The Common Good

Walter Cronkite and True Journalism

090720-walter-cronkiteWithin the context of just peace theory, Walter Cronkite was and remains an important figure. Truth. Respect. Security. We know the truth through the hard work of scholars doing the difficult and necessary research into the past and present to help us understand the facts of any conflict. Politicians and policy makers ought to make decisions based on a careful interpretation of the facts. The work of journalists is to help the public understand the facts and serve as a check on the ambitions of politicians and policy makers.

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For the better part of the last half of the 20th century, Walter Cronkite performed this task with integrity and aplomb. He was a seminal figure in nightly network television news. Once upon a dinner time in America, in city, suburb, small town and farm, north, south, east, west, coastland and heartland, black, white, yellow, brown, all watched one of three news programs. At my house, it was Walter Cronkite. He gave us the facts surrounding assassinations, space shots, civil rights, women's rights, political conventions, rebellions in the streets, peace talks, Watergate, and war. He brought us news of the Beatles.

Most important, he told America the truth about the Vietnam War. Truth is always the first casualty of war. Disinformation is a tactic of war. Good journalism asks what officials are not telling us. Cronkite went to Vietnam and saw through his own reporting that there was no military solution to that conflict. He knew that our government was not telling us the truth and that too many young men and women were paying the price of the lie with their bodies. When he told us that the time had come for an honorable people to negotiate an end, knowing that we had done our best, we believed him. We trusted him because we knew that he was not in business to support this or that political party or agenda.

As believers, we have an agenda: to bring God's realm of peace on earth as it is in heaven. We do this through prayer and work. Good journalism informs us about what people and trouble in the world requires our prayers. And, it has been my experience that when we begin to pray for a situation, God gives us work to do in that area.

The work of eternal salvation is finished. The work of temporal salvation is our continuing work to do. Good journalism that finds the truth and tells it with an even-handed fairness is necessary to our salvific efforts. Walter Cronkite gave us such journalism, sometimes with tears, sometimes with an "oh wow" wonder. His example is one that we ought to cherish, value, and always remember for its part in helping us to establish peace with justice in the world.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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