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Best of The Streak: Letterman’s Cronkite Turn

First appeared September 25, 2008

**Forty years ago, in September 1968, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive — which changed mainstream America’s view of the Vietnam War. In living rooms across the nation, Americans saw a gruesome display of how powerless the United States forces looked as they struggled to gain control over a millitary conflict they would not win.

It was then that Walter Cronkite, the CBS news anchor who narrated the daily events for millions of people each night, called Vietnam “unwinnable.” In the White House, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

Now, we are in a different kind of war, one where U.S. financial insolvency seems at risk. Looking at this crisis, Sen. John McCain has said he would suspend his campaign. This included canceling an interview with CBS “Late Show” host David Letterman last night. Letterman said McCain was preparing to head to Washington in an effort to save the country.

The reaction was something the likes of which we’ve never seen.

A furious Letterman called out McCain and, without using the word “liar,” ran live feed of McCain preparing to do an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric at the precise moment he was taping.

In addition, Letterman lashed out at McCain’s decision not to have his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, take up the campaign slack while McCain was in Washington.

Letterman even suggested this was all linked to McCain’s recent fall in national polls. “When you call up at the last minute and cancel, that’s not the John McCain I know,” Letterman said. More than once he suggested that “something smells right now.”

Now, Letterman is no Cronkite. He’s not even Ed Sullivan.

But he is the face that millions of Americans see before turning in for the night. For years, McCain has appeared on his show, even announcing his intention to run for president on the program. And to have the affable Letterman visibly boil and go on the offensive showed that, perhaps, McCain, whose campaign has stumbled since the beginning of this economic crisis, is in bigger trouble than one would think.

Perhaps McCain won’t say, “If I’ve lost Letterman, I’ve lost middle America.” Does Letterman even say his audience is “middle America?”

But one wouldn’t be surprised if the Republican candidate began to smell a strong odor seeping into the vents of the Straight Talk Express.

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