Walter Cronkite And The Way It Wasn’t

cronkite-and-the-way-it-wasnt

“Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw.” — Walter Cronkite, February 27, 1968

Walter Cronkite’s remarks at the end of his February 27, 1968 evening news broadcast, four decades ago today, were a watershed in the history of the MSM’s credibility Cronkite issued an implicit license to his journalistic colleagues to interject personal opinions into their factual reporting of the news. (Walter Cronkite, Vietnam, and the Decline of Media Credibility)

Cronkite’s slogan was, “And that’s the way it is.” But if it came out of his mouth, you could be sure of one thing: that’s the way it wasn’t. — Debbie Schlussel

“It was the first time in American history that a war has been declared over by an anchorman.” — David Halberstam

I hate to disagree with ya, Wally, especially since yer as dead as Doug MacArthur, but I was there, and I gotta tell ya — you and the rest of your crepuscular colleagues were chock full of the stuff with which the Viets fertilized their rice paddies.  After the initial surprise at the scope of the attacks wore off, which was about as long as it took to get the Spookies airborne, Charlie had his conical hat handed to him. But that wasn’t what you chose to report. Which is primarily why I haven’t trusted the mainstream media for almost a half-century. And they’re only getting worse.

In the late-January calm of a Lunar New Year cease-fire, seventy thousand communist troops shattered the celebration, attacking more than a hundred South Vietnamese cities and towns. They struck along the coast, then presumed secure. They shelled the big U.S. complex at Cam Ranh Bay and stormed numerous towns in the central highlands. They attacked the mountain resort of Dalat and invaded thirteen of sixteen provincial capitals in the Mekong Delta. They captured the ancient northern capital of Hue and carried the war into the heart of Saigon—even into the U.S. embassy compound. This was the most daring operation of the war, and Americans watched in horror as the bloody spectacle unfolded on their television screens. They had been told the military situation was in hand, and now those assurances lay shattered in the American consciousness. But Tet had been a desperation move by North Vietnam, beset by a relentless American killing machine. And the Allied response was awesome. The communists lost ten thousand men in the first few days of the offensive, compared to 249 Americans dead and five hundred South Vietnamese. Overall, throughout the months-long battle, the communists lost nearly forty-eight thousand men. The North Vietnamese had sought to deliver the decisive military blow that would knock the Americans out of the region. They failed. They failed so miserably that they lost their ability to wage war in the South … Into this military drama, in the first weeks of Tet, comes Walter Cronkite of CBS News. He travels around, talks to people like a real reporter, presumably takes notes. And then he goes home and delivers a report to the American people that totally misses the story. At this pregnant moment of the war, when prospects of victory never looked brighter, he concludes that the war is a stalemate and probably unwinnable. (Cronkite’s Vietnam Blunder)

tet-1968

Tet ’68 (Photo taken by me on first night of attacks)

Now, I admit, Tet was a pretty damn big surprise at first, both to us base camp GIs who were suddenly called upon to act as riflemen, but especially to the in-country press correspondents, most of whom, save for a few intrepid souls like Joe Galloway, Sean Flynn, and Mike Herr, rarely left their comfortable Saigon billets or the company of their boom-boom girls. Hell, it was no wonder that the stories they filed during Tet teetered on the edge of full blown panic, the more so after a few foolhardy and short-lived VC sappers blew a hole in the wall of the U.S. Embassy and charged onto the grounds. But when a network anchor like Cronkite, touted (mostly by his employer) as the “most trusted man in America”, decided to ignore direct evidence from the combat zone and throw in the towel, a larger surprise would have been if he didn’t take most of the country along with him.

The Tet Offensive in early 1968 changed the course of the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese Army, well-trained and well-equipped, was defeated on the battlefield in every encounter, but the shock to Americans at home solidified anti-war sentiment. There was no “light at the end of the tunnel”. (Global Security.org)

Of course there was no light at the end of the tunnel…we’d just finished blowing the damn thing apart!  But Cronkite and the anti-war crowd didn’t see it that way…

Although a decent fellow in person, Cronkite was the archetypal big-name liberal journalist, spinning the news for decades. Sometimes it was rather subliminal, including his signature subtle sneer … His biggest whopper was about the Tet Offensive. The Viet Cong launched a desperate all-out assault, suffered very heavy losses, mostly it was over within a day, and ultimately the VC gained no territory. However, “the most trusted man in America” gave them a propaganda victory, reporting that the Vietnam War was hopeless. Public opinion promptly turned against the war. Ho Chi Minh should’ve given Cronkite a medal, an honorary VC generalship, and a dozen roses. (The Ugly Truth Of Six More Leftist “Heroes”)

Our half-hearted efforts in Vietnam, in large part because of Walter Cronkite’s on-air attacks, have had long-lasting effects, decades later. Even Osama Bin Laden has cited them in his lack of fear in attacking America. He studied our military history, with Vietnam as its cornerstone of cutting and running. That is Walter Cronkite’s legacy. So are the generations of liars who modeled themselves after him and have spent decades on TV news tearing and dumbing down America from within.  (Buh-Bye, Walter Cronkite: He Lost the Vietnam War for U.S. on TV, Had American Blood on His Hands)

The avuncular Walter Cronkite, with a reputation for veracity so strong that it once precluded doubt, unwittingly or otherwise blazed the way for today’s herd of blatantly biased “journalists”, the incorrigible distortionists responsible for destroying the credibility of mainstream media in the United States. It’s a sad legacy for a  once trusted reporter.  But that’s the way it is.

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About Bob Mack

Retired since 2003. Military Service: U.S. Army, 36th Artillery Group, Babenhausen, Germany 1966-67; 1st Signal Brigade, Republic of Vietnam, 1967-68 Attended University of Miami, 1969-73
This entry was posted in 1968 Tet Offensive, Mainstream Media, Opinion, Vietnam War, Walter Cronkite. Bookmark the permalink.

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