Friday, June 19, 2009

An Exaggerated Report

Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers of all time. And one of my favorite quotations by him apparently stemmed from reports about a serious illness with which his cousin was afflicted. Somehow, word got out that Twain was the one who was ill — and, from that, things got out of hand. Twain, subsequent reports indicated, had passed away.

But that was not the case. So Twain attempted to set the record straight.

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," he famously said.

I'm getting somewhat the same sensation today with the reports concerning retired news anchor Walter Cronkite.

The 92–year–old Cronkite has been ill recently, but Mark Shanahan reports, in the Boston Globe, that he isn't at death's door — at least, not yet.

Even the Chicago Sun–Times, while hedging its bets with a headline that said "Reports of Walter Cronkite's illness are exaggerated," nevertheless informed readers that Cronkite was "gravely ill" a couple of paragraphs before reporting that Cronkite's executive assistant said he was "dealing with the challenges of being a 92–year–old man."

And that tends to put things in a somewhat different light.

Unless you're over 35, you may not remember Cronkite. He was a fixture in the evening TV news broadcasts, often considered "the most trusted man in America" and known by many viewers as simply "Uncle Walter."

For nearly 20 years, until his retirement in 1981, Cronkite was the anchor at CBS, presiding over the network's coverage of the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the landing on the moon of Apollo 11 and the Watergate scandal — as well as practically all the other major events of the 1960s and 1970s, like Woodstock and Watts, Three–Mile Island and Kent State.

His on–air editorial in 1968 stating that the war in Vietnam was not winnable is often credited with being the event that turned the tide of public opinion. President Lyndon Johnson, who withdrew from the presidential race a month later, reportedly said, after Cronkite's editorial, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

Well, America hasn't lost Cronkite yet — and it may not lose him for several more years. His mother was 101 when she died in 1993. Cronkite was 77 at that time.

By the way, in case you're wondering, it's my understanding that Twain's cousin recovered from whatever had afflicted him.

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