He praised the late CBS anchor as a great journalist who pursued the truth and passionately defended objective reporting. And he praised those who try to follow in his footsteps.
But then the President criticized the way, he said, some journalism is now practiced, in contrast to Cronkite’s brand of hard news and investigative reporting. "What happened today?” the President said, has been replaced by: "Who won today?"
The President’s words, in a way, seemed to be a reaction to the criticism he has taken from critics and commentators in recent weeks over his health care plan and other issues.
Although his words and manner were almost professorial - -that’s Obama’s style -- there was a hard edge to what he said. For example, referring to the fact that Cronkite became known as "the most trusted man in America,’’ the President commented: "That title wasn’t bestowed on him by a network. We weren’t told to believe it by some advertising campaign. It was earned by year after year and decade after decade of painstaking effort, a commitment to fundamental values., his belief that the American people were hungry for the truth, unvarnished and unaccompanied by theater or spectacle.
"He didn’t believe in dumbing down. He trusted us."
I first heard that expression, ‘’dumbing down,’’ from our late New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He despaired of the failures of American education.
We live in an age when commentators dissect and analyze the news, sometimes before people have a chance to digest it themselves. In recent weeks, criticism has rained down on the President. The honeymoon of his first months in office seems to be over.
Clearly the President doesn't like it. And he may be ready to strike back.
Obama reflected in his address about how Cronkite would have reacted to today's journalism. "Would he have been able to cut through the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites to shine the bright light on substance. Would he still offer the perspective we value?"
While he expressed confidence that "the golden days of journalism still lie ahead," he didn't sound like he was convincing himself.