July 19th, 2009
07:36 AM ET

Dear President Obama #181: Cue the alarmism...

Reporter's Note: President Barack Obama has asked Americans for advice. I feel this was a personal message to me, so every day I am writing a letter to him.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I was sad to see the news of Walter Cronkite’s passing. I never met him, which is a little strange since I certainly know plenty of his contemporaries. I was standing a few feet from him at a party once, but he was busy talking to another guy.

When I was a kid in South Dakota I would listen to him talk about the Vietnam War every night. I remember hearing him recite the death toll and it was pretty frightening for a kid with glasses who trudged off to the Badger Clark Elementary School every morning. My mother once spent several days cutting handkerchief’s out of old bed sheets, dying them olive green, then ironing and packing them to send to my Uncle Butch’s platoon in Vietnam. It made me even more interested and afraid of what Uncle Walter had to say.

Still, Cronkite’s matter-of-fact delivery was reassuring. It said, “Hey, the world can be a rough place. But you can count on me to shoot straight with you, and that’s something.” People often talk about the poll that found him to be the most trusted person in America. Can you imagine? A journalist. My profession has taken quite a tumble since those days, but then I suppose yours has too.

It’s a reminder of something that I’ve always believed, even though the marketers in both of our professions consider it heresy: For news and for politics, being popular has never been necessarily the same as being good or being right. To the contrary, sometimes I think some of the most successful journalists and politicians are the ones who never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And the fact the so many members of the public buy into their snake oil drives me out of my gourd. (Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your favorite politician or newscaster is not saying something to make you angry at him or her on a regular basis, he or she is not telling the truth…they’re just telling you what you want to hear, and there is a huge difference.)

I am not old but I’m old enough to remember being in good newsrooms where the mere suggestion that an important issue was not “interesting” and might hurt ratings, would bring a growl from some silverback who would say, “We’ve not in the business of interesting. We’re here to tell the truth.”

That truth is still out there, waiting for honest journalists and politicians to find it. However, considering the beatings both of our professions are taking, I just hope there is someone left to listen when we do.

I’m always around if you feel like giving me a call. That’s a fact.



Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Lorna L

    I think it is very sad that such an important public figure like Walter Cronkite died.

    He made a very big contribution to the journalism world. I mean obviously if he was voted the most trusted person in America. Not only is that a hard task, but to also be a journalist and the most trusted person is nearly impossible.

    I agree, when you said that if a journalist isn't making you mad on a normal basis then they are probably not telling you the truth. A good journalist reports on the facts. However, most journalists nowadays report biased opinions on what they think their viewers might want to hear.

    July 20, 2009 at 9:41 am |