We Owe You Better, Sandy Socolow

Sandy Socolow (from Flickr https://flic.kr/p/4nSMqF)
Sandy Socolow (from Flickr https://flic.kr/p/4nSMqF)

My brother-in-law, Hughes, is the one of the world’s greatest guys, so it is suitable he married into a family of amazing people–including one faction that touches journalistic royalty.

One of his five sisters-in-law on his wife’s side married Mike, the son of Sandy Socolow.

To most of you, that means nothing, but Sandy was better known in broadcast circles as the right-hand man to Walter Cronkite, and in journalism you get no better pedigree than that.

For 32 years Socolow worked at CBS News, including four as Cronkite’s executive producer. He served as vice president, deputy news director and executive editor of CBS News in New York. He was the CBS  Washington bureau chief for four years, executive producer of “CBS Evening News” for  Cronkite and Dan Rather, CBS’ London bureau chief and a producer for “60 Minutes.”

I knew of Sandy personally through Mike, who is an associate professor at the University of Maine, and an expert in journalism history, but Sandy’s exploits in journalism are legendary. He helped make Cronkite a household name and the leading newsman of his day. His push for forceful coverage of Vietnam led the public to a greater understanding of–and disgust with–the war. He believed in journalism as the Fourth Estate, and he never stopped watching those governed.

Socolow, who was a speaker at Cronkite’s 2009 funeral, died Jan. 31 at age 86 in a New York Hospital.

Just days later, the news broke of Brian Williams’ “embellishment” of his war experiences, that are leading to what seems to be a never-ending review of every report Williams has ever provided that might reek of heroism.

I can’t say Sandy Socolow was forced to share the headlines with Brian Williams, because most of you probably paid little attention to his passing. But we have surely been focused on the Williams situation–where as he and with who? How many stories are out there that may or may not be true.

We are so focused, that we have likely overlooked the passing of a clear and true representative of all that journalism was–someone in pursuit of truth to find justice, a buoy of responsibility in a sea of chaos, a life spent telling news “the way it was,” without intent to distort or manipulate.

Did Brian Williams lie or embellish? I suppose it’s open to interpretation. We know the search for what was true and what was told will go on for some time. It may destroy his career. It may simply be a speed bump on the story-telling road that seems to need more every day to intertwine news and entertainment.

But it will also forever impact how we interpret truth itself, how we trust those who we ask to inform us.

Before we turn again to the tawdry tale of Brian Williams, and whether or not he can tell in which helicopter he actually rode, let raise our pens and AP Style Books in a salute of Sandy Socolow, a man who quested for truth amid the political and societal landscape to help us all be better informed.

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