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“If I’ve Lost Cronkite…”: Myth and Memory of Walter Cronkite, Lyndon Johnson, and the Vietnam War
Unformatted Document Text:  “If I’ve Lost Cronkite…” Nora argued that “modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image.” 24 This is one of the reasons why journalism has become a key component of collective memory; newspapers, magazines, photojournalism, and television programs are tangible artifacts that can support the story being recalled. And they are a privileged source of “proof” because of their authority. 25 Finally, collective memory is storytelling. Even individual memories must be recalled and retold, and that is done not through a listing of facts but rather by compiling those facts into a clear narrative that contains characters, settings, action, and other storytelling elements. That does not mean that the memories are false, but fitting the story to the facts and the facts to the story, as Edy notes, means that some pieces of memory are privileged over others. 26 Also, in an effort to tell a compelling story, dramatic elements may be added, sometimes unwittingly, or the personal observations of an individual may be folded into the story in a way that comes to appear as fact. However, these characteristics, or “flaws,” of collective memory do not mean that that these memories and stories are false, nor does it diminish the significance of collective memory. The primary question raised by Campbell is just how much influence did Cronkite’s statement have, if any? Campbell states that the “Cronkite moment” overstates the impact of journalism by claiming that a statement from a newscaster could change the course of history by influencing a president’s war policy AND his political future. Campbell casts doubt on whether Johnson saw the program and if he ever said something to the effect of “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America,” since the story varies in different recollections. Yet the story of Johnson’s reaction to Cronkite’s statement has become a central part of the collective memory of Johnson’s presidency, Cronkite’s career, and news media coverage of the Vietnam War. Why has this memory persisted? The remainder of this essay will address this question by examining 7

Authors: Burns, Lisa.
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“If I’ve Lost Cronkite…”
Nora argued that “modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies on the materiality of the trace, 
the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image.”
 This is one of the reasons why 
journalism has become a key component of collective memory; newspapers, magazines, 
photojournalism, and television programs are tangible artifacts that can support the story being 
recalled. And they are a privileged source of “proof” because of their authority.
 Finally, 
collective memory is storytelling. Even individual memories must be recalled and retold, and 
that is done not through a listing of facts but rather by compiling those facts into a clear narrative 
that contains characters, settings, action, and other storytelling elements. That does not mean that 
the memories are false, but fitting the story to the facts and the facts to the story, as Edy notes, 
means that some pieces of memory are privileged over others.
 Also, in an effort to tell a 
compelling story, dramatic elements may be added, sometimes unwittingly, or the personal 
observations of an individual may be folded into the story in a way that comes to appear as fact. 
However, these characteristics, or “flaws,” of collective memory do not mean that that these 
memories and stories are false, nor does it diminish the significance of collective memory.      
The primary question raised by Campbell is just how much influence did Cronkite’s 
statement have, if any? Campbell states that the “Cronkite moment” overstates the impact of 
journalism by claiming that a statement from a newscaster could change the course of history by 
influencing a president’s war policy AND his political future. Campbell casts doubt on whether 
Johnson saw the program and if he ever said something to the effect of “If I’ve lost Cronkite, 
I’ve lost middle America,” since the story varies in different recollections. Yet the story of 
Johnson’s reaction to Cronkite’s statement has become a central part of the collective memory of 
Johnson’s presidency, Cronkite’s career, and news media coverage of the Vietnam War. Why 
has this memory persisted? The remainder of this essay will address this question by examining 
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