.