Throughout history younger generations have often accused their elders of ruining the world (or at least, being idiots). Teenagers today could easily make this case if they weren’t so preoccupied listening to iPods. The planet is falling apart. Then again, it’s remarkable how many songs you can store on an iPod.

This battle even occurred in Socrates’ day (469-399 BC). Socrates said the youth were “disrespectful, dressed outlandishly and listened to terrible music.” (Imagine if he’d heard Eminem?)

Recently in Staten Island a 15-year-old girl fell into an uncovered sewage manhole while she was texting. She wasn’t hurt but did complain that she had lost a shoe. (Would you really want it back?) This reinforces that, as remarkable as technology is, there are definite pitfalls (pun intended).

Somehow I began thinking about this upon hearing of Walter Cronkite’s death. If you’re under the age of 45, his passing might have little significance. But for those older, Cronkite represented an era in America that, given our polarization (i.e. Obama’s birth certificate) we may never see again.

Cronkite was the news anchor at CBS for two decades and was labeled the most trusted man in America. So it was a crushing blow to LBJ when, in 1968, Cronkite claimed, “The Vietnam War was mired down in a stalemate.” (I’ve often thought Iraq could be substituted for Vietnam.)

LBJ told Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara, “If we’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost Middle America.” And they had. If he was anything, LBJ was politically astute. After signing the Civil Rights Act he predicted, “The south will go Republican for three generations.” He was almost right on the money.

Within two months of Cronkite’s Vietnam editorial, LBJ announced he wouldn’t run for a second term. (Unlike Sarah Palin, who leaves office Sunday, he didn’t do it in front of wild, honking geese.)

When Cronkite reported on the JFK assassination, for almost eight minutes, he could barely continue. As we wept, we were comforted by his humanity. We valued his integrity, dignity, and above all, humility.

Humility? The word sounds almost archaic. Today who is accomplished, thoughtful and yet humble (other than Joe the plumber)? It’s as though humility and success have become mutually exclusive. Forget civility, we’re in the era of “tooting your own horn.” And the louder the toot (or tweet) the better. Narcissism has become a national disease.

Two days before Cronkite’s passing, Fox talk show host Glenn Beck was on the radio with a female caller. They were about to discuss health care but within seconds Beck was screaming hysterically. It was a meltdown the likes of which I’ve never heard over the airwaves before. (Nor would I care to again.)

Thoroughly unhinged, Beck screamed into his microphone, “Get off my phone, you little pinhead!” (Classy guy!) He repeated it with such insane fury, I thought he was going to have a stroke.

If your child threw a tantrum like Beck’s, there’d probably be some extended “quiet time,” if not medications. Instead, my hunch is that Beck’s ratings will go up. (YouTube: “Get off my phone.”) I suppose dignity and humility are so 20th century.

What a life Cronkite led. He reported on the bombings in WWII, the Nuremberg trials, Vietnam, the JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X assassinations, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Crisis and Three Mile Island.

Cronkite also covered the U.S. space program. While we gathered around televisions and watched in awe as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, it was Cronkite’s voice we listened to. He was the only non-NASA recipient of a Moon-rock award. And yet his motto always was “report the news, don’t become it.”

In 1981 Cronkite retired as CBS had mandatory retirement at 65. Coincidentally, he was married to his late wife, Betsy, for 65 years. They had three children and four grandchildren.

Aboard their sailboat “The Betsy” the Cronkites shared a love of the sea. Betsy once joked, “Errol Flynn had a 70-foot boat and a 17-year-old girlfriend. Walter’s got a 17-foot boat and a 70-year-old wife.”

In examining America, what’s better today than in the past? The economy? Medical science (assuming you can afford health insurance)? The environment (cough)?

Are movies as memorable? Are David and Conan in the same league as Johnny? In music, will hip-hop endure like the Beatles? In 20 years, when they’re playing rap “Oldies but Goodies,” will a wife lovingly whisper to her husband, “Honey, they’re playing our song, ‘Back it up, biatch!’”

I miss Uncle Walter. I miss having someone intelligent, kind and trustworthy. Somehow the world doesn’t seem the same without him.

Frankly, I don’t see much in modern life as being better today than in the past. Except for technology. That is, as long as you stay away from open manhole covers.

Jack can be reached at

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