It took a few days but “Cronkite backlash” has started. The backlash in the wake of the deaths of icons, comes after a period of hyper-testimonials (See Russert, Tim).

It’s Jack Shafter at Slate who argues that you can’t trust trust:

If Cronkite were working in today’s news environment, painting the news from the same palette he used when he anchored the CBS program, would viewers still invest their deep trust in him? (Assuming, of course, that the public did regard Cronkite as the nation’s most trustworthy man.)

I doubt it. The news business has both expanded and fragmented in the post-Cronkite, post-Fairness Doctrine era. The news monopoly the three broadcast networks enjoyed for two decades has been shattered by the three cable news networks, all of which embrace (and thrive on) the controversy that Cronkite eschewed. The Web, which can make the cable news channels look positively Cronkitian, has only reshattered the shards.

Yeah…yeah, but let’s get to the money quote:

Beware of those who fetishize trust, Monck and Hanley counsel. “Trust is a shoddy yardstick. It doesn’t gauge truth, it gauges what looks close to the truth: verisimilitude,” they write. It’s not just the naive and undereducated who end up trusting people and institutions that they shouldn’t. The sophisticated and the well-schooled are vulnerable, too.

Be skeptical, news consumers, especially of the journalists you trust most. It will make you smarter and keep them honest.

Trust your spouse. Trust your dog. That ought to do it.

  • JackU

    I find his arguments weak for a variety of reasons. (Mostly because even though I was more a fan of NBC in my youth I think the network news was respected in those days because you could trust it.)

    His claim that Cronkite (and Chancellor and Reynolds and Smith) didn’t deserve to be trusted because nobody in TV News today can be trusted that way (except for maybe Jim Lehrer) is akin to saying that Ted Williams didn’t really hit .400 in 1941 because no one can do it today.

    One last comment, about the fairness doctrine. It is my opinion that the resulting polarization of the news (Fox on the right, MSNBC on the left, etc.) is just what opponents of the Fairness Doctrine wanted.

    True “fair and balanced” reporting is difficult and a bit messy. Most people realize this (or at least they used to) and maybe that’s why they respected and trusted the journalists who made an effort to stay out of the fight while reporting on it.

  • Bob Collins

    It’s all a blur now thanks to time, but help me out. Wasn’t the media criticized for its coverage of the Vietnam War? And weren’t there assertions of a liberal bias then, too. Given that there were only three networks, Cronkite’s would’ve fallen under that allegation, right?

  • Mark Gisleson

    Which of our current news anchors do you respect?

    Sorry, it’s been a long time since I trusted ANYONE on television to report the news to me.

  • GregS

    I trust public broadcasting to do its best to give me the progressive slant on every topic.

    But that is a good thing. At least someone is doing their best to deliver the news.

    They can always count on me and others to do our best to call them on their bias.

    Heck, each side advocating its position, isn’t that the way our judicial system seeks the truth?