A Reporter's Life

If you had to pick one person who would best represent the 20th century, who could best give an accounting of this strange and revolutionary time, who would it be?There are certainly those whose names will live for their defining moments -- Roosevelt, Lenin, Hitler, Kennedy, Gorbachev. But to represent this century, which spans a striking magnitude of change and upheaval, takes an epic perspective, an honest ego, a sense of humor and, above all, respect for humanity.I can think of no person better suited for the task than Walter Cronkite. Although his "A Reporter's Life" is an autobiography, and a faithful telling, as the title suggests, of the life of one of our most trusted journalists, the book is much more than that. Cronkite has been present for some of this century's most defining moments -- moments of some of the greatest suffering this world has ever seen, along with moments of accomplishment that are truly astounding."A Reporter's Life" pulls double duty as history and biography. Make no mistake, you will find Cronkite, the man, in these pages. You also will find an incredible inside look at a great portion of this century.From his humble beginnings as a newspaper reporter and radio announcer in such cities as Houston, Kansas City and, yes, even a stint with WKY in Oklahoma City to his days as a correspondent for United Press during World War II to his years as an anchor on ÒThe CBS Evening News,Ó Cronkite makes each chapter feel like a comfortable chat with a close friend. Every page contains an anecdote, a footnote, an off-the-cuff moment when those who seem larger-than-life are suddenly more human, when those of no renown rise above the ranks -- all thanks to the observant eyes and ears of Cronkite.It's an interesting read and an informative one, quoting the likes of everyone from Patton to Nixon to players too numerous to mention. All of this is sprinkled with the style and humor that we've come to expect from Cronkite.From the beginning of the book, Cronkite makes no attempt to dress up his feelings and opinions. At the same time, his honesty doesn't declare open season on objectivity. Cronkite lends his views or feelings at the moment, often laced with musings about how his perspective has softened or changed with time.The editorial side to his biography is at times delivered almost as an aside -- this is, after all, his biography, an opportunity to tell it the way he saw it. He admits errors and mistakes freely, without over-explanation. He's unafraid to be seen as completely human.The other side to the biography is the stories, delivered in typical Cronkite style, with honest and fair reasoning, cutting to the heat of the moment without the overblown histrionics and melodrama that have come to characterize so much of today's journalism.Another perspective to Cronkite, one perhaps not as readily available from listening to his news reporting, is the depth of Cronkite's commitment to equality for all people. In "A Reporter's Life," Cronkite makes no bones regarding his disgust for bigotry and racism.Early in his life, he was an eyewitness to the cruelty and injustice of racism. It became a determining moment. In the years that followed, and specifically, during the civil rights movement and South Africa's struggle to throw off apartheid, Cronkite maintained the ethics of fair journalism, while at the same time standing firm in his belief of equal rights for all people.The first third of the book is more or less a chronological expedition through Cronkite's early years. In the latter portions of the book, he breaks his career down by events and theme. There are chapters on Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the fascinating world of American presidents and the broadcasting industry and the world of television.Cronkite closes with a look at the present and concern and speculation for the future, specifically with regard to journalism. It is scathing yet fair-minded, featuring Cronkite at his best as he lays all the cards on the table. His is a deep concern for the integrity of the free press and its very necessary place as a guardian of the freedoms Americans enjoy. His delivery on the subject is well-researched, well-written, moving and to the point. The appeal is compelling."There is going to be social and political and economic evolution, which will explode with such suddenness as to have the character of revolution,Ó he writes.ÒThe revolutionary forces are already at work today, and they have humankind's dreams on their side. We don't want to be on the other side. It is up to us to assume leadership of that revolution, to channel it in a direction that will ensure freedom's future."Raising consciousness is seldom accomplished by such grace, reason and compassion. "A Reporter's Life" is the mind of Walter Cronkite, a great read deserving of contemplation.


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