Tag Archives: Walter Cronkite

Reflections on Brinkley’s Biography of Cronkite

On Wednesday, I present a synopsis of Douglas Brinkley‘s biography of Walter Cronkite.

The book, simply titled Cronkite (Harper, 2012) took me a summer to read, as it is over 1000 pages long.  It was worth it.

I presented it at a bonus program for the First Friday Book Synopsis, and for several associations and companies in Dallas.  Since it was never a best-seller, we did not feature it in a monthly presentation.

Brinkley has become one of our great biographers, and this one is almost novel-like in its content and construction.

Cronkite was known as the “most trusted man in America.”  His work for CBS News was strengthened by his initial work in newspapers.  He was truly a journalist, not a TelePrompTer reader.  His flexibility comes across again and again in the book, noting that it was never too late to get important news on the air in a broadcast.

This is a book you could read 25-50 pages a week over the summer and make a strong headway.  Maybe you could latch on to the content and even read it faster.

Douglas Brinkley photoCronkiteCover

Every Nation for Itself & The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Books for our September First Friday Book Synopsis

We had a terrific session this morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World  by Michael Hyatt, and I decided to make some upgrades to the way I blog and tweet.  It looks like I’ve got some research, and some work, to do.

I presented my synopsis of the business classic The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox.  It lived up to its reputation as a valuable, useful book.  It is terrific.

Both of our synopses, with our comprehensive handouts plus the audio recordings of our presentations, will be available for purchase soon on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

For our September 7 First Friday Book Synopsis, we have chosen two more useful and valuable books.  Karl will present the synopsis of The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey , Jim Huling.  And I will present the synopsis of the highly recommended Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer.  You can read an interview with the author, conducted by Fareed Zakaria, who praises the book, on the Amazon web site here.

In addition, Karl Krayer will present a bonus program on the biography of Walter Cronkite:  Cronkite, by Douglas Brinkley.  This will immediately follow our regular event.

Here is a flier – click on it for a full view, take a good look, and mark your calendar.  (You will be able to register for this event thorough the home page of this web site soon).

And, invite a friend or two…

Click on image for full/printable view

From Winston Churchill and Walter Cronkite – Your Communication Tips of the Day

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Winston Churchill

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory.”
Winston Churchill

“And that’s the way it is.”
Walter Cronkite

—————-

Many famous people are buried beneath Westminster Abbey.  But, at Westminster Abbey, there is one plaque, prominenty on display, honoring someone who is not buried there:  Winston Churchill. (Read about it here).  Here’s what is on that plaque:

REMEMBER

WINSTON
CHURCHILL
IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE WISHES OF
THE QUEEN AND PARLIAMENT
T
HE DEAN & CHAPTER PLACED THIS STONE
ON THE TWENTY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
15 SEPTEMBER 1965

He deserves such recognition.  I’m not sure the country would have survived without him.  Especially without his words.

Winston Churchill at work

Last Saturday, NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday aired a segment on Winston Churchill:  Winston Churchill’s Way With Words by Tom Vitale.

It was a wonderful segment, with a reminder that Churchill may have saved England with the sheer brilliance (actually, “simple” brilliance) and power of his words, his speeches.

Here are some excerpts of the segment:

Winston Churchill wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he’d spend an hour working on a single minute of a speech.
Winston Churchill is best remembered as the British prime minister whose speeches rallied a nation under a relentless Nazi onslaught in World War II. But few people know that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature — in part for his mastery of speechmaking.
Now, a new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, Churchill: The Power of Words, holds a megaphone to Churchill’s extraordinary oratory.

and…
In another landmark speech, Churchill proclaimed: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

and…
Churchill wasn’t born a master orator — he overcame a childhood lisp by practicing enunciation.

On June 18, 1940, immediately after the fall of France, Churchill rallied the British people once more. With his characteristic Shakespearean gusto, he declared, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ “

On April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy summed up Churchill’s speechwriting achievements, saying, “In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone — and most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life — he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

He spent an hour on a minute of speech.  He used exactly the right word(s), the best word – the “simple” word.  “In a word, victory.”  It can’t be any clearer than that.

And he “practiced” enunciation to overcome a childhood lisp.  He worked hard to be easily understandable.

Walter Cronkite at work

That point reminds me of a specific detail about Walter Cronkite’s brilliance.  He wanted to be easily understood, and so he developed the skill of speaking slowly enough to be easily understood.  This is from the Wikipedia page about Cronkite (but I’ve read it elsewhere also):

Walter Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult-to-understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute.

So, here are your three presentation skills tips for the day:

#1 – Learn to say what you have to say with the fewest number of clear and easy-to-grasp words. Work! on the right word choice.  (Churchill took an hour to write one minute’s worth of text).

#2 – Practice your enunciation.  The only test is this:  are you easily understood?

#3 – Slow down in your speaking.  Say your words slowly enough to be easily understood.  Again, the only test is this:  are you easily understood?

And, a reminder that goes without saying – getting good at genuinely effective communication is not all that easy.  It takes time, and work, and long-term focus, and…

The Parable of The Great Networker – Paul Revere (and a little bit of Walter Cronkite)

Listen my children and you shall hear
of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm…
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

——–

We all know the story.  Here’s the account from Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point:

In two hours, Paul Revere covered thirteen miles.  In every town he passed through along the way – Charlestown, Medford, North Cambridge, Menotomy – he knocked on doors and spread the word, telling local colonial leaders of the oncoming British, and telling them to spread the word to others.  Church bells started ringing.  Drums started beating.  The news spread like a virus as those informed by Paul Revere sent out riders of their own, until alarms were going off throughout the entire region.
Paul Revere’s ride is perhaps the most famous historical example of a word-to mouth epidemic.

Gladwell goes on to describe that one reason Revere’s ride worked so well was that it was Paul Revere who made that ride, and not someone else.  Paul Revere was a world-class networker.  People knew him – he knew people.  When Paul Revere spread the news, it was not a stranger spreading that news – but a person they knew, recognized, trusted.  He had credibility.

Walter Cronkite in Vietnam

It reminds me a little about the time when Walter Cronkite, out of character for him, injected his opinion into a broadcast. He stated, simply, that Vietnam was not winnable – a stalemate was the best we could hope for.  He stated it directly to the American people, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson famously responded:

“For it seems now more certain than ever,” Cronkite said, “that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”  After watching Cronkite’s broadcast, LBJ was quoted as saying. “That’s it. If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”*

The common thread here is this:  when a person speaks, the more known/connected that person is, the more trusted, the more credible…then the more people will respond.

It takes a while (a lifetime?) of networking, of building a reputation of reliability, of building true credibility, to have that kind of impact.

So – make every connection you can.  Make those connections “strong ties” (Gladwell again).  Because, one of these days, you are going to need people to listen to what you have to say.

——-

*  Yes, I am aware that there is some element of myth to the Cronkite story and LBJ’s response.  But, a myth is powerful — whether it gets details right or wrong.  I tell my students that “a myth is a story that is true, whether it is true or not.”

News as Profit Center; News as Amusement – Not Good News for an Informed Citizenry (insight from Ted Koppel and Neil Postman)

…we will become a trivial people, incapable of coping with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, perhaps even reality.  We will become, in a phrase, a people amused into stupidity.
Television has become the command center of our culture.  The light entertainment is not the problem.  The least dangerous things on television are its junk.
On television all subject matter is presented as entertaining.  And that is how television brings ruin to any intelligent understanding of public affairs.
How serious can a bombing in Lebanon be if it is shown to us prefaced by a happy United Airlines commercial and summarized by a Calvin Klein jeans commercial?  When newscasters say, “Now…this,” they mean to indicate that what you have just heard or seen has no relevance to what you are about to hear.
When a people become, in short, an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then…a nation finds itself at risk and culture-death is a clear possibility…
Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves To Death (I posted about this earlier here).

————–

Where will people get their information?  What is the quality of that information?  Is it trustworthy?  Is it honestly edited, delivered, “packaged?”

If the news can be driven by a well-known figure writing on her own Facebook page, and that sets the agenda for the news programming, are we getting what we need?  (This is what is sometimes happening!)

If a candidate for major office skips traditional interviews with editorial boards, and basically decides not to answer questions, or even debate with an opponent, are we getting what we need to make informed decisions?

I am worried about the decline in the quality/credibility/trustworthiness of our information.  And the voices for such worry are increasing.

I don’t often make this kind of  blanket pronouncement:  we are all busy, and there are so many good books to read.  But I would strongly recommend that everyone read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.  (You can buy a used copy through Amazon, currently for less than $4.00, including shipping).  This 1985 book seems ever more true as time goes by.

Ted Koppel - Day 100 of what would later become Nightline

And now, Ted Koppel has weighed in.  I realize that many current readers do not know just who Ted Koppel “was.”  During the Iranian hostage crisis, 1979, he began a late-night wrap-up of the day’s events in that crisis on ABC.  The program was called “The Iran Crisis—America Held Hostage: Day xxx”. After the 444 days of the crisis, the program remained on the schedule, re-named Nightline.  It always presented just one story (the current Nightline presents three stories).

Though he was not a perfect journalist (the program was accused of bias toward the U. S. Government view – see the paragraph in this Wikipedia article), there was still something a little more pure about his program than we might find in today’s programming.  It was an intelligent, non-shouting presentation of one important issue of the day.  There really is nothing quite like it on the air any longer.

Well, Mr. Koppel has now weighed in on the modern news scene.  It is not a flattering assessment.  The article, Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news, is in the Washington Post.  Here are some key excerpts:

To witness Keith Olbermann – the most opinionated among MSNBC’s left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts – suspended even briefly last week for making financial contributions to Democratic political candidates seemed like a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.

Back then, a policy against political contributions would have aimed to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. But today, when Olbermann draws more than 1 million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan, it is not clear what misdemeanor his donations constituted. Consistency?

We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.

Why the loss of a more honest journalism?

To Postman, it was news as entertainment. It was inevitable with the arrival of the technology.  Television would, ultimately give preference to the most “amusing” (“entertaining”) presentation.  (Think new theme songs written to introduce the current crisis/war.  Why does a war need its own theme song?  For entertainment value).

To Koppel, it is news as profit maker. It is the inevitable consequence of news as “profit center.”  Here is more from the Koppel article:

To the degree that broadcast news was a more virtuous operation 40 years ago, it was a function of both fear and innocence. Network executives were afraid that a failure to work in the “public interest, convenience and necessity,” as set forth in the Radio Act of 1927, might cause the Federal Communications Commission to suspend or even revoke their licenses. The three major broadcast networks pointed to their news divisions (which operated at a loss or barely broke even) as evidence that they were fulfilling the FCC’s mandate. News was, in a manner of speaking, the loss leader that permitted NBC, CBS and ABC to justify the enormous profits made by their entertainment divisions.

On the innocence side of the ledger, meanwhile, it never occurred to the network brass that news programming could be profitable.

Until, that is, CBS News unveiled its “60 Minutes” news magazine in 1968. When, after three years or so, “60 Minutes” turned a profit (something no television news program had previously achieved), a light went on, and the news divisions of all three networks came to be seen as profit centers, with all the expectations that entailed.

I am not optimistic that this will be reversed.  (Postman said that it would never be).  But it is sad…  And I think it hurts us all.

Amusing Ourselves To Death: or, Where Have You Gone, Walter Cronkite? –- Wisdom from Neil Postman

I’ve posted before about my deep appreciation for Neil Postman.  I find myself going back to his writings time and again.  This morning, I gave a presentation titled: Amusing Ourselves To Death:  or, Where Have You Gone, Walter Cronkite? It reflected greatly the thoughts from Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.  Here are a few excerpts from a chapter in his book Conscientious Objections, in which he summarized the entire book in a short essay:

…we will become a trivial people, incapable of coping with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, perhaps even reality.  We will become, in a phrase, a people amused into stupidity.

Television has become the command center of our culture.  The light entertainment is not the problem.  The least dangerous things on television are its junk.

On television all subject matter is presented as entertaining.  And that is how television brings ruin to any intelligent understanding of public affairs.

How serious can a bombing in Lebanon be if it is shown to us prefaced by a happy United Airlines commercial and summarized by a Calvin Klein jeans commercial?  When newscasters say, “Now…this,” they mean to indicate that what you have just heard or seen has no relevance to what you are about to hear.

When a people become, in short, an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then…a nation finds itself at risk and culture-death is a clear possibility.

I think there is way too much trivial in our culture, and the need for substance is deep and serious. Maybe if we all carved a out little more time for some substantive reading… time with a good book, a substantive book, a book with something to say…

I think this is why I like Postman so much.  Every page, every paragraph, every sentence is on the “hefty” side.  He has so very much to say.

Neil Postman wrote about education (Teaching as a Subversive Activity), and about technology (Technopoly).  He stated:

all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.

He suggested that we should ask 6 questions whenever a new technology arrives on the scene:

• What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?
• Whose problem is it?
• What new problems might be created by solving the original problem?
• Which people and what institutions will be most seriously harmed by this new technology?
• What changes in language are being forced by these new technologies?
• What sort of people and institutions gain special economic and political power from this new technology?

If you have not yet discovered Neil Postman, let me encourage you to order one of his books.  You can get Amusing Ourselves to Death used from Amazon for as little as $1.20 (plus shipping).