W. Joseph Campbell

A ‘Cronkite Moment’ sighting

In Cronkite Moment, Media myths on November 12, 2009 at 8:25 am

A commentary posted recently at the American Thinker online site invokes the hardy myth of the “Cronkite Moment,” which stems from Walter Cronkite’s pronouncement in late February 1968 about the war in Vietnam.

At the close of a special televised report, Cronkite, the CBS News anchor, declared that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam and suggested that negotiations eventually would have to be opened with the North Vietnamese.

As the American Thinker item notes, Cronkite’s dire assessment supposedly prompted President Lyndon Johnson to declare, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Or words to that effect. Johnson is said to have watched Cronkite’s program at the White House and is further said to have snapped off the television set in exasperation.

It all makes for a great story, a story of dramatic media influence, of telling truth to power.

But the “Cronkite Moment” is almost assuredly a media myth.

As I describe in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong, Johnson wasn’t even at the White House the night of Cronkite’s program on Vietnam. The president didn’t see the show when it aired. He was in Austin, Texas, attending the 51st birthday party of then-Governor John Connally. At about the time Cronkite was intoning his pessimistic assessment about Vietnam, Johnson was making light-hearted remarks about Connally’s age, saying:

“Today you are 51, John. That is the magic number that every man of politics prays for—a simple majority. Throughout the years we have worked long and hard—and I might say late—trying to maintain it, too.”

Johnson_Cronkite moment

WJC

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  2. [...] the Cronkite-Johnson anecdote is exaggerated, too, as Getting It Wrong discusses. Johnson did not see the program when it aired. [...]

  3. [...] Lyndon Johnson, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Johnson supposedly made the remark after watching Walter Cronkite’s special report on Vietnam in February 1968. As is discussed [...]

  4. [...] to “furnish the war” with Spain is a telling example. So is the notion that Walter Cronkite’s downbeat report in 1968 about the U.S. military effort in Vietnam forced President Lyndon Johnson to rethink American war [...]

  5. [...] I’ve noted on a number of occasions at Media Myth Alert, and as I write in Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming book on media-driven [...]

  6. [...] Johnson supposedly realized the war effort was now hopeless, telling an aide or aides, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” [...]

  7. [...] studies on May 15, 2010 at 10:28 am The Yahoo News report yesterday that venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite may have quietly collaborated with antiwar activists in the late 1960s stirred a modest flurry of [...]

  8. [...] studies on May 15, 2010 at 10:28 am The Yahoo News report yesterday that venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite may have quietly collaborated with antiwar activists in the late 1960s stirred a modest flurry of [...]

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  10. [...] I say, the Atlantic Free Press post offered perspective about the “Cronkite Moment” that is seldom encountered in the news media, traditional or [...]

  11. [...] leading newspaper, the Globe and Mail. The column invokes the hoary myth of the “Cronkite Moment” to underscore how, in a splintered media landscape, no single television anchor projects [...]

  12. [...] Edward Kosner, author of the memoir It’s News to Me, also discusses the myth of the “Cronkite Moment,” writing, “Television icons are central to two of Mr. Campbell’s dubious cases: [...]

  13. [...] assessment supposedly prompted a reappraisal of U.S. policy in Vietnam, swung public opinion against the war, [...]

  14. [...] myth is that of the “Cronkite Moment” of February 27, 1968, when the anchorman’s on-air assessment of the war in Vietnam as “mired in stalemate” supposedly swung public opinion against [...]

  15. [...] version invoked the other day in a commentary posted at the Daily Caller online site, in a recent sighting of the [...]

  16. [...] on Vietnam quite simply did not have the powerful effects so often attributed to it. The “Cronkite Moment” is one hardy media-driven [...]

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  18. [...] media-driven myth surrounding the “Cronkite Moment”–one of 10 media myths debunked in my latest book, Getting It Wrong–has it that Lyndon [...]

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