History

Substituting for the Vice President at Today's Convening of the Senate, This is Roger Mudd

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When Walter Cronkite died, I wrote about the old fantasy that the CBS anchor would run for president. What I didn't know until this weekend was that there once was a serious attempt to enlist him as a vice presidential candidate. Here's Frank Mankiewicz recalling the heady days of 1972 in yesterday's Washington Post:

That July, just as a rather chaotic Democratic National Convention in Miami agreed to make McGovern the party's nominee, I convened a group of top campaign officials to come up with some options for the candidate to consider as his running mate. Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that the senator 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, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. "On the contrary, George," the senator told me Cronkite replied, "I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war." At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.

Despite what Cronkite said in retirement, I'm not sure I believe that he would have given up his newsreading career for a political campaign, no matter how sympathetic he was to its platform. Either way, it's interesting that a major McGovern advisor wanted to ask him in the first place.

Bonus reading: a Norman Solomon column reminding us that in the early years of the Vietnam conflict, before it opened up a rift within the establishment, Cronkite was one of the war's loyal cheerleaders.

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  1. Fuck Cronkite.

  2. Would you believe… this close to world government?

  3. So he could have (possibly) gotten us out of Watergate and prevented Carter from being elected? Damn, that might have been nice.

  4. “newsreading career”

    This is why I love Reason. You people are the best communicators to real people.

  5. I doubt Cronkite could have saved the McGovern campaign. Although he couldn’t have hurt it as badly as Eagleton.

  6. Cronkite was one of the war’s loyal cheerleaders

    At the start of every war the U.S. has been involved in since the very beginning, the press has generally been supportive. Ambivalence, then doubt, then outright hostility to war occurs later on in the conflict. To single out Cronkite, repeatedly, demonstrates Reason’s odd animosity toward one of journalism’s best practitioners. Call it professional jealousy?

  7. “newsreading career”

    Let us know, Jesse, when you’ve participated in combat journalism, gone on bombing runs, faced hostile fire. Cronkite’s career was more than reading a teleprompter. He was a full-time journalist, not just a talking head. Your snide remarks are unworthy.

  8. Thanks, Jesse. Like everyone else, I have been dying to know what you believe the trajectory of Cronkite’s career might have been. Keep us posted on other thoughts you have.

  9. There is an interesting article on the Vietnam War.

    ” And,
    the US was defending the Republic of Vietnam from an invasion.
    Whatever the US administrations and military leaders did wrong,
    THAT was not one of them.”

  10. It really says a lot about the supposed objectivity of journalism in general but specifically in the 70’s that Cronkite was considered vice presidential material and that he would have accepted.

    On the other hand, in retrospect it might have been better for both America and the people of Indochina if a northeastern democrat had won in ’68 or ’72. Once the war became the property of the northeastern leftists, their attitude would have shifted enough to allow us to keep supporting south Vietnam against the northern invasions. No Democrat would have wanted to go down as the President that gave America its first defeat.

    History is strange that way. Obama’s election might have saved the people of Iraq. You don’t hear cries to abandon them like you did when Bush was President or like you’d expect to hear if McCain had won.

    Surviving Cambodians might look back wistfully at the thought of a McGovern-Cronkite administration.

  11. Thanks for the Solomon link, Jesse.
    ‘The Most Trusted Man In America’ was one of our most Hollow of Men .

  12. Hey +, how does one get invited on one of those NEATO! bombing runs in the first place? Look up ‘sucking up’ if you are stumped.

  13. “…anything to help end that dreadful war.”

    Anything, eh? Like, perhaps, omit or alter facts in his broadcasts to support his own agenda?

    When I was a kid, I was promised we would all be driving hovercars and dining on the moon by now. I was hoping at the very least by the turn of the millennium to have robots delivering me the news of the day. But still today, like then, I have to suss out the bias of whomever wrote the teleprompter copy to figure out what the hell is actually going on in the world.

    I digress. Skip that previous paragraph. Anyway, I doubt Cronkite would have accepted. He would have had to publicly own his beliefs, and then half the country would stop loving him, and then where would he be?

    (Not driving his hovercar to the moon, that’s for sure.)

  14. I wonder how much of this past and present Cronkite-worship in the rest of the press is driven by the fact he leaned left?

    in the early years of the Vietnam conflict, before it opened up a rift within the establishment, Cronkite was one of the war’s loyal cheerleaders.

    Of course, Democrats initially got us involved in that war. It was only when Nixon started winning it via the novel tactic of actually trying to win that it became necessary for the press to report the war a horrible, unwinnable tragedy.

  15. “…anything to help end that dreadful war.”

    People often forget that the war was essentially over and won with the Paris Accords. We could probably have kept the peace via deterrence if not for the post-Watergate Congress’ open declaration we would do nothing to help the South, essentially inviting invasion a la Dean Acheson’s infamous Korea remarks.

    The real tragedy is that South Vietnam’s GDP per capita and human rights situation today could easily have looked more like S Korea’s instead of resembling N Korea’s.

  16. Vietnam was the biggest fucking the military has ever received. I was against the war in principle, but, moreso, I was against the way the manipulative bastards in Washington handled it, including Cronkite. Any accidental good from him becoming VP, could never have outweighed the negative, illiberal influence.

  17. So Cronkite was for the war before he was against it?

    Interesting.

  18. History is strange that way. Obama’s election might have saved the people of Iraq. You don’t hear cries to abandon them like you did when Bush was President or like you’d expect to hear if McCain had won.

    If “Get the hell out and bring our troops home from this fools errand” counts, I’m still all for “abandoning” the Iraqi people.

  19. TallDave,

    Would you be happy if we still had tens of thousands of troops south of a Vietnamese DMZ, ala Korea? Or has history shown that the way it worked out ended up better for the United States and the Vietnamese?

  20. Funny that his comment was that we “couldn’t win”, not that we “shouldn’t be fighting there” or something similar.

    Technically, he was certainly correct. Since the parameters we fought under included not invading the country we were actually at war with, winning was not possible. A stalemate was literally the best anyone could hope for.

  21. I was hoping at the very least by the turn of the millennium to have robots delivering me the news of the day.

    Hey now, there’s a thought!

    http://www.anonymity.comealongquietly

  22. TallDave: Cronkite turned against the war after Tet. That was during the Johnson years, not Nixon.

    +: “Single out Cronkite, repeatedly”? What you talking about?

  23. Would you be happy if we still had tens of thousands of troops south of a Vietnamese DMZ, ala Korea? Or has history shown that the way it worked out ended up better for the United States and the Vietnamese?

    The South Koreans have basic rights and a pretty good GDP per capita. South Vietnam more closely resembles North Korea in both respects. I think that one answers itself.

    Jesse: True, their opposition was a bit more principled that I implied there.

  24. For the record, S Korea’s GDP per capita is about ten times Vietnam’s:

    North Korea: $1,700
    Vietnam: $2,800
    South Korea: $26,000

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

  25. You have to wonder sometimes, what would the world look like today if the Communist disease had been contained solely within Russia?

    Just imagine the possibilities if China alone had a GDP per capita comparable to ours.

    By now we might have cured all known diseases, have established Martian colonies, built space elevators… the mind boggles.

  26. Let us know, Jesse, when you’ve participated in combat journalism, gone on bombing runs, faced hostile fire. Cronkite’s career was more than reading a teleprompter. He was a full-time journalist, not just a talking head.

    To be fair, by the time he was being considered as a VP candidate, he was just a newsreader.

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