Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Walter Cronkite 1917 - 2009

Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman known as "Uncle Walter" for his easygoing, measured delivery and "the most trusted man in America" for his rectitude and gravitas, died Friday night in his New York home, CBS reported.


Cronkite was 92.

"Walter was always more than just an anchor. He was someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world," President Obama said in a statement Friday.

"He was family. He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly missed."

His career spanned much of the 20th century, as well as the first decade of the 21st

The native of St. Joseph, Missouri, broke in as a newspaper journalist while in college, switched over to radio announcing in 1935, joined the United Press wire service by the end of the decade and jumped to CBS and its nascent television news division in 1950. iReport.com: Share your memories of Cronkite

He also made his mark as an Internet contributor in his later years with a handful of columns for the Huffington Post.

"He was the consummate television newsman," Don Hewitt, the onetime executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," told CNN. "He had all the credentials to be a writer, an editor, a broadcaster. There was only one Walter Cronkite, and there may never be another one." Watch colleagues explain why Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America" »

Cronkite covered World War II's Battle of the Bulge, the Nuremberg trials, several presidential elections, moon landings, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon's administration.

At times he even made news: A 1977 question to then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat about Sadat's intent to go to Israel -- at the time considered a nonstarter because of the lack of a treaty between the two countries -- received a surprising "yes" from the Egyptian leader.

Soon after, Sadat traveled to Jerusalem, a trip that eventually led to the Camp David Accords, which included a peace deal between Israel and Egypt.

At his height of influence as CBS anchorman, Cronkite's judgment was believed so important it could affect even presidents. In early 1968, after the Tet Offensive, Cronkite traveled to Vietnam and gave a critical editorial calling the Vietnam War "mired in stalemate." Watch an overview of Cronkite's life »

Noting Cronkite's commentary, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Johnson announced he would not seek re-election less than two months later.

Don't Miss
Statement from CBS
Special report: Life of Walter Cronkite
TIME.com: The Man with America's Trust
Life.com: Remembering Walter Cronkite
Cronkite's own name was often floated as a presidential possibility -- wishful thinking on the part of some pundits, because Cronkite had little desire to enter politics once he'd become a successful anchorman.

He became, however, an outspoken critic of what he saw as flaws in government and broadcast journalism. He disliked the current war in Iraq, telling Esquire magazine, "Indeed, we are in another Vietnam. Almost play by play. It's a terrible mistake that we're in Iraq, and it's a terrible mistake to insist on staying there."

And he disliked the corporatization of news.

"The nation whose population depends on the explosively compressed headline service of television news can expect to be exploited by the demagogues and dictators who prey upon the semi-informed," he wrote in his 1996 memoir, "A Reporter's Life."

In a 2005 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, he observed, "The misfortune with broadcasting today is that all -- even including your network, which is dedicated to the news -- do not take enough time to give us all of the facts and the background." Watch CNN's John King reflect on Cronkite's career »

"Walter was truly the father of television news. The trust that viewers placed in him was based on the recognition of his fairness, honesty and strict objectivity," said "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer in a statement.

"And of course, his long experience as a shoe-leather reporter covering everything from local politics to World War II and its aftermath in the Soviet Union."

Mike Wallace, "60 Minutes" correspondent emeritus, said simply: "We were proud to work with him -- for him -- we loved him."

Premiere journalist of 20th century is born

Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 4, 1916. His father was a dentist, and Cronkite, who admired the man greatly, grew his famous mustache in emulation of his father.

The family moved to Kansas City soon after, and when he was 10, moved again to Houston, Texas. He remembered being attached to news at an early age, from delivering newspapers to starting a high school publication. Cronkite attended the University of Texas in Austin, but dropped out of college in 1935 after gaining a full-time job as a newspaper reporter.

He moved to Kansas City for a radio job at KCMO, where he was famed for his broadcasts of football game recreations. He would use wire reports about football games to broadcast what sounded like live, play-by-play commentary on the match.

It was in Kansas City that he also met his future wife, Betsy Maxwell, in the summer of 1936. The two married in 1940 and enjoyed almost 65 years of marriage. Betsy Cronkite died in 2005.

"She was one of the most beautiful people I ever saw in my life," he said in a PBS special. "I saw her for the first time ... coming down the hall ... and I fell in love before I ever knew her name, or what she did, or if I whether I would ever see her again in life."

Cronkite had a short stint with the United Press in 1937 -- "the KCMO experience," he wrote in "A Reporter's Life," "had cooled any thought I had that radio might be an interesting medium in which to practice journalism" -- but nevertheless, he joined an Oklahoma City station within a year to broadcast University of Oklahoma football games. After a detour with Braniff Airlines, he went back to the UP and the newspaper reporting he loved.

In 1942, after the United States' entry into World War II, he became a war correspondent, part of an elite corps of correspondents dubbed "the Writing 69th." As part of that unit, he accompanied a bomber on D-Day (the mission was thwarted by cloud cover) and flew on a number of dangerous sorties. After the war, he became the chief UP correspondent at the Nuremberg Trials for war crimes. He was widely admired; CBS tried to lure him into its Edward R. Murrow-led fold during the war, but Cronkite preferred being a newspaperman. Watch Cronkite remember WWII heroes »

Cronkite opened UP's Moscow, Russia, bureau after the war, but when the wire service tightened up on his salary in 1948, he decided to go back to radio at the urging of a friend who owned a radio station. He was the Washington correspondent for a radio group. Two years later, CBS came calling again, and this time Cronkite took the network up on its offer.

Into television news

But now the medium was television. Cronkite became the anchor of WTOP-TV, armed with little more than wire reports and his own skills, he recalled in his memoir.

Two years later, he broke into the national consciousness with his work at the 1952 political conventions, serving as CBS' "anchorman" -- a word coined to describe Cronkite's role as point person for the network's correspondents. Though there's some dispute as to who coined the word, Cronkite's influence was noted: in Sweden at the time, he recalled, anchormen were called "cronkiters."

But CBS News had a deep bench. The division was led by Murrow throughout the 1950s, and a number of other famous names -- Eric Sevareid, Douglas Edwards, Howard K. Smith -- were part of the team. Cronkite distinguished himself as CBS' lead space reporter as the United States and Soviet Union launched the space race. He never lost his taste for the beat, working with CNN on shuttle launches as recently as John Glenn's return mission in 1998.

In 1962, Cronkite took over as anchor of CBS' "Evening News" from Edwards. Television news was still in its infancy; the broadcast Cronkite delivered was 15 minutes long, dependent on sometimes day-old film, and in black and white. But with the Cold War, civil rights movement and the increasing rapidity of communications, the news business was changing. On September 2, 1963 -- Labor Day -- Cronkite's broadcast became a half-hour; the centerpiece was an extended interview with President John F. Kennedy. Watch Cronkite relive the day Kennedy was shot »

A little less than three months later, Kennedy was assassinated. Cronkite's coverage of that event, including a rare display of emotion on camera -- as he broadcast the news of Kennedy's death from the CBS newsroom -- helped cement his status.

However, for the first half of the 1960s, Cronkite's broadcast was No. 2 to NBC's "Huntley-Brinkley Report," hosted by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. It wasn't until later in the decade that Cronkite and CBS overtook the NBC team for the No. 1 position, a mark it would hold for the rest of Cronkite's 19-year tenure.

"Uncle Walter" increasingly became the most-admired figure in the news media. His sign-off, "And that's the way it is," became a national catch-phrase. His coverage of moon missions was legendary, with his ability to anchor, unperturbed, for hour upon hour, earning him the affectionate nickname "Old Iron Pants." Read reaction to his death »

Another rare example of Cronkite showing emotion on air was the joy he expressed at Apollo 11's 1969 moon landing: "Man on the moon!" he exulted, rubbing his hands in delight.

'Most trusted man in America'

In 1972, a poll named him "the most trusted man in America." The anchorman had been one of the few TV journalists to note the import of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's reporting on Watergate and helped prompt CBS into following the story aggressively.

The network broadcast two extended segments on the affair just before the 1972 election. Cronkite was helped immensely by CBS' then White House correspondent, Dan Rather, who became one of Nixon's least favorite reporters with his determined questioning at White House press conferences.

Rather's and Cronkite's lives would cross again several years later. By the end of the 1970s, television news had become news itself, with Barbara Walters' million-dollar ABC contract in 1976 making headlines. The race to succeed Cronkite, who was nearing 65 and announced his forthcoming retirement in 1980, became a national focus. Watch CNN's John Roberts talk about Cronkite's influence on him »

In the end, Rather won the battle to succeed Cronkite over Roger Mudd, who was Cronkite's regular fill-in. Cronkite gave his last "Evening News" broadcast on March 6, 1981. His successor had a number of up-and-down years, which Cronkite watched from a distance. The two anchors were not "especially chummy," Cronkite once said.

In his later years, Cronkite -- who became a CBS board member -- distinguished himself with various news specials, but was disappointed he wasn't allowed to take a greater role at CBS.

"I want to say that probably 24 hours after I told CBS that I was stepping down at my 65th birthday, I was already regretting it. And I regretted it every day since," he once said.

He had planned to do documentaries for the network, as well as continue his summer science series "Walter Cronkite's Universe," but the series was canceled in 1982, and CBS was devoting fewer resources to documentaries. He also stayed physically active, an energetic tennis player and sailor.

Cronkite received dozens of awards during his life, including a number of Emmys and Peabodys. In 1981, he was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Jimmy Carter.

He also played himself in movies and on TV, including memorable episodes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Murphy Brown."

But he never lost his zest for reporting, nor his opinions about the news media. His daughter, Kathy, played a Patty Hearst-like character in the scabrous 1976 movie "Network," a film Cronkite said "was all comedy" to him, though he shared beliefs in its message. He disparaged what he called "fluff" and constantly exhorted news departments to focus on hard news -- without opinion.

"Our job is only to hold up the mirror -- to tell and show the public what has happened," he once said.

Cronkite is survived by his three children, Nancy, Kathy and Walter III "Chip"; and four grandchildren.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)

I did not like the way Berry Gordy Jr. was portrayed in the movie "Dreamgirls". Of course he is not perfect, but who among us is? To me Mr. Gordy is a role model in spite of his perceived shortcomings. In the early days of Rock 'n' Roll most African-American performers were ripped off. They didn't receive just compensation for their work and also had stolen royalties. Two early pioneers who attempted to right this wrong were Berry Gordy Jr. and Sam Cooke, the first successful African-American owners of record companies with national (and later world-wide) distribution. Cooke understood the meaning of entrepeneurship. He wrote, produced and performed most of his songs and through his record company S.A.R he had many entertainers who became stars after his death(Bobby Womack, Billy Preston, Johnnie Taylor, Mel Carter). Cooke's death was very suspicious. He was disliked by many in the business because he was perceived as too "uppity" for a Black man of his time. After Cooke's demise Berry Gordy came to the forefront. Gordy went to the assembly line approach he saw while working for GM and applied it to making records. Just as the car companies had assembly lines for various parts of the cars that in the end all came together to have the finished product, Gordy did the same with his artists. There were teams of producers that worked with specific songwriters and performers who collectively came up with the finished product.
The most prominent songwriter/producer teams in the early days of Motown were
William "Mickey" Stevenson, William "Smokey" Robinson, Brian Holland-Lamont Dozier-Edward Holland, Nicholas Ashford-Valerie Simpson, Harvey Fuqua, Norman Whitfield-Barrett Strong, Pam Sawyer and Ronald Miller. They created and produced music for some of the most successful acts of all time.....Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Miracles, Diana Ross, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Jimmy Ruffin, Shorty Long, Marv Johnson, Kim Weston, The Isley Brothers, Brenda Holloway and a group of teenagers from Gary, Indiana...The Jackson 5, lead by this little 10 year old afro clad dynamo named Micheal Jackson. It is not clear who should get credit for discovering Michael and his brothers...Bobby Taylor?, Diana Ross?, Gladys Knight? but Michael was a rare find and Gordy knew just what to do to bring these very young men to absolute stardom.
Berry Gordy found the major portion of his talent coming from residents of a Detroit housing project. Motown was so successful that when The Temptations peaked at
#29 with the Smokey Robinson penned "Get Ready" Motown top brass decided that this was unacceptable. At that time if any black entertainer was able to crossover and get a tune in the top 40 of the pop chart that was considered a major accomplishment but that wasn't good enough for Motown, so Temptations production went from Smokey Robinson to Norman Whitfield. In the case of the Jackson Five, Gordy decided that he will handle this one himself. He chose his collaborators to form "The Corporation" and then went on to give The Jackson 5 four straight pop and R&B #1 songs(I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, I'll Be There) and two #2 pop songs( Mama's Pearl, Never Can Say Goodbye). The Jackson 5 had now reached world wide acceptance and acclaim.
At this time Motown was at the top of the music world but that in itself caused problems. It became harder and harder to keep everyone happy. Once you made a name for yourself at Motown it was considered a risk to leave, a risk that most Motown performers were not willing to take. Mary Wells, was Motown's first lady. She left and never regained the popularity she once had: eleven top 40 hits (including #1 My Guy, but only one away from Motown (Use Your Head #34). This all changed in 1969 when the Isley Brothers left Motown to form their own T-Neck label and immediately had smash hit "It's Your Thing" (#2 Pop, #1 R&B) and later went on to have twelve other top forty hits on the pop chart. This no doubt went on to embolden other Motown stars to make that move. The assembly line that was responsible for so many Motown hits had disintegrated. Major producer/writer teams like Holland-Dozier-Holland not only left but sued Berry Gordy over royalties. Both Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye wanted more creative control. Gladys Knight & The Pips went to Buddah Records and had even more success with Buddah than they had at Motown.The Spinners left to find stardom at Atlantic records. The Temptations went to Atlantic Records also for a brief stint but Berry Gordy was successful in wooing them back. Even Diana Ross left to sign with RCA records. Fortunately for Motown they were able to keep Stevie Wonder by offering him a huge long term contract. Marvin Gaye, like Stevie Wonder was granted creative control and stayed for several years, but in the early 80s he also left. The Commodores, Rick James, Lionel Richie and a resurgeant Smokey Robinson (with four big hits in the eighties (Cruisin', Being With You, Just To See Her,One Heartbeat)also kept Motown alive and kicking.
The Jackson 5 were also unhappy with the material they were given. It appeared as if their requests to perform their own songs or at minimum have someone else write better songs for them fell on deaf ears. Michael and his brothers left Motown to sign with CBS/Columbia/Sony. Legendary R&B songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff took over production. During this period The Jackson 5 became The Jacksons and they found success with songs like Enjoy Yourself(#6 pop), Shake Your Body(Down To The Ground)(#7 pop) but there were still more moves in the making. Michael decides to go solo. He had performed and recorded by himself previously with Motown with great success ( Ben (#1 pop) Got To Be There (#4 pop), Rockin' Robin (#2 pop), I Wanna Be Where You Are (#16 pop). But this time Michael wanted to be a solo act on a permanent basis. Michael made a historic appearance on the televised Motown Special. We saw a totally different Michael tall and thin with the sequined black jacket as he introduced the platinum selling Billy Jean (#1 pop) and showed some startling choreography (The moonwalk) this was the moment Michael made the transition from "star" to "mega superstar" The hits were seemingly endless...Don't Stop ('til You Get Enough)(#1 pop), Rock With You (#1 pop), Off The Wall (#10 pop), She's Out Of My Life (#10 pop), The Girl Is Mine (with Paul McCartney)(#2 pop), Beat It (#1 pop), Wanna Be Startin' Something (#5 pop), Human Nature (#7 pop), Say, Say, Say (with Paul McCartney)(#1 pop), PYT(Pretty Young Thing)(#10 pop), Thriller (#4 pop), I Just Can't Stop Loving You(with Siedah Garrett) (#1 pop), Bad (#1 pop), The Way You Make Me Feel (#1 pop),Man In The Mirror (#1 pop), Dirty Diana (#1 pop), Another Part Of Me (#11 pop), Smooth Criminal (#7 pop), Black Or White (#1 pop), Remember The Time (#3 pop), In The Closet (#6 pop), Jam (#26 pop), Heal The World (#27 pop), Who Is it? (#14 pop), Will You Be There (#7 pop), Scream (with Janet Jackson)/Childhood(#5 pop),You Are Not Alone (#1 pop), They Don't Care About Us (#30 pop), You Rock My World (#10 pop), Butterflies (#14 pop).
Prior to this enormous popularity and record breaking sales Michael went through some growing pains. There are very few child stars who successfully make the trasition to successful adult star. Sammy Davis Jr., Robert Blake and Jackie Coogan are the exceptions not the rule. The public is in general very fickle, but at the same time they have an image of you and they want to keep that image. Michael was no longer that cute little boy who lead the Jackson 5, he was becoming an adult. The look was changing, the voice was changing. As a result people around him began to criticize him in a playful manner, even going so far as to say he looked like a monkey. This accounts for the numerous plastic surgeries that continued to alter his appearance. Michael apparently took this personally. This coupled with Michael declaring that he suffered from vitiligo, a disease that causes unnatural lightening of the skin made Michael an object of criticism. Many people now felt that Michael was ashamed of being what he was.....black.
As if these problems weren't enough Michael was burned badly while shooting a commercial for Pepsi. The soft drink giant dropped Michael as a spokesman when Michael was accused of improper behavior with minors. I was a big fan of Michael's but at the time I was saying if he is actually guilty of this then he deserves to serve time. I also remember Phil Collins saying that he knew Michael and that he knew that Michael would never do anything to hurt a child. Michael may be a bit too trusting and too naive, but never would he do anything to morally damage a child. Collins' statement was very convincing to me since he was someone who was in the entertainment business and was also getting world-wide attention. The papparazzi and
sensationalist newspapers like the New York Post were having a field day at Jackson's
expense referring to him as "Jacko", "Wacko" and "Child Molester".
Michael was accused of child molestation on more than one occasion. He didn't help himself by admitting on national television that he slept with little boys at night.Some members of the press took this as a golden opportunity to sink Michael's career. Jackson meant exactly what he said "SLEEPING and that's all" Several of these young boys testified in his behalf. Of course this wasn't a good thing to do and it did show poor judgment but it was not criminal. Michael's other problem was to believe that money can solve everything. More money to silence accusers only led to even more money being requested. Michael was found innocent in both trials, but the tabloids continued to bother him. The first Michael Jackson song that came to my head after hearing about his untimely death was "Leave Me Allow" which he composed specifically to strike back at the press. Now that he is gone these same newspapers write glowing articles but while he was alive they tormented him. This is exactly the same thing that happened to Martin Luther King.
With all the hundreds of millions that he earned for himself and others Michael to the end was politically aware. He labelled former RCA and current Columbia/Sony record executive Tommy Mattola a racist because of his refusal to promote his African-American artists. Many of Michael's songs were political and showed a genuine concern for the have-nots of the world...."Heal The World", "We Are The World", "Man In The Mirror" and especially the last song he ever sang "They Don't Care About Us".
On that fateful last day Michael, who had just signed on to do an extensive 50 city tour date in England that was to be titled the "This is it" farewell tour was in need of some rest. He wanted to be the best he could be for his fans. He was warned against taking drugs that would induce long periods of sleep but he didn't listen because he trusted those people who were supposed to be watching him in the event of any irregularity. So at the age of 50, the world loses it's greatest entertainer/philanthropist.
In 1975, The Miracles made their first ever concept album "City of Angels", the title song was one of the finalists to become the official song of Los Angeles while another song "Love Machine (Pt. 1)" made it to the top of the charts. Also on the lp was the song "My Name Is Michael" which has some paralells to Michael Jackson, but that was not the intent. Listening to that song now gives one an erie feeling.
Christine Yarian wrote in the liner notes 'Any similarity or resemblance to persons either living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional and should not be construed otherwise" This was twenty-four years ago, what a coincidence. Yarian also writes (speaking of the character Michael in the song). "He left quietly, as he had come, returning to the land he had left behind and the memories of another time. On that day, one of the darkest in L.A., only his legacy remained: one angel more in heaven, one angel less in the "City of Angels"
Like Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Rick Nelson, Sammy Davis Jr. and many others his music will always be with us. Rest in peace Michael.