Walter Cronkite's Silly Sermon

Article excerpt


The perceptive editorial "Walter Cronkite's new epiphany" (Tuesday), is yet another reminder that the patriarch of "CBS Evening News" has been a flawed political observer for a very long time. He may not meet George Bernard Shaw's characterization of newspapers as "unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."

Back in the dark days of the Cold War, his evening news program distorted the strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. A study of "CBS Evening News" (1972-73) that I conducted revealed that Mr. Cronkite reported dovish critiques of U.S. defense spending far more than supporting opinion - about 4 percent to 60 percent. Confronted with this fact, Mr. Cronkite replied:

"There are always groups in Washington expressing views of alarm over the state of our defenses. We don't carry those stories. The story is that there are those who want to cut defense spending."

The study found that in two full years, Mr. Cronkite gave only one minute out of 196 broadcast hours to the most important military fact of that period: the American-Soviet nuclear weapons balance. In contrast, he gave 141 minutes to the shortcomings of the U.S. military - including two minutes on missing tableware in Pentagon dining rooms.

Mr. Cronkite also failed to report major stories on the Soviet arms buildup that the New York Times and The Washington Post highlighted. …