On Tuesday the U.S. Postal Service announced that it would honor the late journalist Gwen Ifill with a Forever postage stamp in 2020.
As the 43rd stamp in the Postal Service’s Black Heritage series, it’s a fitting tribute to the former anchor of the “PBS NewsHour” and the moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week,” who died in 2016.
But it made me wonder about another iconic journalist who has yet to receive similar recognition. More than a decade after his passing, they still haven’t issued a commemorative stamp for Walter Cronkite.
In 2015 the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association officially requested that the Postal Service honor the legendary newsman the following year, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Cronkite’s birth.
They were joined by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, which spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, a 12-member group appointed by the postmaster general that selects and recommends subjects for stamps.
The late CBS News anchor, long known as “The Most Trusted Man in America,” should have been chosen on the spot. From his early years as a courageous World War II correspondent to his pioneering work in broadcast journalism (the term “anchorman” was coined to define his role at the 1952 presidential nominating conventions in Chicago), to his comforting presence during times of national tragedy and triumph, to his finale as the revered elder statesman of the profession, he was without peer.
At least 20 American journalists have been honored with stamps over the years, including three of Cronkite’s CBS News colleagues — Edward R. Murrow, George Polk and Eric Sevareid — as well as Nellie Bly, Martha Gellhorn, Horace Greeley, John Hersey, Walter Lippmann, Bill Mauldin, Ethel Payne, Ernie Pyle, Joseph Pulitzer, Ruben Salazar, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells and William Allen White, among others.
It’s not entirely clear why Cronkite has been snubbed, but it may have something to do with the polarizing times in which we live. As soon as the effort to honor him got underway, a right-wing backlash rose up to quash it.
One conservative columnist labeled Cronkite a “disgraced newsman” who “symbolized liberal media bias and used that bias with disastrous consequences for our nation and the world.” According to the revisionist view, the anchorman wielded his power “to destroy a free South Vietnam, apologize for Soviet communism, and promote world government.”
That’s utter nonsense, of course. But as ridiculous and untrue as those claims are, they’re the kind of smears that could prompt a politically sensitive postmaster general to play it safe by steering clear of controversy.
For the record, other stamps for 2020 unveiled Tuesday include ones for “Fruits & Vegetables,” “American Gardens,” “Wild Orchids,” “Enjoy the Great Outdoors,” “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor,” “Voices of the Harlem Renaissance,” “Hip Hop” and golf legend Arnold Palmer.
But once again there won’t be one for the preeminent broadcast journalist of our generation.
As Uncle Walter himself was known to say: And that’s the way it is.
Tuesday’s comment of the day: Richard Klicki: What a great honor for Dave McKinney. A true professional and a tremendously humble guy.