With many now getting their news from comics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the presence of a respected newsman regularly delivering nightly news may seem an outdated medium, but in his biography – Cronkite – Douglas Brinkley humanizes a legend. The size of this book can be intimidating – over two inches thick, a companion to a good Oxford dictionary, but two sixteen-page inserts of photographs might be a good place to start.
In the first 50 pages – “The Making of a Reporter,” Brinkley touches on Cronkite’s Missouri roots, high school graduation in Houston, the influence of Edward R. Murrow and Lowell Thomas, and young Cronkite’s first love (before meeting his wife). His research delivers scripts from Cronkite’s early radio and sports reporting, foreshadowing a career as “The Most Trusted Man in America.”
The next 5 chapters document Cronkite’s life and career through World War II, the moon landing, the death of President Kennedy, the Vietnam war, and finally “Retirement Blues” at 64 years old. Brinkley conveniently prefaces each chapter with a list of its subtopics, effectively summarizing the key points. As I am reading, I find myself skipping around, looking for topics that interest me – in no particular chronological order. No matter what point in history, Brinkley manages to insert anecdotes about Cronkite that place him not only reporting but also shaping events. Cronkite’s bugging of a political convention room surprised me.
Although written in an easy to digest conversational style, Brinkley’s biography is complete and, subsequently, a long slow read. This history lesson across decades chronicles important events through the life of the newsman who had “accuracy, timeliness, and the trust of the audience.”
I’m enjoying getting to know the man behind the desk, who always looked the same, no matter what his age. As he reminded viewers daily with his signature sign-off,
“And that’s the way it is.”