Recently, one of the bright lights in the U. S. freshman Congressional class noted that the slate of reporters assigned to cover the 2020 Presidential election failed to include an African-American. As I stared at the list of about 30 reporters, 8 appeared to be of American-Asian descent, four appeared to be Latino-Americans and, though women aren’t a minority, about 40% in the lineup were female. To someone young in years, that list may fail to represent much diversity, but from my ancient perspective, it represents progress. Of course, if one is obliged to be politically correct, I must point out to the freshman legislator that no American Indian appears in the lineup, either. As to the number of journalists of Cro-Magnon versus Neanderthal decent, she also remains silent.
While I do celebrate the increased inclusiveness in America, I confess to looking back with nostalgia at the loss of avuncular, white old man who once dominated the news — men who could write copy or stare into a television camera and, after telling us a meteor the size of New York City was headed toward the planet, they could, by their manner, assure us the nation would survive. Yes, I confess it. I miss Walter Cronkite, Charles Kuralt, Harry Reasoner and Edward R. Murrow.*
Near the top of that list, I’d put Russel Baker, too. He died a few days ago, to my sorrow. Many people know him as the man who followed Alister Cook to host Masterpiece Theater after that consummate English gentleman retired. At the time, I doubted anyone could replace so towering a figure, but Baker did, as easily as if he were a matching glove.
Before I picked up my pen to write my memoir, I scrambled to find cogent advice from the experts on how to begin. Baker’s essay “Life With Mother” was a stand out. He drew a map so clear a blind man could find the spot marked “treasure.” Today, I recommend that piece to anyone who’s considering a memoir. Had I never tumbled across his pages and read them until they were dog-eared, I doubt mine would have been written, or at least, not as well.
He and I never met or corresponded. We shared the same country, the same epoch and interest in books, but not the same social status. Nonetheless, I will miss him as surely as I would that missing glove. Thank you, Russel Baker. You were an old white man, privileged by patriarchy, and I am going to miss.
*On another occasion and another topic, Ed Bradley would be in this pantheon.