I tweeted the title of this blog earlier tonight and it’s been retweeted by dozens of people. That’s because Jon Stewart — even as he mocks the news — is actually holding journalists accountable. And journalists at their very best, hold politicians and society’s institution accountable.
That’s what America lost with the death of Walter Cronkite tonight. Accountability. By any measure, Cronkite was a journalist with integrity. We knew we could trust him to tell us the unbiased truth.
He wasn’t about entertainment. (He resented Charles Kuralt’s features which ran at the end of his broadcasts.) He was a newsman in the tradition of Murrow.
That’s why in the 1970s — 1974 some said tonight — Cronkite was named by his fellow citizens in a survey as the most trusted man in America.
With his death, I think perhaps Jon Stewart has taken on that role.
I think Stewart cemented my trust in him when he took on CNBC’s Jim Cramer. But actually he began earning it when he took on President Bush during the rush to the Gulf War after 9-11. (Remember, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) said we were sleepwalking through history.)
Jon Stewart didn’t sleepwalk, but I have to say I think Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings did. Their successors — Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charles Gibson — are even worse. I think a more critical, more watchful press would have asked the tougher questions about George W. Bush. (In fact, I don’t think we ever would have elected Bush had the media been more thorough. And further, I don’t think Stewart’s The Daily Show would have ever taken off had traditional media not failed us.)
Walter Cronkite was of a different breed. He didn’t let us sleep walk through history. He brought us history.
I’ll close with another thought I tweeted which was retweeted quite a bit tonight.
When Cronkite got to heaven tonight, I think God said to him: “And that’s the way it is.” (Congrats on life well lived, Mr. Cronkite.)