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Cronkite Possessed the Ultimate Reporter's Instinct

By       Message Bill Hare     Permalink
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For anyone who has worked as a professional reporter the ultimate attribute so many hope to achieve is the ability to develop a critical eye toward the present and future and shift gears when needed.

The one element that prevents so many from achieving success in reporting is intransigence. Aided frequently by pressure, sometimes through a stubborn instinct, other times through refusal to apply the hard work and corresponding judgment to follow through, reporters will fail to observe an important trend.

Walter Cronkite was someone who began reporting as a teen and was delighted to be in journalism. This showed when he demonstrated a refreshingly youthful buoyancy over a positive achievement such as America placing astronauts on the moon.

On the sober front of international relations, Cronkite shook the collective collar of middle class America, those regulars who watched his network news broadcasts, when he asserted that to look for victory in the morass of the Vietnam War quagmire was to seek the impossible.

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It was essential, Cronkite reported, to recognize the limitations of power. The only solution to the ongoing Vietnam War tragedy was to negotiate a way out.

President Lyndon Johnson, who in his days as Senate Majority Leader developed an instinct for observing how the political winds were blowing, caught the essence of Cronkite's analysis of a steadily deteriorating Vietnam conflict. "If I lost Walter Cronkite I lost middle America," Johnson soberly reflected.

When President Richard M. Nixon began a pattern of intimidation on reporters, for which he had a reputed paranoiac hatred that was borne out in released tapes of Oval Office conversations, Cronkite observed a trend and pounced with his seasoned reportorial instinct.

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Clark R. Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter from Iowa who also possessed a law degree, served as special counsel to Nixon, who sought to utilize his experience in each area. Mollenhoff was unleashed as an enforcer in the way that Charles Colson also made waves in the Nixon administration.

When Cronkite learned that Mollenhoff was using his position to check into tax records of nine reporters who Nixon found particularly distasteful, the reporter began showcasing these activities that the administration hoped to keep secret on the CBS Nightly News.

This was an understandably turbulent period for reporters. In certain instances they were pressured to turn over notes, which violated privilege agreements with news sources. Cronkite volunteered what his response would be if he ever received such an order.

"I would go to jail!" he sharply declared.

The interesting conclusion to the Mollenhoff period with Nixon was that the Iowan ultimately concluded he was being used. Mollenhoff not only left the White House; he became Nixon's most angry critic in the White House press corps.

Clark Mollenhoff not only stood at or around 6-6; he was burly and broad-shouldered. Mollenhoff sat and stared at Nixon with contempt, looking like an angry NFL defensive lineman ready to pounce on an opposing quarterback. On one occasion, as Watergate was increasingly seizing public attention, Mollenhoff rose and embarrassed Nixon as he harshly questioned him about aides who "have committed high crimes and misdemeanors."

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On two major stories that highlighted Cronkite's long and storied career, he was vindicated in his perceptive analyses of the no-win nature of the Vietnam War and a White House of the late sixties and early seventies dominated by a dangerous, increasingly paranoiac chief executive in Nixon who was willing to trample the Constitution in attempting to destroy his enemies and dominate national and global politics.


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Began in the journalism field in hometown of Los Angeles. Started as Sports Editor and Movie Writer at Inglewood Daily News chain after working in sportswriting of high school events at the Los Angeles Examiner.

Received a bachelor's in (more...)

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