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Inside the Upheaval of Journalism

Reporters Look Back on 50 Years of Covering the News

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Edited By Ted Gest and Dotty Brown

In the spring of 1969, 101 students received master’s degrees from Columbia University’s prestigious School of Journalism, where they had learned the trade as it was then practiced. Most hoped to start a career in newspapers, radio, television or magazines, the established forms of journalism of that era. Little did they realize how the news world they were entering would be upended by the internet and by the social forces that would sweep through the country over the next 50 years.

This book tells the story of the news media revolution through the eyes of those in the Class of 1969 who lived it and helped make it happen. It is an insider’s look at the reshaping of the Fourth Estate and the information Americans now get and don’t get—crucial aspects of the vibrancy of democracy.

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Chapter Five Politics: Reporting in the Age of Distrust

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Politics: Reporting in the Age of Distrust

ALAN EHRENHALT

On February 27, 1968, a few months before the Columbia University School of Journalism’s Class of 1969 entered school, Walter Cronkite looked straight at his CBS Evening News audience and delivered an opinion that defined him as a maker of change in American government.

What Cronkite did was declare the Vietnam War unwinnable for his country. “It seems now more certain than ever,” he said on the air, “that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. The only rational way out will be to negotiate.”1 President Lyndon Johnson, watching the broadcast, is said to have remarked to one of his aides, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”2

It’s not entirely clear that Johnson actually uttered those words. But the fact that they have been accepted as historical truth tells us a great deal about America in the 1960s—and about the role journalists played in American society. The story attributes to Cronkite, to his network, and to his entire profession a stature and authority utterly incomprehensible half a century later.

The decline in respect for authority over the last generation is familiar to most Americans in one way or another; it has affected once-trusted institutions—from law enforcement and the judiciary to public schools and the Catholic Church. But it has hit political journalism as hard as or harder than most of the...

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