NPR’s Scott Simon claims that events like the Tucson shootings “Didn’t happen when 63 million people watched Walter Cronkite (1916–2009) every night.” “Uncle Walter,” as he was affectionately called, reported during a time when there were only three major TV news sources—ABC, CBS, and NBC. There were no comparable conservative competitors.
Conservatives got their message out through privately published newsletters, small publishing houses like Devin-Adair, the Henry Regnery Co., Western Islands, Caxton Publishers, and Arlington House, and regularly published print media like Human Events, National Review, The Freeman, American Opinion, The Review of the News, and Conservative Digest. To put it plainly, during Cronkite’s era, liberals had a near monopoly on the news.
Cronkite was never the objective newsman that most Americans thought despite his honorary title of “the most trusted man in America.” The September-October 1998 issue of Modern Maturity magazine ran a lengthy interview with the former war correspondent and CBS news anchor. In it Cronkite stated, “We ought to be increasing our taxes. We who have it ought to be paying a lot more, but should insist on efficiency in expenditure.”
Now to the claim that during Cronkite’s anchorman era events like the Tucson shootings didn’t happen. How quickly we forget. There were the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (1963), his brother Robert Kennedy (1968), and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968). King was assassinated on April 4th, a number of cities were set ablaze that evening. The National Guard had to be sent out. There were campus riots and bombings and city riots. On August 11, 1965, a routine traffic stop in South Central Los Angeles was the trigger for what became known as the Watts Riots. They lasted six days, leaving 34 dead, over a thousand injured, nearly 4,000 arrested, and hundreds of buildings destroyed. Let’s not forget the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders led by Charles Manson (August of 1969) and the Kent State shootings (May of 1970). Manson was “inspired” by lyrics from a number of Beatles’ songs.
Not to be left out, there were the leftist violent revolutionaries led by groups like the Weather Underground and radicals like Abbie Hoffman whose book Revolution for the Hell of It shows the author with a rifle in his hand leaping for joy. Hoffman’s rhetoric about revolution was just a warm-up. In Steal This Book he gave instructions on how to build stink bombs, smoke bombs, sterno bombs, aerosol bombs, pipe bombs, and Molotov Cocktails. Hoffman’s updated version of the Molotov Cocktail consisted of a glass bottle filled with a mixture of gasoline and styrofoam, turning the slushy blend into a poor man’s version of napalm. The flaming gasoline-soaked styrofoam was designed to stick to policemen when it exploded.(1) Helpful drawings on how to make the incendiary devices were included. All of this happened on Cronkite’s watch and the dominance of the liberal media.
In Woodstock Nation, Hoffman updated his revolutionary tactics. This time, liberal Random House published his book. Next to publisher’s name on the title page, there is an illustration of a man using dynamite to blow up a house. This same illustration appears in Hoffman’s Steal This Book. The theme of both books is how to blow up the system—literally. Liberals have short and selective memories. “Righteous violence” was rationalized by the front-line New Left leadership in the 1960s:
The use of violence was justified, many in the New Left comforted themselves, because theirs was a violence to end all violence, a liberating and righteous violence that would rid the world of a system that deformed and destroyed people. Such glorious ends justified, even ennobled, violent means.(2)
Organizations like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) used violent rhetoric almost from their inception in the early 1960s. John Lewis, the very liberal Democrat representative from Georgia, boasted when he addressed the March on Washington in August 1963, “We will march through the South, . . . the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground—nonviolently. We shall crack the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy.”(3)
You can add to these the 1968 Democrat National Convention in Chicago where riots led by Leftist radicals were the news. “The amount of tear gas used to suppress the protesters was so great that it eventually made its way to the Hilton Hotel, where it disturbed Hubert Humphrey while in his shower. The police were taunted by the protesters with chants of ‘Kill, kill, kill.’ They sprayed demonstrators and bystanders indiscriminately with Mace. The police assault in front of the Hilton Hotel became the most famous image of the Chicago demonstrations of 1968. The entire event took place live under the T.V. lights for seventeen minutes with the crowd shouting, ‘The whole world is watching.'” Apparently Scott Simon wasn’t. It could have been that he was only 16. But he’s a journalist. He should know this history.
Bernardine Dohrn was a founding member of the radical Weatherman group who made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, told an SDS convention just before she went underground: “Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room, far out! The Weathermen dig Charles Manson.”(4) If you didn’t know, Dohrn is married to Bill Ayers, another former radical who supports Leftist causes and one of the founders of the Weathermen. Ayers denies that he and Barack Obama were ever friends, although some dispute this (see here). Once again, Cronkite was delivering the news everyday in America while these events were taking place.
Why did some on the radical left see Manson as a hero? Perhaps because Manson articulated the same rhetoric of violence that spewed forth from the SDS and Weathermen and actually put it into action as a way to bring down “the system.” Manson believed that the Tate-LaBianca murders he orchestrated would start a race war.
That Manson foresaw a war between the blacks and the whites was not fantastic. Many people believe that such a war may someday occur. What was fantastic was that he was convinced he could personally start that war himself—that by making it look as if blacks had murdered the seven Caucasian victims he could turn the white community against the black community.(5)
Manson follower Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme almost assassinated President Gerald Ford.
Walter Cronkite and the liberal media establishment oversaw all of these events. No one today blames the rhetoric of these Leftists for these events, but maybe it’s time that we do.
- Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book (New York: Pirate Editions, 1971), 170–79.(↩)
- Richard J. Ellis, The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 137.(↩)
- John Lewis, “A Serious Revolution,” in Massimo Teodori, ed., The New Left: A Documentary History (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969), 102.(↩)
- Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1974), 222. Rothman and Lichter tell it a little differently in Roots of Radicalism: “Dig it: First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach. Wild!” (42).(↩)
- Bugliosi and Gentry, Helter Skelter, 222. Manson and his “family” killed thirty-five to forty people (489).(↩)