Culture Complex: The Civil War Behind Civil War

How two words illuminate the shift of power from the media to the people

When Katie Couric took over the CBS Evening News, some viewers wondered whether a Today show anchor could claim Walter Cronkite's mantle. Turns out we were wondering about the wrong Today anchor. When Matt Lauer announced that NBC would start referring to the conflict in Iraq as a "civil war," media observers hailed it as a "Cronkite moment," referring to the CBS anchor's 1968 declaration that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, upon which L.B.J. realized he had lost Middle America.

The backlash to Lauer's Cronkitization was quick, for several reasons. First: dude, we're talking Matt Lauer here. Second: Cronkite's language--"We are...

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