Never Say Never


I've been reading that there will never be another Walter Cronkite. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago we learned from many in media that there will never be another Michael Jackson?

I even heard a television commentator say that there will never be another Ed McMahon.

They're all correct, of course. It's highly unlikely that Cronkite's identical twin, with the same name, talent and DNA will show up soon to anchor the news. But will another journalist someday be known as Most Trusted in America? Will another pop singer reach Jackson's level of stardom? Absolutely.

And, no disrespect to the memory of Ed McMahon, it's not a challenge to imagine an equally talented second banana in our not-too-distant future.

In a culture that regularly substitutes media heroes for royalty, we often find it difficult to imagine that certain people and things we love and admire could ever be replicated. We prefer, when possible, to envision our heroes and their accomplishments as being unique for all time.

How many sports fans must have insisted there would never be another Babe Ruth? Baseball has changed too much, they probably argued. The pitching is better, and rules no longer allow a ball that bounces over the fence to be called a home run. It was difficult to disagree, until a noncharismatic chap named Roger Maris broke Ruth's single-season homer record, and then a nonflashy fellow named Hank Aaron broke Ruth's career-long record.

But back to Walter Cronkite. The argument seems to be that fractionalized media - so many cable outlets and Internet portals - will make it impossible for any single journalist, no matter how talented, to command power as Cronkite did over public and political opinion. I disagree. Indeed, it could be argued that in terms of trust plus influence, Oprah Winfrey already comes quite close to matching Cronkite in his prime.

"Walter could pick up the phone and the president would take his call," colleagues remembered. Does anyone think President Obama would hang up on Oprah?

A companion argument holds that in order to reach Cronkite's level of achievement, it's not enough to be great: it requires greatness, plus being in the right place at the right moment in time. The country needed a Cronkite, we're told, to carry it through horrible assassinations and war and even to the moon.

But such reasoning is unfair to anyone with Cronkite's skill and passion. If Walter Cronkite hadn't been the best anchorman on TV he might have been the best chief of NASA, or the best senator from Missouri, or maybe even the best editor of this newspaper. It didn't require a rare alignment of the planets to make Walter Cronkite great.

What many of us mean when we say there will never be another Walter Cronkite is that, much to our dismay, there may not be so powerful yet respected a media our lifetime.

For every mention that there "will never be another..." there is the inevitable flip side: "I never thought I'd live to see..." What? The first black president? A 59-year-old golfer with a chance to win the British Open? A wise Latina woman on the Supreme Court? And the year is barely half over.

I imagine if Walter Cronkite had banged out his own obituary on his trusty old Royal, he would have predicted that there will most certainly be others like him. And that's not taking anything away from a great American journalist, or the millions who admired him. It's just the way it is.

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.

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