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Published:November 15th, 2013 08:17 EST
PBS` 'JFK: One P.M. Central Standard Time' Documents How Walter Cronkite Revolutionized TV Journalism!

PBS` 'JFK: One P.M. Central Standard Time' Documents How Walter Cronkite Revolutionized TV Journalism!

By John G. Kays

As I type these words (as empty as they may be against the motion of History`s perpetual rotation), an affirmation comes to mind of how Walter Cronkite must have felt when he took command of the television airwaves (from NYC), at 12:40 PM (CST, such as Dallas), to announce (initially, just on the radio) three shots were fired at President Kennedy`s motorcade in downtown Dallas. I taped a PBS (KLRU in Austin) special program, JFK: One P.M. Central Standard Time, narrated by George Clooney, and learned a great deal about the History of Television Journalism along the way.

I`ve been down this path before, but maybe not with just the journalism angle in mind, and the incredible contribution Walter Cronkite made to this new medium (for the time). I am old enough to remember that Huntley and Brinkley, providing the evening news from NBC, were quite a bit more popular at that time. As the PBS special points out, it was the incredible integrity and experience of Uncle Walter, that ends up enabling him to trump NBC in terms of significance to History. JFK getting shot in Dallas is news to him also, but he keeps his cool and this defines what a Journalist is suppose to do (or how he/she is to act) for the next 50 years.

Cool, calm, and collect equals OBJECTIVITY! I don`t have time to work this all out, write an outline, edit it several times, refine it, etc...I got to get you the NEWS and fast! I need to post this on The Student Operated Press by 6 AM - you got to get ready for work, I got to get ready for work, but we need to know, as we`re commuting through the sluggish grunge of traffic, how Cronkite and CBS changed Journalism on November 22nd through say, 11/25/1963! There`s nothing else more important we`d care to think about - how`d they do it?

I`d have to say, it was the sheer importance of the story; Kennedy was highly loved by the American people and the news coming out from Texas, was one of great enthusiasm and respect (if not worship) for the President and the First Lady, even if he was a Northern Liberal, seemingly soft on Communism, and persuaded by the Civil Rights Movement. It was Dan Rather, who was covering the Texas trip (which was purely political in nature), who really broke the news that Kennedy was DEAD, confirmed by a doctor and by two priests. Yet, Cronkite wouldn`t announce it until Malcolm Kilgore from the White House revealed the shocking news; Cronkite`s caution, using judgment that carefully confirms its several sources, is what defines modern journalism!

This science is largely lost today, with the internet and with multiple cable channels going after more of an entertainment angle, not the strict telling of the news. Cronkite got his chops down as a newspaper reporter during WWII, and somehow, really magically I believe, was able to transfer this print news integrity to a TV screen. Walter knew this was actually pivotal to American History, not just another news story, so he put everything he had into it, and it comes off as REAL and sincere. He keeps working the story, adding more detail as it comes, until the outlines of what really happened in Dallas slowly (emphasizing slowly) emerge with focus.

Well, it`s a bit ironic now, when we realize we still weren`t quite getting it right; it`s as if some culprit was feeding us a crock of BS and we bought it prematurely before we could tell what actually occurred. This makes me respect Walter Cronkite all the more; if you want to be a good journalist, you have to have to maintain a large reservoir of skepticism, if you truly seek the Truth. This consternation is amply present in Walter`s face at all times. He never was completely sure of what was transpiring in Dallas; he was reporting this ambiguity, which ends up being the hook to this story 50 years later. What occurred was right before our eyes, yet it remained invisible, as if possessed by some SuperPower, possibly the Devil hisself, I don`t know?

*(Okay, I know, reporters can`t go there!)