For my parents' generation there was one man who was able to encapsulate what they thought of as journalism.
His name was Walter Cronkite. Cronkite was a television reporter, and then the Anchor of the CBS Evening News. In that job he spent every evening telling an eager audience the "Truth" about what had happened in the day that had just ended. He was serious, contemplative, balanced, objective -- and on very rare but memorable occasions -- emotional.
He was an icon, and his memorable sign-off line -- "that's the way it is" provided finality and comfort to a news audience ready to shift away from the issues of the day to an evening of light entertainment, sport, and movies.
He was a man of the times. And as Clay Shirky told me a while back, the idea that the news 'ended' after the Evening News signed off and wouldn't begin until the next day gave the world a kind of rhythm that suggested there was nothing so terrible, so urgent, so immediate, that coverage couldn't wait until the next day. Of course there were exceptions, stories that would require the network to break into Prime Time programing with news updates. But they were rare, and they were always big stories that simply couldn't wait till morning.
So I've been wondering lately who will be looked back on as the Walter Cronkite of our time. The trusted voice. The "truth teller". The figure that can reliably capture the times and do so with both a calm exterior and a sense of the importance of the days events.
Looking at the crop of contenders, It's hard to nominate any of the Cable newsreaders. Larry King was a staple, but not the charter to take Cronkite's place. Anderson Cooper is a solid reporter, but doesn't try to be the single voice of "truth" or the Anchor Of Record that Cronkite was. Katie Couric still seems to me -- out of place, Brian Williams tries to fill the role, but seems at times like a Saturday Night Live impression of Tom Browkaw. Nightline's Ted Kopple would have been a contender, but somehow didn't ever make the switch from the 11:30 slot to a prime time place on the schedule.
Simply put -- there's no network anchor who's got Cronkites style, connection, or audience engagement.
But there is someone, and I fully expect some of you will start howling at the computer when you read the next sentence.
The heir to the Cronkite legacy is Jon Stewart.
In a world where the volume of information is overwhelming, Stewart has positioned himself as the curator of the days news. He filters a huge amount of information; watching CNN, NBC, Fox News, CSPAN and other sources and then uses his lens of 'satire' to compare, contrast, and expose inequities in both the stories and the coverage.
Just look at the stories he's covered that are memorable, and had impact.
He single-handedly moved CNN to cancel Crossfire, after his now famous "You're Hurting America" soliloquy.
If you haven't watched it in a while, watch it now. It's worth a look:
He tore open a painful story about financial coverage by calling CNBC's Jim Cramer on the carpet for endorsing and promoting stocks, even as CNBC promoted him as a trusted and objective source of financial news.
His legendary 'debate' between 'President Bush' and 'Governor Bush' helped push mainstream media to bring politician's previous comments forward and move us away from coverage without hindsight.
Certainly Stewart's leanings are Liberal and Democratic and his knives were at the sharpest when George Bush was President, but there's no doubt that Stewart is frustrated with the Obama Administration and makes no secret of his concerns about the President and his Policies.
In fact, as Stewart's editorial voice gets stronger, he seems less willing to be in anyone's camp and more concerned about the long term trends and polices of the country, not any single party.
The issues he's taken on that are among the most memorable:
So, what does it mean that the role formerly held by one of the most respected journalists is now best suited for a man who hosts a 'fake news show'? Well for one, it means that we no longer need a single source to tell us the news, what we need is a sharp witted pair of eyes to search the media ecosystem for contradictions, false impressions, politicians who change their story, or media sources that replace information with sponsored segments from Hooters.
Jon Stewart isn't a newsman, a reporter, or a correspondent. But he is an honest broker of ideas in a time when a curator is needed, even required to separate the PR noise from the daily news, and that he does better than anyone else in the media.
Should Jon Stewart replace Larry King on CNN? Without a doubt. Will he? Probably not. He's got the best seat in the house right where he is.