Walter Cronkite (1916-2009): Remembering His Legacy

179_walter-cronkitenewsWalter Cronkite was one of the most recognizable and trusted journalists of the last 60 years. No other figure prompted as many young people to pursue journalism as a profession. And very few journalists provided as much mentoring to others as Mr. Cronkite. “Like many other aspiring journalists,” said Gordon Joseloff, “I grew up watching Walter and idolizing him. I was watching when he told us John Kennedy had died, when he said the conflict in Vietnam could no longer be won, and when man walked on the moon.”

When millions of Americans heard: “Direct from our newsroom in New York, this is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” hundreds started to dream of launching a career in broadcasting.

Bob Schieffer, who anchored the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News from 1973 to 1996 said, “Walter used to talk to the reporters, he’d call you out on the beat – ‘what’s going on, why did they say this, why did they do 179_bob-schiefferthat.’ But, on those days when Walter would call you after the broadcast and say, ‘good job on that tonight,’ you really felt good about it because that was the highest compliment you could get.”

179_danratherDan Rather, who succeeded his mentor as the anchor of the CBS Evening News (1981-2005), said of his mentor in a report to NewsBusters: “Walter’s instructions to us in the field were always, you know, ‘Tell it straight without fear or favoritism. Pull no punches. Say it like it is, insofar as is humanly possible. Keep your own prejudices and biases and feelings and emotions out of it.’” Mr. Rather described his mentor as a person “who took the news seriously, but he didn’t take himself all that seriously.”

179_katie-couricKatie Couric, a journalist who moved from NBC to CBS and became the first solo female anchor of a major US-TV network, also recalls Walter Cronkite as her mentor. Ms. Couric saw him as a standard setter, who could balance objectivity with compassion and emotion. “I admired his honor, integrity and decency, and his spirit lives on in a very palpable way in the hallways of CBS.”

“His legacy is extraordinary,” she recently said in an interview show. “I get so inspired when I re-read something he wrote. When I got the job at CBS he took me out to dinner and told me about some of his greatest thrills as a journalist. And in every story he emphasized how important it was to be fair and objective. When he talked about President Kennedy’s funeral he got teary and I started to cry. But he also beamed with joy when he talked about the first space capsule. His voice was full of the enthusiasm of a child. I took to heart one of his most important perspectives on the news: ‘Get it first, but get it right.’”

The American public knew Mr. Cronkite for his objectivity, seriousness, and fact-based reporting, but less known was his playful nature outside of the newsroom. As reported in The New York Observer, Don Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes, told an anecdote about Mr. Cronkite’s sense of humor. “A new reporter had arrived while we were at Cape Canaveral,” said Mr. Hewitt, “and Walter said to him, ‘If you just keep looking at that rocket there on that green patch at the end of the runway there, you’ll see it blast off. Just don’t take your eyes off it.’ The guy sat there for six hours waiting for it to go off. It was a lighthouse.”

Mr. Cronkite also demonstrated that being a journalist did not mean withholding opinions. He believed, for example, that “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” He also noted the limits of a mentoring relationship when he said about Dan Rather: “He and I just aren’t especially chummy.” He also was concerned about leading a balanced life and said “I think somebody ought to do a survey as to how many great, important men have quit to spend time with their families who spent any more time with their family.”

Mr. Cronkite had a passion for sailing and New Orleans jazz. The New York Times reported that Mr. Cronkite liked to exchange off-color jokes with Ronald Reagan and “whimsically competed with his friend Johnny Carson to see who could take the most vacation time without getting fired.” (Source: New York Observer)

Partly because of his significant influence as a mentor, Arizona State University (ASU) established The Walter Cronkite Mentorship Program at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This program pairs students in the graduate program with experienced journalists.

Mr. Cronkite was clearly the most trusted journalist of all time. While I didn’t know him personally he taught me a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten and that I use continuously, and for which I owe him a debt of gratitude.

179_reyatsfstateDuring my graduate student days at San Francisco State University (then called San Francisco State College), I was, like students all across the US, actively involved in protesting the American war in Vietnam. My generation of anti-Vietnam war protestors owes him a significant debt. The efforts to end the US involvement in Vietnam through the mobilization of the largest anti-war movement in the history of the United States met with limited success.

But on February 27, 1968, US President Lyndon Johnson watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News comment that the Vietnam war was not winnable and an end must be negotiated, “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” President Johnson is reported to have responded by saying, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Several weeks later President Johnson stunned a nation-wide TV audience when he announced he would not seek reelection.

The mentoring lesson I learned from Mr. Cronkite was that significant and lasting change can only come about from trust. It is seldom achieved through protest or aggression. I have carried that learning on in my work as a peer assistant, coach, mentor, employee, and CEO, as well as in my personal life with my family and friends.

“And that’s the way it is.”

Preventing Abuse in a Mentoring Program: What Went Wrong in Pennsylvania

IStopping‘m outraged, saddened, and distressed about the alleged child abuse events that happened in Pennsylvania. I’m not referring to who was fired or for what reasons, or to the grand jury investigation report (available online) that found so many people complicit in the pedophile crimes, or that it took way too long to discover this criminal behaviour.

Although I find these things disturbing and disgusting, I’m also concerned about what role mentoring or “alleged” mentoring played in this series of criminal acts, and what impact this might have on the future of recruiting mentors, as well as encouraging children and youth to have mentors in their lives.

Let’s be clear. What the accused man, who had a lengthy career as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, allegedly did to his multiple victims can in no way be considered mentoring. But he was the founder of a non-profit, youth-serving foundation that enabled him be a mentor and have unlimited access to children.

Through this youth-serving foundation, the accused child abuser was able to connect with dozens of youth who, along with their parents, expected, but did not receive, mentoring. Instead, they were connected with an unsafe individual whose primary aim was to find vulnerable children and youth to meet his pedophilia needs.

According to a statement from the Board of Directors of this foundation that is on their website, a period of six years elapsed from the time at which the CEO of foundation was informed of this pedophile’s inappropriate behaviour by Penn State authorities, and when the accused was banned from involvement in the foundations programs involving children. Six years!

The foundation’s statement also claims that “all the alleged incidents (of abuse) occurred outside our programs and events.” What isn’t said in their statement is how many children and youth he procured through the foundation to fuel his alleged criminal activities even if they occurred ‘outside’ of their program. (Editor’s note: After this article went to press the statement on the foundation’s website has been revised to indicate that the CEO of the foundation has resigned; the foundation intends to conduct its own internal investigation, and has admitted to complicity in providing children for the suspected pedophile.)

The reason this terrible connection concerns me as a mentor, grandparent and mentoring professional, is that mentoring youth has become and continues to be one of the most powerful ways of assisting young people to be successful in life. Virtually all youth-serving agencies today include a mentoring program that connects safe, caring and responsible adult volunteers with children or youth in a learning-oriented relationship.

As one of the pioneers of creating these relationships, and the co-architect of Canada’s most successful national mentoring program, we know what it takes to ensure that such programs are credible, trustworthy, and effective. If a few simple principles are not included in mentoring program policies and they fail to be closely monitored by program leaders, then it is likely that predators, abusers, and bullies will become involved and take advantage of some of our most vulnerable youth.

Such was the case in Pennsylvania. A youth-serving agency enabled an alleged serial pedophile to engage in authorized mentoring relationships with dozens of children and youth. The consequences of his actions have not only violated and traumatized many young people and their families, but have also led to the firings of others who had knowledge of his acts yet apparently failed to take the necessary steps to apprehend and stop further assaults.

Further disciplinary action, prosecution, and legal challenges involving others will depend on a more comprehensive investigation.

The Failure of Screening Techniques

How did the mentoring agency in Pennsylvania fail to prevent these criminal acts? Like many other mentoring agencies their intention is to screen out anyone who could possibly do harm to their clients. The primary way most mentoring agencies accomplish this is by having every applicant submit to a criminal record check requirement and provide a number of personal references.

But neither of these two methods is foolproof. For example, only someone who has been arrested in a jurisdiction covered by the police check will be flagged when the check is conducted. In addition, persons who have been questioned during an investigation which may have turned out to be inconclusive or resulted in too little evidence to bring to court will not be flagged. Even convicted pedophiles who change their names and move to different locations, states, provinces or countries can also defeat the intention of a criminal record check.

There is also some controversy about the cost of conducting criminal record check investigations. Who should pay for them? The already overworked police agencies often will not charge a non-profit agency for this additional work, but in other cases there is a fee associated with conducting the check. The cost factor often trumps the thoroughness, follow-through, follow-up, or continuation of scrutiny. Thus a person who passed the check the first time, but who is subsequently convicted unbeknownst to the agency, may have continued access to youth to victimize.

Most importantly the lack of coordination between local, provincial, national, and international policing units limits accessibility to complete records. Consequently the record of a pedophile convicted and imprisoned in one jurisdiction may not appear in another. What’s even more frightening is that it is likely that most pedophiles are not apprehended, and continue to engage in their criminal activity for long periods of time. The pedophile in Pennsylvania would have very easily been successful in defeating the standard criminal record check system used in that state.

The Failure of References

Letters of recommendation from associates are equally limited in their value as a safety assurance method. Prior to being discovered for his actions, the man apprehended in Pennsylvania, who was also a well-known college football coach, would have been able to obtain letters of recommendation from many of the people who eventually reported him for disturbing behaviour with children. These letters from very well-known and respected individuals would have carried great weight and clearly been influential in selecting him as a mentor.

Most pedophiles are highly skilled at hiding and conducting their criminal activities in private so that their immediate family, friends, neighbours and co-workers would be shocked, stunned, and in disbelief to learn of these horrible acts. Prior to being discovered, pedophiles, particularly those already involved as sports coaches or other youth-oriented activities, would have no problem asking others to provide letters of recommendation.

While hopefully rare, there is one other problem with letters of recommendation. When asked to write such a letter, some people agree to do so even if they have reservations about the person. The letter writer, like others in society, may even have some observation or evidence of inappropriate or questionable action of the letter requester, but the letter writer doesn’t want to make trouble, get someone else in trouble, or cause themselves some additional difficulty because of their suspicions or gut feelings. There are many instances where letter writers are not honest in their letters for fear of retribution, threats or violence. Few people are willing to take on the responsibility or consequences of being a whistleblower.

This not an uncommon circumstance and it often contributes to pedophiles employed as teachers or coaches being transferred to other schools, agencies or jurisdictions with decent letters of recommendation from previous employers or co-workers. This unwillingness to take a stand and do what’s right is one of the factors that enabled a teacher/principal in British Columbia to move from school to school prior to being convicted and imprisoned as a pedophile.

Practices to Promote Safety

The inadequacy of criminal record checks and letters of recommendations to screen out pedophiles (as well as other immoral or criminal behaviours) does not mean they should be abandoned. The deficiencies in these screening methods have been addressed by Friends for Youth, a mentoring organization in California, that published a set of comprehensive guidelines for ensuring a stronger screening process that goes beyond simple background checks.

Screening methods need to be combined with at least three other mentoring program practices that are designed to keep children and youth safe from predators: training, boundaries, and monitoring.

In-Person Training. All volunteer mentors must participate fully in face-to-face orientation and training, led by skilled and experienced mentor program personnel. While the potential mentors are learning certain skills associated with being an effective mentor, the program leader has an opportunity to observe directly how the potential mentor responds, interacts with others, and how they perform in role play situations covering a variety of areas essential to mentoring effectiveness.

In addition, orientation and training for potential mentors provides the program with an opportunity to discuss with and gain commitment from the volunteers with regards to child abuse and neglect reporting standards and requirements.

Although this scrutiny that can take place during orientation and training is not foolproof, it provides the training leaders with information about individual candidates, their abilities and attitudes, and assists them to develop a more refined working relationship with each potential mentor which will be essential for the success of the next two necessary program practices.

Clear Boundaries. Probably no other behaviour was a greater signal of trouble in the Pennsylvania pedophile case than the violation of appropriate mentor program boundaries. In no circumstances should gifts, money, un-escorted trips, sleeping in the same room, or dozens of other transgressions be allowed or tolerated in a mentoring relationship. These are immediate red flags, and the prohibition of such acts must be communicated fully not only to the mentors, but also to all those involved, including parents, guardians, the children and youth being mentored, and other personnel responsible for making mentoring successful.

Every mentoring program must include such boundary discussions in publicity, recruiting, and training. This boundary element appeared to be completely missing in the Pennsylvania mentoring organization that enabled a pedophile to connect with children and youth, as the pedophile provided extensive gifting, trips, game tickets, showering together, and sleep-overs in his home.

All of these boundary violations, while on the surface appearing to be an indication of caring, opportunity and generosity, have, in reality, great potential to establish a highly troubling conflict and trauma for youth. The horror that was created for children in the Pennsylvania case was dramatically enabled by these boundary violations.

Monitoring and Supervision. While boundaries are essential, they must also be enforced. All mentoring relationships that connect children and youth with adults must be closely monitored and supervised by qualified personnel until which time the mentoring program leader can express confidence and trust in an un-monitored or less frequently supervised relationship.

Sometimes this progressive trust approach means that mentoring relationships must begin in public places such as school class or activity rooms with a third party present or able to observe from time to time. If the mentoring relationship is activity-based, that is, the mentor and youth attend a game together or play some kind of game together, these activities must be supervised or accompanied by another adult.

At some point mentor program leaders have to trust the judgment of the mentor as to what is appropriate. However, every mentoring program must have a policy in place that requires the mentor to discuss potential risks with the program supervisor prior to engaging in such behaviour.

Not all potential boundary violations can be determined ahead of time. However, two simple questions a mentor can ask ahead of time can identify almost any action that has potential risk: (1) Will the behaviour be approved, encouraged, and appreciated by the child’s parent/guardian? and (2) If local authorities learned of this behaviour, would it be supported and encouraged?

Continuous Evaluation. Monitoring also includes conducting continuous evaluations of interactions, relationships, and outcomes of the youth-mentor interactions. Typically, these assessments are managed through interviews or phone calls with both the mentor and the youth separately and together.

These reviews are particularly essential at the beginning of the mentoring relationship and must be conducted with skill and sensitivity in order to maintain confidentiality or privacy, while at the same time giving the mentor program leader the confidence that the relationship is progressing appropriately. Where boundaries may have been accidentally or innocently crossed, the program leader can immediately take appropriate action to ensure future compliance.

Fortunately, most youth-based mentoring programs in North America pay strict attention to these few simple and basic principles. Many add other ideas to even further reduce the likelihood that the safety or children in their care will be compromised.

It is not clear from the website of the foundation in Pennsylvania that they have implemented any or all of the basic and essential program practices mentioned here. But it is clear that their public face on the Internet provides too little information to encourage the confidence and trust of parents, the public, or other mentoring professionals. What is available on their website is not sufficient to fully inform and educate parents their children will be safe and benefit from a mentoring relationship.

The Illusion of Safety

The success of at-risk youth mentoring programs and services throughout the 1980s to late 1990s, led to proliferation of extensive government-initiated funding opportunities in the USA. While thousands of agencies took advantage of this financial support to create or add mentoring programs, too few paid attention to implementing all the safety requirements outlined here.

Most of these newcomer agencies used the police record check, letters of reference and personal interviews as their primary method of attending to safety. Shoestring budgets, the hiring of inexperienced but well-meaning staff, timelines that met funding requirements in place of appropriate and known standards, revolving personnel, and policy shortcuts, typically resulted in few of these organizations actually engaging in thorough screening, comprehensive personal training, progressive monitoring and on-going evaluation.

Millions of children currently have or have had safe, responsible, caring mentors that they connect with on a regular basis. Mentoring continues to be one of the most powerful ways we can help each other in improve our lives in society and accomplish great heights. Let’s keep it great by ensuring that all mentoring programs pay attention to these proven principles and practices.

“Even very caring, responsible adults can be lulled into complacency by the ‘Illusion Of Safety.’ The Illusion of Safety happens in settings or situations where people feel so relaxed, sheltered, or distracted that they stop focusing on ensuring that their children have adequate supervision, understanding, and skills to avoid potential dangers.”

          ~ Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Executive Director ~

“Most predators look like you or me and act perfectly normal. They’ve perfected the ‘mask of sanity.’ They do less well trying to respect the boundaries of others. They won’t take ‘no’ for an answer—especially when you’ve already answered a few times. If you feel you are not being heard, you might be dealing with someone who is dangerous, not just annoying. Predators also usually have trouble imitating the most human of traits—empathy.”

~ Dr. Keith Ablow, Psychiatrist and Life Coach ~

“Many [mentoring] programs are struggling with relatively few resources and insufficient personnel to provide mentors with ongoing support and supervision…. These observations underscore the need for careful screening and training of mentors and for the provision of ample resources to support the development and management of mentoring programs.” (Source)

~ Jean Rhodes, Mentor expert, author, and Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts ~

“Even though references are commonly used to screen and select employees, they have not been successful in predicting future employee success….If given the chance to choose their own references, even undesirables such as Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, serial killer Ted Bundy, and terrorist Abu Nidal would be able to find three people who would provide them with favorable references.”

~ Michael Aamodt, Devon Bryan, and Alan Whitcomb. (1993). Predicting Performance with Letters of Recommendation. Public Personnel Management,22, 81-90. ~

“It may be that your sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.”

 ~ Grey Owl, Tribal leader and mentor ~

The True Origin of the Term ‘Mentor’

Many people ask about the origin of the term mentor. One story is commonly cited in most mentoring books, articles and Internet sites, but it’s more likely that this frequently-told tale is just one author copying the details from secondary sources. Most writers don’t have the ability to translate from the original sources, and so it’s possible that a myth has become reality.

We’ve done considerable research on original sources, perused the archives of ancient libraries, and visited the sites associated with five stories that purport to claim the origin of the term. Here are the five stories. 

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In Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor is a trusted friend to whom Ulysses leaves the care of his household when he departs for the Trojan War (a ten-year battle). The goddess Athena assumes the form of Mentor and cares for Ulysses’ son, Telemachus, until the war’s conclusion. Some variations of this story state that she actually accompanies Telemachus on his journey to search for his father at the end of the war. Some variations describe Mentor as a man. This story has reached mythical proportions and is probably the most widely-cited story, but how many modern writers have actually read the Odyssey in its original Greek version?

 

 

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In 1698 François Fénelon was appointed by King Louis XIV as a tutor to the King’s grandson, the Duke of Burgundy. He provided instruction to his pupil through his didactic epic, Le Adventures de Télémaque (1699), the most popular book written in the 18th century. Fénelon uses the term “sage counselor” to describe his main character, the goddess Minerva who appears as Mentor. The book is clearly an imitation of Homer’s The Odyssey, and the lessons expounded in the book by Mentor are both more educational than Homer’s Mentor and directed towards guiding his pupil in how to become a peaceful and wise monarch. The political views that Fénelon put in the mouth of Mentor, however, offended the King’s position on these same issues. As a result Fénelon was forced to leave the employment of the King for less challenging activities and many of his accomplishments were erased from court records.

 

 

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In ancient Africa, prior to the time of the Greek and Roman invasions, when a child was born, each village shared the responsibility for raising and educating the child into the customs and traditions associated with that village. This practice continues today and has become the rallying mantra: “It takes a village to raise a child.” But a more detailed examination of this ancient practice revealed that while the child had contact with every member of the village, there was always one older child (not a family member) who would be assigned the responsibility to ask questions and listen carefully to the younger child. In Swahili (one of the oldest languages on our planet), this questioning person was called, “Habari gani menta” which, in English, means, the person who asks “What’s happening?”

 

 

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La Grotte de Niaux is a prehistoric cave located high in the Pyrenees in southern France. After walking through the silent and womb-like stillness, a visitor emerges into a large, domed space filled with ceiling paintings, estimated to have been created somewhere between 12,000 and 9,000 BC. While most of the paintings depict horses and bison, there is one theme that is repeated in many places. This painting shows a group of men taking children to what at that time was considered the edge or end of their physical world. The men exhort the children to be brave and expand their reach beyond the borders of the present world. Some believe that the origin of the term “mentor” comes from what has been loosely translated in these ancient depictions as “men” taking children on a “tour.”

 

 

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Although Odin was the chief god in the Norse mythology, at around 550 AD there was a small group of Vikings who pledged exclusive allegiance to Thor, son of Odin and god of thunder, the sky and fertility. Thor had a reputation of being particularly fierce and brutal towards his enemies, and so did his group of dedicated followers. When plundering a village or settlement, they would kill every man, woman, and child, as well as any livestock that they couldn’t eat or carry away. However, before executing their hapless victims, these fierce brutes would choose one male child to become a member of their clan. One of the older Vikings would be assigned to teach and train the boy in their ways and customs, and in this manner the child would become one of the feared “men of Thor”. The word “mentor” is believed to have originated from this bizarre relationship between the captured boy and his Viking custodian.

People and Globe
The Greeks weren’t the only ones who claim the origin of mentoring