08/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Cronkite and McCourt: True to Their Craft

We've lost a few icons over the last few weeks; most recently Walter Cronkite and now Frank McCourt. I dare say that the world was a better place because of these men and what they accomplished. Mr. Cronkite set the standards in that a correspondent should report the news without being the story itself. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case any longer where the pundits proffer opinions, actual news be damned. Yet, these pundits all praise Cronkite for his journalistic accomplishments, as though they are unattainable today. And maybe they are, thanks to the corporate-owned media.

I was very fortunate to have hosted an event for Mr. Cronkite in support of his book A Reporter's Life. It was truly an honor. And, just yesterday, I pulled my autographed copy from my bookshelf and gently opened the cover to see what he had inscribed. It was a simple "For Carol" followed by his signature, but tucked inside was a copy of an editorial page from the New York Times dated November 1, 2000. At first it didn't make sense why I had slipped this in the book until I saw that Mr. Cronkite had written a letter in response to an article titled "Chicago News Experiment is Calling It Quits," which was about WBBM TV's format, one that was going to offer "serious and informative news broadcasts." Apparently, Mr. Cronkite was upset that this program was not going to remain on the air. In part, he wrote,

"Television, in news and entertainment, has suffered a huge dumbing down because that is where the audience is."

Further in his letter, Cronkite wrote,

"Television, which is primarily a for-profit enterprise, can only realize this objective by appealing to the lowest common denominator."

Without a doubt, he saw the dangers and didn't compromise his beliefs.

So, too, Frank McCourt, who succumbed to cancer, did not compromise his beliefs for the sake of popularity. How difficult it must have been to write Angela's Ashes. He once described his upbringing as a "miserable Irish-Catholic childhood." Miserable, indeed; I remember feeling very angry toward his parents while reading McCourt's memoir. Both mother and father seemed to be unable to be accountable for their brood and the children suffered greatly. I can only imagine the difficulty Frank McCourt had when writing it, but in the end it was an honest, heartbreaking account, one that went on to win a Pulitzer.

For what it's worth, I think what made both Cronkite and McCourt special is that they didn't pander, but respected their craft, which makes their loss all the more sad in light of the fact that they were a rare breed.