Friday, July 31, 2009

"Are the Top Journalists Insiders or Outsiders?"

Dr. Larry Sabato, the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, has an interesting column today on Real Clear Politics about Walter Cronkite. He quotes Frank Mankiewicz, who was Bobby Kennedy's press secretary, as writing on July 25th in the Washington Post:

"In the late 1960s [presumably 1967], just after he returned from a long visit to Vietnam, Cronkite had sought a meeting with Sen. Robert Kennedy. The meeting was understood to be off the record, and no one else was present. Cronkite began with an acknowledgment of Kennedy's desire not to run for president but pleaded with RFK to change his mind and to announce his intention to seek the White House right away, even though the election was more than a year off...[R]un against [Lyndon] Johnson, Cronkite urged, to show people there will be a way out of this terrible war.

In 1972 Mankiewicz was George McGovern's political director in George McGovern's losing 1972 Presidential campaign. Mankiewicz is quoted as writing in the same Washington Post article:

"Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that [McGovern] put forward Walter Cronkite for vice president. My idea met with instant, and unanimous, disapproval. He'd never accept, and we'd look bad, colleagues said...Decades later...McGovern [told] Cronkite that his name had been proposed...but was rejected because we were certain he'd turn us down. "On the contrary, George,"...Cronkite replied, "I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful [Vietnam] war."

Dr. Sabato find it strange that the anchor of CBS News was "willingly became an active player in national politics, choosing a personal favorite for president and directly attempting to induce a prominent politician to run for the White House."

Sabato jumps to the present and writes:

How about the anchors and hosts at ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN? What about the White House reporters who have frequent, one-on-one, off-the-record chats with the presidential press secretary and the chief of staff? Are they ever asked to offer strategic and tactical advice--or do they volunteer it?--when the cameras are not on, and there are no witnesses? Is this happening now in the Obama administration and did it happen in prior Democratic and Republican administrations?

Usually these could be seen as impertinent questions, but not after the Cronkite revelations.

To read Dr Sabato's column click on the title for a link.