Walter Cronkite: Trail Blazer of Bias

He signed off with "And that's the way it is." But that wasn't necessarily so

Walter Cronkite: Trailblazer of Bias
by Dan Gifford

"Krankheit" in German is pronounced the same as the "Cronkite" following "Walter." The German word means "sickness" while the "Walter" word means the man who infected TV news with the gazillion dollar-salary Star Anchor larger than the news he is supposed to be presenting.

I don't say that to be mean-spirited or disrespectful of a man who was "the most trusted man in America," but nobody else appears to be pointing out that Cronkite was actually a one world government ideologue; an advocate of a politically correct, totalitarian world government who used his trust to influence public policy in accordance with his own beliefs.

Cronkite should be the poster boy for full disclosure of a reporter's politics -- something I strongly advocate. Instead, he continues to be lauded as "Uncle Walter," the journalist who was totally unbiased in his reportage at a time when there were only three networks and the size of his news audience and personal influence on politics and national policy was far beyond anything that can be imagined by those who did not experience it. That meant Cronkite was the national oracle of fact and truth during his time as Anchor and Managing Editor of CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981. But was he really unbiased? Well, that's not quite the way it was.

Cronkite was accused of political prejudice by Republicans and conservatives as soon as he became CBS' big kahuna. The bias they claimed was not so much in the words he said, it was in the way he said those words in combination with his story selection, pictures and facial expressions following comments made by non-liberals.

The first time I really noticed Cronkite's tricks was while watching his TV newscasts during the 1964 presidential campaign between Arizona's Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and incumbent Texas Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. What most caught my attention was that Cronkite's favoring of Johnson was different than the overt fawning over JFK four years earlier by Cronkite and the general news establishment. This was a subtle, sub-textual skewing which presented benign accurate facts about Goldwater in a way that demonized and marginalized him.

Every actor, director and script writer, among others, knows what I'm talking about and how to accomplish the same thing. When I was a TV reporter at CNN, ABC News, MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, KUHT-TV or KTRK-TV in Houston, I would often make the point during speaking gigs that people should be careful what conclusions they draw from a TV news story because accurate facts can be juxtaposed and presented in such a way that the viewer can be left believing the opposite. It's all a matter of using the camera, voice and expression to exploit known fears, biases and commonly believed "truths" which may not be true at all.

To cut to the chase, Goldwater was not just a US Senator, he was also an Air Force General who spoke bluntly about his anti-communist views and his belief that we should take a harder military stance against hegemonic Marxism, especially in Vietnam. He was equally blunt about his opposition to the civil rights bills and Johnson's proposed "Great Society" welfare state then being argued in Congress because of constitutional issues like equality before the law, the right of association and other individual rights against the sort of all powerful state Cronkite wanted.

So Goldwater's views were twisted by Cronkite within a media favoring Johnson and became the stuff of Stewart/Colbert type ridicule by wags of the day to the effect that Goldwater was a racist and real-life General Jack Ripper, the fictional Dr. Strangelove character who goes crazy and starts a nuclear war. It was not the Goldwater I discerned from his writings and speeches, but it was the image of him I noticed being embellished on the Cronkite newscasts.

Cronkite gave the false Goldwater characterizations full credibility before taking them to another level. Instead of simply focusing on Goldwater's message during his run for the presidency, I started noticing that CBS reports often sidetracked into stories that made Goldwater's win of the Republican nomination at the convention (that's how it was how it done then, not via the primaries) seem like some malevolent scheme.

There were stories about Goldwater's use of secret communication devices and other electronic wizardry that sounded downright nefarious. There were other stories that implied Goldwater may not be right in the head because he rested at the bottom of his home swimming pool while breathing through an air hose. Others referenced Goldwater's Jewish ancestry in ways I recognized that targeted the anti-Semitism buttons buried within Americans who would never admit they disliked Jews in their heart of hearts. But even that was overt compared to the really subtle stuff in Cronkite's delivery subtext achieved through tone shifts in his wonderful voice and those facial expressions that sent a decidedly anti-Goldwater message.

I am not claiming that Cronkite alone caused Goldwater to lose the presidential election. But I am saying that Cronkite was not the unbiased arbiter of truth he is being made out to be. The way that he delivered the news generally told me and many others how he felt about most any given story, and his expressed opinions, starting with his undercutting of the US Vietnam War effort after American and Republic of Vietnam forces had annihilated the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive, told me I was right.

For those who don't know, Communist forces in Vietnam were near defeat but decided to throw everything they had left at US and Republic of Vietnam soldiers in the form of huge suicidal attacks that intentionally targeted civilians for wanton murder during the Chinese New Year called Tet. It was crushed and the loss broke the back of the Marxists.

Despite that fact, Cronkite told America that Vietnam was a "stalemate" and "unwinnable." That emboldened both the Communists there and anti Vietnam protesters here -- many of whom were communists or sympathizers -- and turned a massive Marxist battlefield defeat into a political win that sustained Communist morale by confirming America's Achilles heel, according to former North Vietnamese Colonel Bùi Tín:

"[The American anti-war movement] was essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable ... America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win."

That will to win was undermined every afternoon by Cronkite and his CBS News ensemble.

Only after retirement did Cronkite actually admit the liberal newsroom influences that are still denied today by those in them in addition to the personal beliefs his critics had said all along were skewing his reporting.

1996: "Everybody knows that there's a liberal, that there's a heavy liberal persuasion among correspondents," Cronkite told those at a Radio and TV Correspondents Association dinner.

1999: During an awards ceremony at the United Nations, Cronkite admitted that "half a century ago" he was offered "a job as spokesman and Washington lobbyist for the World Federalist organization" that advocates a one-world government. "I chose instead to continue in the world of journalism." Then he riffed: “[W]e must strengthen the United Nations as a first step toward a world government ... We must change the basic structure of our global community to a new system governed by a democratic UN federation ... Today the notion of unlimited national sovereignty means international anarchy. We must replace the anarchic law of force with a civilized force of law ... [we must ratify the] "Treaty for a Permanent International Criminal Court" ... [and we must have a] revision of the [U.S. power of] Veto in the Security Council. Cronkite then praised international billionaire financier George Soros as one of the best thinkers on this topic.

2004: On CNN's Larry King show: “I have a feeling that [Osama bin Laden's newly released videotape] could tilt the [presidential] election a bit. In fact, I'm a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, that he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.”

Karl Rove set-up Bin Laden?

That's as wacky a bit of conspiracy dementia as Bill Moyers' claim on the Charlie Rose Show that, "if [John] Kerry were to win [the presidency] in a — in a tight race, I think there’d be an effort to mount a coup, quite frankly.”

A coup d’etat orchestrated by Karl Rove, no doubt.

"For many years, I did my best to report on the issues of the day in as objective a manner as possible.

When I had my own strong opinions, as I often did, I tried not to communicate them to my audience,"said Cronkite.

But he did.

And that's the way it really was.

Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated film producer and former reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour and ABC News.