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Cronkite: Not a Stenographer

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment

cronkite2

A couple of days ago I had a post on Walter Cronkite that was really about the goofy mishaps that arise when one dumbly does search-and-replace on a document. In a more serious vein, I’ll mention a Glenn Greenwald post from the same day. Since I find everything Greenwald writes valuable and interesting, I could link to his posts daily. I try to limit my references to him. But I’ll succumb to temptation this time.

As part of Greenwald’s continuing critique of the common practices of today’s mainstream media, he uses the occasion of Cronkite’s death to contrast Cronkite’s work with that of today’s media stars, who are little more than stenographers. Worse, as Greenwald details regularly, many leading people in the news business explicitly state that their job is to report both sides of an issue, applying this doctrine even when one side is blatantly false or defended by nuts only.

Below is one passage from Greenwald on Cronkite and these issues. But there’s much more, all worth reading.

[Cronkite’s] most celebrated and significant moment — Greg Mitchell says “this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million” — was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn’t trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite’s best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do — directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won’t even use words that are disapproved of by the Government.

Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite’s death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and “accommodating head waiter”-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today’s media stars actually do). In fact, within Cronkite’s most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today’s modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

Categories: Journalism, Media, Politics

40 Years Ago

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment
A lunar module, at a Long Island museum

A lunar module, at a Long Island museum

Amid all the remembrances of the first Moon landing 40 years ago, I find myself wondering once again why I slept through the moon walk. I don’t really have a good answer. I suppose I would have stayed up if anyone else in the house did. I can’t remember where everyone was. I had just finished high school and was commuting from Long Island into the city every day to attend a program at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. I’d go part way in with my father every day, but he was headed to the lower part of Manhattan (the Meatpacking District) and I was headed to the Upper West Side, so he’d drop me at the subway somewhere along the way and we’d split up. Our joint commute meant we both had to get up early to leave the house, a good reason to sleep. My brother would have just graduated from college and I don’t recall that he was home that summer. My sister was halfway through college, but I don’t remember her being home either.

In any case, whatever the reason, we slept through the night. I didn’t see Neil Armstrong take his initial steps.

But hey, at least I was on Long Island, home of the Apollo Lunar Module, built at nearby Grumman. The NYT has an article today on Long Island’s importance in early aviation and space flight.

American aviation was essentially born on the broad, flat, treeless Hempstead Plains. Long Island was the starting point for the first transcontinental plane flight in 1911. Most famously, in 1927 Charles Lindbergh took off for Paris from Roosevelt Field, which by the 1930s was the largest civilian airfield in America.

Twice in history, the whole world has been totally transfixed by a story of flight — Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, and the Apollo 11 crew’s first walk on the moon. Long Island was central to both of them.

Roosevelt Field is now a shopping mall, and Northrop Grumman, as the manufacturer is now known, has a small operation on Long Island but does most of its work in California or Virginia, or other places far from here. So what replaces Grumman and Republic and the suburban wonks of NASA’s past? Right now, no one is sure.

In some ways, it was inevitable. There are still plenty of high-tech aviation parts and engineering design firms on Long Island, approximately 240 of which produce aircraft parts. But the big manufacturing and fabrication work that once came to Long Island was destined to move to newer areas with more land, cheaper housing and lower living costs. …

NASA was the first great industrial triumph of suburbia. Far removed technologically and culturally from the factories of Detroit, the stockyards of Chicago or the sweatshops of New York, the green industrial campuses of Long Island, Houston and Southern California produced one of history’s crowning achievements.

I wasn’t around yet for Lindbergh. But Roosevelt Field the mall and I grew up together. I can’t imagine life on Long Island without it. And if we get back to the moon in my lifetime, I’ll stay up to watch.

Categories: History, Technology, Travel

FedEx Ads

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment

The NYT has an article today on a new series of web video ads from FedEx. They are changing their advertising strategy, having forgone, for example, advertising in last February’s Super Bowl. (My favorite in their long line of great Super Bowl ads is the 1999 one in which another shipping company switches and sends the Stanley Cup off to Bolivia.) The NYT explains:

The company is certain to be watched closely Monday, then, as it unveils its first Web-video advertising campaign, five three-minute films that feature the actor Fred Willard. While some notable viral online campaigns, like Burger King’s famous “subservient chicken,” have aimed to be entertaining enough to find huge audiences but which talked little if at all about products, the FedEx videos are tongue-in-cheek infomercials that extol FedEx’s services.

The skits parody infomercials while reaping that format’s benefits: using a long-form pitch to be more descriptive than a 30-second spot allows.

Fred Willard is perhaps best known for his roles in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, none greater than that of the dog show announcer in Best in Show. He’s pretty good in these ads too. I’ve watched three of them so far and enjoyed them, though they’re not at the high satirical level of Guest’s movies. They are ads, after all, and have to sell the product.

Categories: Advertising, Media, Video