A new biography of Walter Cronkite reveals the less trustworthy side of the most trusted man in America.
The CBS anchor is remembered as a media giant who gruffly championed hard-hitting journalism. This is a mostly justifiable assessment. But some unscrupulous actions outlined in the book muddy his otherwise almost spotless reputation, and make clear how much the media has changed.
For starters, he had no problem accepting freebies. These weren't occasional drinks, but flights to remote and luxurious vacation spots around he world for him and his friends and family, courtesy of now-defunct airline Pan Am.
News organizations today place heavy restrictions on the amount of gifts their journalists can receive, if any. This is done in order to protect the organizations' neutrality. For example, The New York Times' company policy states:
Staff members and those on assignment for us may not accept anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or for avoiding unfavorable coverage. They may not accept gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other benefits from individuals or organizations covered (or likely to be covered) by their newsroom.
An article in The Daily Beast relates Cronkite's other shenanigans, which included dining with a go-go dancer and bugging a committee room at a GOP convention. The piece questions how Cronkite's more private affairs would have been perceived in the era of Internet tabloids:
Looking back, Cronkite’s virtual immunity as a public figure is troubling. But I see an upside as well: he wielded his enormous clout on behalf of muscular journalism. As Vietnam and Watergate eroded public confidence in government, Cronkite emerged as a new kind of authority figure, his public image unsullied by the grime of politics. What a stunning contrast to the corrosive distrust of the news business today.