Monday, July 20, 2009

Cronkite & Stone = Apples & Oranges

“Anybody who says they have no regrets is either a dimwit or a liar — probably both.” - Ken Kesey

When the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest died in 2001, and I read the above quote, I had to change my attitude about the notion of "regrets," because I always figured having regrets meant that one didn't live life "my way," or according to certain principles or values. I still think looking back in hindsight--with 20-20 vision as they say--isn't as much regretting mistakes as it is learning from experience, and moving on in each moment with a greater confidence from inner knowledge.

So yeah, I have some regrets--little ones. I don't look back and second guess my life choices of where to live, whom to spend time with, whether to have children...I regret the little lost chances for a memory to add to my wonderful list of great memories.

For instance, I regret not having a poster with me of "Singin in the Rain" for Gene Kelly to autograph when I shook hands with him during a break in shooting a TV show on the Goldwyn lot. I regret not telling Mickey Rooney how much I enjoyed his performances in "Sugar Babies," which I saw three times on stage, and a summer-stock preview that never made it to Broadway that was just perfect, called "WC and Me," about WC Fields and his addiction to alcohol--I instead remained silent as I ate my lunch across a bench from him on the Goldwyn lot--just Mr. Rooney and me--with no one else around. I was afraid of "bothering" him while he was not working for the moment.

I had a chance to say "hi" to I. F. Stone when he phoned my college roommate back, but I couldn't hear him clearly, he mispronounced my roommate's name, and frankly his voice sounded like a kid putting me on. So instead all I heard was, "If he doesn't want to talk to I. F. Stone, then forget it!" I actually looked down the phone in my hand as if to say "We blew it."

I only knew about I. F. Stone from the stories my college roommate told me, of this giant of reporters who was probably the greatest muckraker of all. There is no one with whom to compare I. F. Stone today. That was another thing--his full name was Isadore Feinstein Stone, and as I remember that failed phone call, I still wonder why he referred to himself as "I.F. Stone," and not Izzy Stone or Mr. Stone. Although the imprimatur of "I.F. Stone" was so well known among the readers of the "I.F. Stone Weekly," that perhaps he thought that was the easiest way to identify himself.

The passing of Walter Cronkite, and all of the media re-hash and review of what his tenure on the CBS Evening News meant to American journalism, reminds me of the short but trenchant bit of film in the documentary from 1973, I.F. Stone's Weekly, when the little muckraker reporter is about to be in the same space as the great establishment TV broadcaster:

There's a poignant and telling moment in I.F. Stone's Weekly (the movie), in which Stone is walking away from the head table at the end of a banquet in his honour. He sees Walter Cronkite and walks toward the mainstream TV news star, extending his hand. There's a split second when Cronkite can reciprocate, or pretend he doesn't see Izzy and turn away. Cronkite turns away. I can still feel the sting. But it's my sting, not Stone's.

"It's just wonderful to be a pariah," Stone wrote (this published in the July 10 issue of The Nation). "To be regarded as nonrespectable, to be ... an outsider, this is really the way to do it. As soon as you want something, they've got you!"

I remember that moment from the documentary film very clearly. And I also remember changing my opinion about Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America, to the biggest on-air establishment flunky, with polish and credentials to boot. Not that Walter didn't have depth or back ground as a modern journalist. But once a TV star, always a TV star.

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