If the nostalgia for Cronkitian news values were genuine, you'd expect PBS's soporific News Hour would be drawing huge and growing numbers of viewers. The program was, as its co-founder Robert MacNeil just testified, one that Cronkite adored. Alas, the NewsHour's Cronkite-lite approach has failed to attract much of an audience. In fact, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism informs us that the News Hour is losing numbers, not gaining them: "For the 2007-08 season, the number of different people watching each week was 5.5 million, down from the previous season's 6.1 million." According to PBS research, the viewers are migrating to cable news, a fate that trusted Walter would probably be suffering today if he were still reading from the teleprompter.
Beware of those who fetishize trust, Monck and Hanley counsel. "Trust is a shoddy yardstick. It doesn't gauge truth, it gauges what looks close to the truth: verisimilitude," they write. It's not just the naive and undereducated who end up trusting people and institutions that they shouldn't. The sophisticated and the well-schooled are vulnerable, too.
Be skeptical, news consumers, especially of the journalists you trust most. It will make you smarter and keep them honest.
Other reasons we shouldn't have trusted Cronkite. He sailed. He was avuncular. He had a beer gut. He inspired John Waters to grow a moustache (I think!). And he was way too into the space program for a grown man. Send your reasons for Cronkitian distrust to firstname.lastname@example.org and subscribe to my untrustworthy Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)