Cronkite may be establishing another legacy with Americans under 40: He's the journalism legend who hates the Internet.
After writing his last syndicated newspaper column, Cronkite used the opportunity to return to one of his favorite themes in recent years -- his desire to see online journalists sued more often:
I am dumbfounded that there hasn't been a crackdown with the libel and slander laws on some of these would-be writers and reporters on the Internet. I expect that to develop in the fairly near future.
Cronkite's grudge against the Internet began with Walter Cronkite Spit in My Food, a parody Web site that claimed the newsman hocked a loogie in another diner's meal at Disney World Epcot.
The site, published in the mid-'90s, combined an actual snapshot of Cronkite dining at a Disney World restaurant table with an obviously false story. Tim Hughes thought it would be funny to turn his chance sighting of the celebrity into comedy gold. One reader's description:
It was an unbelievable account of a drunken Walter Cronkite raging at a honeymooning couple in a restaurant. It included an obviously faked video clip of Walter Cronkite spitting and a fuzzy photograph of a man who looked vaguely like Cronkite. The whole thing was pretty distasteful, but I didn't believe for a second that it that it was anything but fiction.
How did Cronkite take the joke? Not well:
I favor legislation that requires people to stand by their words by identifying themselves on the Internet. They should not be permitted to operate anonymously.
Even though Hughes was never anonymous, publishing the page from his personal Web space, Cronkite has been fulminating ever since for the Internet to be the first mass medium that requires its writers to fully identify themselves.
Someone who has his own School for Journalism ought to recognize the role of anonymous journalists in our history, going all the way back to the pamphleteers hectoring the British crown during the American Revolution.
As a J-school grad and participant in the Online Journalism Awards, I'm disappointed that one of the icons of the business shows so little respect for the online practice of his craft.
The Web represents a great opportunity for journalism to escape the avaricious TV conglomerates that are giving up on the business, replacing real news with endless scandalmongering and infotainment.
As a 37-year-old who may be one of the youngest people to have watched and idolized Cronkite, I think it's a shame that today's news junkies -- who depend a lot more on the Web than the 6 o'clock news -- may come to know him best for this crotchety crusade.
And you can put my name on that.
Why would you admire Cronkite? This is the guy who flat out lied and said that Goldwater was skipping JFK's funeral to speak to political reporters (the reality was, he was attending his mother-in-law's funeral).
Cronkite's absurd sign-off "that's the way it was" was absurd and representative of what is/was wrong with journalism.
The "Cronkite Spit In My Soup" episode is an revealing look at just how elite journalists view the world -- Free speech is only for those lucky enough to work for a corporation that owns one, to paraphrase Liebling.
Bill O'Reilly is another who gets apoplectic about that "darned Internet" in random outburts during his show. It's the most bewildering thing to see someone with an otherwise unassailable self-confidence reduced to an impotent rage by an inanimate computer network,
Sorry to comment on something that was posted years ago but I was going through some old files and I found the Gif animation of Walter Cronkite spitting. I pulled the image but I don't have the text so I looked around and found your site. Nobody has the text and I don't have any contact info for Tim Hughes any more. That was one of the funniest things I've ever seen posted online. Thanks for archiving some of it!