February 27, 1968 -- Walter Cronkite's Evaluation of the Vietnam War
Lyndon Johnson, we are told, knew he had lost the Vietnam war when CBS news anchor, Walter Cronkite, declared it a quagmire during an evening documentary. To be sure, Cronkite's hard-hitting special was nuanced and respectful of the presidency, but it also brought proof to the nation's living rooms that the President's resolve had been misplaced. Cronkite's broadcast was therefore an important step in altering the power balance between the White House and the networks. CBS' Dan Rather continued that trend, facing-down Richard Nixon during one cantankerous press conference and, later, George Bush during an interview about the Iran-Contra scandal. Sam Donaldson and Ted Koppel of ABC News also took special delight in deflating political egos, as did CNN's Peter Arnett who frustrated George Bush's efforts during the Gulf War by continuing to broadcast from the Baghdad Hilton even as U.S. bombs were falling on that city. Some attribute the press's new aggressiveness to their somnolescence during the Watergate affair, but it could also be credited to the replacement of politics' old barter system, which featured material costs and rewards, by an entertainment-based celebrity system featuring personal achievements and rivalries. In this latter system, it is every man for himself, the president included.
- One of the "Ten Dates that tell the story of the U.S. Presidency on Television" from the Museum of Broadcast Communications