How I Miss Walter: News Media in 2013

Katharine Graham, best known as the publisher of the Washington Post, and for her role in guiding the Post during the Nixon Administration and the Watergate scandal, once said, "Some questions don't have answers, which is a terribly difficult lesson to learn."

I raise Graham's Pooh-like conundrum because the other day I saw something on the television that would have been shocking in Graham's day, but is just business-as-usual in today's lurid, leave-nothing-unrevealed journalistic ethos. I was at the gym, where admittedly I should have been exercising, when the television caught my eye.




The words in big block letters, kind of like the old Batman cartoons. Sock! Ker-Plop! Ka-Pow!

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Understandably, I was a goner.

The journalism continued to unfold in rapid-fire attention deficit progression. A panel of experts blipped on to the screen, men and women in little squares wearing serious professional suits and serious professional faces. They all concentrated on the same screen, upon which an email appeared with certain words colored out.

From what I could garner, the email was written by a woman. I garnered this because the woman's picture appeared alongside the e-mail.

"I want to [colored out] your [colored out]..." the email began. It continued on with enough colorful verbs and titillating body parts still included that one did not need a degree in linguistics to understand the woman was not talking about separating socks.

When the email flashed away, everyone began talking at once. Or at least I think they did because, thank God, the sound on the TV was off. I returned to my workout, which I would like to tell you consisted of bench presses that had the entire gym screaming in amazement, but, since I value journalistic integrity, leaned more toward the sort of cheating, sway-backed pushups made famous by presidential fitness tests. From the corner of my eye I ascertained I had been watching the HLN network. The story in question involved a murder suspect named Jodi Arias, suspected of killing her boyfriend in a case that involved Sex, Anger, and Lust. Anyone's death is an immeasurably sad thing, with or without big block letters.

Although I returned to my sway-backed pushups with Special Forces focus, I found myself curiously depressed. Because I am of a certain age (53), I grew up in a time when the news was different. More like, well, news. I am sure the news I remember wasn't perfect, and I must add the qualifier that, had my parents not been stalwart Walter Cronkite viewers, I would have quickly turned the channel to "Get Smart." That's right. Turned the channel.

Curiosity is the hallmark of a seasoned journalist and -- again with honest journalism in mind -- cues like Sex and Lust and [Colored Out] don't dampen one's curiosity either. When I returned home, I did some digging. First I read an article on The Huffington Post about Jodi Arias and the facts pertaining to her alleged murder of her former boyfriend. After I read the article I was asked to rate it: amazing, inspiring, funny, scary, hot, crazy, important, weird. I was also asked to become a fan of the reporter. I cannot ever remember Walter Cronkite, as the CBS Evening News went off the air, peering into our living room and asking, "Ken, do you like me?"

Next I ascertained that HLN is the national television network focusing on the "must-see, must-share" stories of the day. When I went to their website, the top ten stories they were following included "Lil Wayne tweets he's 'good' after seizure," "Tweet nothings: 12 reasons not to follow Snooki," and "See reenactment of Arias killing: 62 seconds?"

I would like to rate this as scary.

This was not helping my depression.

Another respected journalist, David Brinkley (if you don't know who he is, please look him up. And don't be embarrassed. I didn't know who Jodi Arias was), may have placed his finger on the root of the problem long ago.

"People have the illusion that all over the world, all the time, all kinds of fantastic things are happening," Brinkley said. "When in fact, over most of the world, most of the time, nothing is happening."

Now we have thousands of channels reporting on this.

I am not pining for the past. I like the here and now. The past, as those of us who were involved in it know well, had plenty of blemishes, too. I'm just saying I miss Walter Cronkite a little bit and that maybe some our news has strayed a little too close to "Get Smart."

"I don't think a reporter should give advice or make predictions," Peter Jennings once said (ABC World News Tonight anchor from 1983 until his death in 2005).

Jennings also said, "Have a sense of humor about life -- you will need it. And be courteous."

So I'll end here.

I'll only say that just because some questions don't have answers, doesn't mean we should stop asking.

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