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Cronkite praises winners but criticizes political coverage overall

By David LaFontaine and Jasmin Persch

Walter Cronkite smiled, joked and accepted a flood of compliments with his trademark grace at the awards banquet named after him. 

But in his speech, he made it clear that the overall state of journalism, and of the United States, is something that causes him fear and anxiety that borders on despair.

“We’re heading into a period of time that is perhaps the most difficult and dangerous that … America [has] ever known, and perhaps have ever known, since indeed our revolution against the British,” Cronkite said.  “Just think of what we’ve got ahead of us.  We are … one of the poorest nations of the Western World.  We don’t have the money to do the most necessary jobs – starting with paying our teachers.  It’s got to start there. 

“But beyond that – our infrastructure is falling apart.  Our roads … bridges … dams … our entire structure is in need of renewing.  And we don’t have a penny to give to that.”

Cronkite repeatedly stressed that it is the job of journalists, particularly of radio and television journalists, to educate the public to make reasoned, informed political decisions.

“I’m afraid that we are not a very intelligent population,” Cronkite said. “We’re not educated well enough.  This is the fault not only of this administration, but of previous administrations.

“We are doing such an incredibly poor job of educating our population.  It is an absolute crime that we approach a group of people who we give to our children to educate to teach what our republic what our democracy is really about, we hand our children to them and then we pay them so poorly that these teachers are almost across the country paid less than the janitors

“This is a crime, an absolute crime, because we are an under-educated population.”

Many of the speakers and award-winners lauded Cronkite for his achievements in journalism throughout the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism ceremony.  But Cronkite make it clear that he thinks that the time has come for the reporters and editors in the room to stand up and put pressure on their corporate owners to devote the resources to educating the American public.

“Thomas Jefferson said that ‘The nation that expects to be ignorant and free, expects what can and what never will be,’ “ Cronkite said. “And that’s what terrible bind we’re in today.

“We are not educated enough to intelligently select our leaders.  It’s going to be up to us, in large degree, in television and in radio to get this job done

“This is going to require that we put the pressure onto our employers … those concerned more with profits than with performance.  We should be doing our best to educate [the public]. 

“If we fail at that, our democracy, our republic is in serious danger.”

Awards were given in seven different categories:

  1. Station Group: Hearst-Argyle Television
    This is the third year in a row that Hearst-Argyle won a Cronkite Award. Judges chose Hearst-Argyle for its attention to issues and clear explanations of them.
  2. Broadcast Network: NBC News’ “Meet the Press”
    Honored its third consecutive award, “Meet the Press” won for Tim Russert’s interview with President Bush. Judges considered the interview “hard-hitting” and “well-researched.”
  3. Local Station – Large Market: There were three winners in this category:
    • WCVB, Boston – which won for covering issues important to its local audience and for its “thoughtful, well-written and issue-based” stories, judges wrote.
    • WFAA, Dallas – which was honored with its second award in a row for its commitment to exposing “political issues and candidates to viewers,” judges wrote.
    • WFLA, Tampa – which received its second consecutive award for committing a vast amount of resources to election coverage, judges wrote.
  4. Local Station – Medium Market: Wisconsin Public Television
    Wisconsin Public Television won its second consecutive award for its commitment to political coverage and “thorough knowledge of the candidates, the state and the issues,” judges wrote.
  5. Local Station – Small Market: KY3, Springfield, Missouri.
    Judges chose KY3 for its in-depth reporting and “commitment to informing voters” with long, well-balanced stories.
  6. Local Cable News Station: 6News, Lawrence, Kansas.
    6News won for demonstrating that limited resources are not “an obstacle to well-produced political coverage,” judges wrote.
  7. Individual Achievement.
    There were three winners in this category:
    • Reporter Robert Mak and Producer Mike Cate of KING-TV, Seattle were honored with their second award for “thorough and balanced coverage, good writing, and excellent reporting and producing.”
    • Katie Moore of KOAA-TV, Colorado Springs won for her wide-reaching reporting with candidate profiles, a series on religion and politics and Truth Checks, judges wrote.
    • Randy Shandobil of KTVU-TV, Oakland received his second award for researching extensively and making complex issues understandable, judges wrote.

Resources

A/VVideo of Awards Ceremony

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