The Internet Blows It Again: The Night Cronkite Stood Up

Today, all television network news anchors stand up to deliver the news to the small handful of old people still watching them. But in the 1970s, anchors sat behind a desk. Except this once.

OK, it isn’t fair to say the Internet is bad on history; it covers most of the big stuff. But, whereas every minute detail of every event in the 21st century is preserved in detail (admittedly, some of it only in the Internet Archive), I was astounded to find an epochal event, involving the Most Trusted Man in America, is, as far as Google knows, completely undocumented. So, it’s up to me.

Here’s how CBS describes the event: “CBS News presented a two-part, 22 minute, overview of the Watergate scandal in October 1972. The first segment was 14 minutes, the second was eight.”

No mention of the fact that Nixon persuaded CBS Chairman William Paley to cut the second segment down.  More importantly, the press release makes no mention of the broadcasting first that took place that night.

I remember it well. I was in Edwin Diamond’s Eastgate apartment with my then-fiancé  Sherry Grobstein. We were using the large, primitive videotape technology of the time to record the CBS Evening News for the MIT Network News Study Group (back in the days before you could just order a copy of network news shows from Vanderbilt).

We were news junkies in my childhood home; I had been watching NBC and CBS news since 1960. So, I gasped with surprise when Cronkite began the first Watergate segment. He stood up and walked across the studio to gesture at graphics. “Unprecedented,” I shouted. Edwin wasn’t there, so I tried to raise him on the phone. Sherry, not so much a news junkie, was unimpressed.

“What’s the big deal,” she asked? Many commentators then and now will say the big deal was that Cronkite devoted more than half of the program (the show was 22 minutes after commercials) to Watergate.

But to me, then and now, the big deal was that he took the never-before-seen step of standing to deliver the story, as if to say, “This is so important I’m going to do something I’ve never done, so you’ll sit up and notice.” No one, not Douglas Edwards, nor John Cameron Swayze nor Huntley nor Brinkley nor Harry Reasoner had ever come out from behind their desk on the air.

I am surprised and baffled that this move, much commented on at the time, is nowhere to be found on the open Internet. I assume it’s behind a paywall somewhere in a news organization’s expensive archives, but I’ve now laid it out for the researchers and essay-writing journalism students of the future; if they Google Cronkite and Watergate, and scroll down to the third or fourth page of results, they will end up here.


Fourth of July Addendum

A note from Robert Malchman led me to create this addendum, which I have appended to my annual Fourth of July column.

To be fair, when they wrote “All men are created equal,” the authors of the Declaration of Independence meant white men who owned property. I do not think their narrow view of humanity erases the revolution they wrought. And, in fact, if not for them, we probably won’t have painfully, gradually expanded that promise to include women and people of color. For example, while clearly a military and political genius, Washington was also a brutal slavemaster whose wealth came from the labor of the people he enslaved.  It's complex and nuanced, and Americans do not, as a whole, do complexity and nuance well.

Of course, the Supreme Court has now relieved women of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but maybe that will change again some day.


What The Fourth's All About

This comes from a mailing list of former UPI staffers I subscribe to:

Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They gave you and me a free and independent America.

So, take a couple of minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots. It's not much to ask for the price they paid.


My Life In Politics

When I was in high school, I felt it was important to engage in politics. It was the late 60s, the Vietnam War was raging and America was being torn apart by one of its periodic culture wars: hippies versus straights.

I was a straight, so I worked inside the system. My first campaign was Bobby Kennedy’s effort to win the presidential primary in Oregon in 1968. It was the first time a Kennedy ever lost an election. I worked out of the branch office in the Hollywood neighborhood, led by a British expat who promised me a flight to California to work for Bobby there. Alas, the campaign had lost a 17-year-old after Nebraska, so William Vanden Heuvel, the campaign manager, laid out an absolute rule: no transport of those under 18. I was crestfallen at the loss, further crestfallen at my inability to help in California. Oddly, it never occurred to me to pay my own way. Probably because I couldn’t afford it.

Next up, that fall, Sen. Wayne Morse, the “Lion of the Senate,” who was staunchly antiwar. And staunchly out of touch with Oregon after 24 years in Washington. Did he lose because he was pictured on his farm in Eugene, wearing a suit while shoveling manure? Maybe. I can’t find the picture to prove it, but I remember how crestfallen the volunteers were. In any case, he was beaten by Robert Packwood, the later-disgraced “Pygmy of the Senate.” Just before I left for college, I worked for ultra-liberal Art Pearl (later a UCSC professor) in his failed run for Oregon governor. Finally, in 1972, while at MIT, I volunteered for George McGovern.

After four losses, I wondered if I was a jinx. In 1977, I worked for a losing SF supervisor candidate named Paul Pelosi, and that was it. I was out of politics. I have never missed voting in an election, and I am a high-information voter, but that’s the extent of my involvement to this day.


Idiot Presidents

My UPI chat group turned up this prescient bit of writing from two decades ago:

“A rapid glance at the history of the USA also suggests skepticism about the impact of individual leaders. That great country has, by general consent, probably elected to its Presidency – the post of chief executive and (as we have been reminded recently) commander-in-chief – a greater number of ignorant dumbos than any other republic.”

― English Historian Erric Hobsbawm · What difference did she make? · London Review of Books, May 23, 1991


 Betrump

Apr 21, 2022
A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

betrump

PRONUNCIATION:
(be-TRUHMP)

MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To deceive or cheat.
2. To elude.

ETYMOLOGY:
From be- + French tromper (to deceive), which also gave us trumpery and trompe l’oeil. Earliest documented use: 1522.


Great New Negative Review

…he larded this fatuity with dollops of the usual rhetorical fat that greases governmental grandstanding
―George Will, Washington Post

I have been writing reviews for 52 years. In that time I have learned the facts of life in that craft. Rule number one is that negative reviews are easier and more fun to write because there are a limited number of ways you can praise a piece of art and an unlimited number of ways to vilify it. To remind me of this, for many years I carried a copy in my wallet of the worst review ever .

Since my loving kindness breakthrough, however, I now try to temper my criticism with the realization that we are all doing the best we can in this world. I am certain that no artist (except Max Bialystock) has ever deliberately set out to produce a piece of crap. I like to think my rare negative reviews are a little less personal now.

I despise George Will’s politics almost as much as I love his prose. The delightfully malign put-down above (worthy of a place next to Shakespeare’s Hempen Homespuns) was aimed at an unworthy target, whose name I won’t repeat.

If only Will had been self-aware enough to apply it to every statement made about Jan. 6 by the former president, the Republican National “Legitimate Political Discourse” Committee, or the Republican insurrectionists in Congress, the description would have been both clever and apt. To read Will, you’d hardly know he left the GOP over Trumpism.


Hurrah for the USPS and USDS

If they have a fair bone in their bodies (a dubious proposition) the government haters will, this week, concede that the federal government CAN do something right. The free covid test kit web site did NOT melt down!

In part, that’s because of a government agency I’d never heard of, the U.S. Digital Service. A creation of Barrack Obama that Trump did not destroy, its goal, along with the U.S. Digital Corps is to bring computer-savvy people into government to improve its websites (among other things). Sort of a Peace Corps, connecting idealistic young people with government agencies instead of the world’s poor.

The Covid Test request site is, in my opinion, freaking brilliant. It is a joint effort between the US Postal Service and the USDS. It was crazy-smart to find the largest direct-to-consumer federal sales site―the post office―and tack a super-simple front end on it for requesting test kits. Color me impressed.


Peckarsky for Senate News

News of Peter Peckarsky's quest for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate Seat: (downloads a PDF file)

Front Page Coverage

Also: Peckarsky filed a Notice of Claim with Wisc. Atty. Gen Josh Kaul asking that the Wisconsin Elections Commission de-certify all voting machines and go to 100% verifiable, most accurate, most trustworthy system: Hand Marked, Hand Counted Paper Ballots. Underlying this filing: his belief that there hasn't been an election that was legal under the Wisconsin constitution since 2008.