Messing With An Iconic Moment

Let me recommend PBS’s American Masters profile of Walter Cronkite. I watched it last night and was fascinated.

To see Cronkite in review is to see CBS in review, because they were inseparable.

There was one part of the show, unfortunately, that disappointed me. It’s a misportrayal I’ve seen many times, but didn’t expect to see from such an esteemed program. It’s Walter Cronkite’s ‘call’ of the astronauts’ landing on the Moon.

As Cronkite speaks, and the astronauts and mission control chatter back and forth on the radio, you see the shot of the lunar lander skimming the surface and finally touching down.

It might have happened that way in real time, but it didn’t happen that way on real time TV. The film (yes, it’s film) of the lander’s touchdown wasn’t processed until Apollo 11 was safely back on Earth.

We saw Neil Armstrong take his “one small step” live, but not this critical landing. We only had audio for the landing.

What difference does it make to insert this “B-roll” over Walter’s stentorian tones? Part of the amazing power of Cronkite on the night of July 20, 1969 was his ability to guide us through this sightless occurrence.

Showing it now, with pictures, changes the context of his words and visible emotions.

On that night, I was on my way to work in Fall River, MA. I listened in a service area along Route 24. To this day, I’m not 100% sure what was shown on TV before Walter took off his glasses and let out a sigh of relief. It just wasn’t video of the landing.

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