Although Walter Cronkite's voice may not be as strong as it once was, his convictions remain a journalistic constant. At one time the most-trusted man in the media, Cronkite's later years have been on the lecture circuit and on his sailing boats. The man who went to Viet Nam and said what many Americans wanted SOMEONE to say when that war ground into a stymied quagmire -- "Send the boys home." -- is now blasting the administration's close-mouthed "reporting" of what's going in Afghanistan. Speaking with correspondent Liz Smith, Cronkite noted that were he back in the anchor booth he would be doing what he's surprised the press is not doing today ... demanding that the Pentagon explain fully what's going on. He also says that if any action is taken against Iraq it must be with the concurrence of the Congress and the American people. By the way, Cronkite is the voice of Ben Franklin in a new animated program called "Liberty's Kids." It's to be seen on PBS and looks at the American Revolution through the eyes of a group of young people working as apprentices in Franklin's print shop. Other voices include Annette Bening, Michael Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. The broadcast will seen over the Labor Day weekend. Cronkite's classic statement from Viet Nam was, if I can remember it: "To say that victory is closer today is to believe the optimists who have been so wrong in the past. It is, in the opinion of this reporter, that the only rational way out is to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who upheld their pledge to defend democracy ... and did the best they could." Lyndon Johnson announced his decision to not seek another term as president just a month later.
JUST HOW STINGY IS ELAINE SCROOGE?
Whiskey-voiced actress-singer Elaine Stritch has closed out her incredibly successful one-woman "At Liberty" show on Broadway. Now she's about to pack her trunks and take the entire program to London for a run on the stage there. But, according to the New York Post, she has taken some time out to appear at a nonprofit theater for inner-city youth that bears her name. The visit, however, was not without controversy. The publication says that when Stritch was asked to stop by and lend a hand at the project, just barely paying its bills, the colorful and opinionated actress demanded that she be paid for showing up. Actually, not a salary, but a reimbursement for expenses. She requested that she get $350 to have her hair and makeup done at Saks and that an additional $246 be shelled out for a limo. It turns out that a Good Samaritan stepped in to pick up the tab for her appearance. To make matters worse, after a brief appearance and a chat with the kids there, she didn't even stay to see their play. Her limo was waiting. Why do I keep hearing Tallulah Bankhead in "Lifeboat" in the back of my mind?
FUNNYMAN CLEDUS T. JUDD IS ALL LAUGHS
Like Red Skelton, country comedian Cledus T. Judd loves to laugh at his own material. But he tells CMT that there was a time when it seemed that the entire world was smiling ... but not him. Now things have changed. The cherubic Judd is in great demand and seems to be appearing everywhere at once. Quizzed about his likes and dislikes by the network, Judd note that "meeting Bob Barker (of "The Price is Right") was like meeting the pope." He says that when he does the filming of a funny video, usually a parody of a previously recorded hit -- much in the style of Weird Al Yankovic -- he has a hard time keeping a straight face. "I don't think of them as videos," he says. "They are parties." And what was his favorite of all the videos and parodies he's done? "Every Bulb in the House is Blown."
PLEA BARGAIN FOR RYDER IN WORKS?
There are indications that embattled actress Winona Ryder's lawyers may be talking to California prosecutors about some kind of plea bargain in her complicated shoplifting case. Published reports indicate that the actress may be about to agree to such an arrangement. All-news station KNX in Los Angeles is reporting that Ryder's attorneys are claiming that many of the elements necessary to put the pieces together, though, are outside of the control of the actress. If convicted on all of the charges leveled against her she could be sent to jail for up to three years. Her next day in court -- actions still in the early stages, headed toward a possible trial -- will be Sept. 4.
THERE'S A SCROOGE LOOSE IN LONDON
It's been nearly 160 years since the first editions of "A Christmas Carol" hit the streets in London. The world was a very different place then. Here in America the country was going through the first throes of the Industrial Revolution and the seeds of the Civil War were being sown. In London poverty abounded and the young Charles Dickens gave the world quite a Christmas present. For several of the very first of the original printing of "A Christmas Carol" have been lovingly housed in the Dickens House Museum in the British capital. Now, according to the Washington Times, curators there report that three of those classic tomes are missing along with a less-valuable later edition. One of the volumes is valued at just under $50,000. But the sentimental value is immeasurable. Museum officials report that the thefts took place in broad daylight, between rounds by guards. The books were first found to be missing several weeks ago, but museum officers decided to re-work the building's security before releasing the news, for fear of copycat incidents.
GRIEVING FAMILY SETS UP FOUNDATION
The surviving family of young Danielle van Dam, the victim of a kidnapping-murder earlier this year, says it is setting up a foundation to try to keep the girl's memory alive and to help prevent a repeat of what happened to them. The man accused of the crime was convicted by a San Diego jury last week. Sentencing will get underway soon. By the way, according to published reports, a foundation called Laura Recovery that was set up in honor of a Texas girl kidnapped and killed in 1997, went to the aid of the van Dam family and assisted during search efforts ... efforts that turned out to be unsuccessful. The new group will be called the Danielle Legacy Foundation. Meanwhile, the news service SignOnSanDiego.com says that a photograph taken of Danielle van Dam's parents during the kidnap-murder trial of now-convicted David Westerfield and widely distributed has had a quick effect on future coverage. A judge has ruled that publicizing a photo of "spectators" in a courtroom violates California state law and from now on photographers will be barred from the court room during further legal action in the case.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 402
Today, in honor of Cledus T. Judd, we are asking: "Who is or was your favorite comedian or comedienne?" Add your thoughts, if you wish. Put LAUGH in the subject line and send to firstname.lastname@example.org via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 357 (BUY)
Recently we asked what was the worst item you've bought or the one you were most disappointed in. From a random sampling of the inbox, here are some of the responses: RTM reports two products purchased from a healthcare catalog turned out to be lousy. One was supposed to be a skin-tightening cream, the other was a scratch remover for car paint. LReyn330 tells a funny story. She spent $60 on two dolls called "Real Baby." When they arrived she found them to be doll heads attached to a flimsy "puppet-style" body. She was reluctant to give her two grandchildren the dolls because they weren't what they were advertised to be. But she did and kids love them. They still play with them two years later. Her $60 investment paid off, after all. Angela says her Gateway computer died just days after going out of warranty. The family's new Dell computer is working fine. Pat ordered one of those "miracle" hearing aids for her dad. It was no miracle. SK paid $1,000 for a huge Panasonic unit that was supposed to do everything but make toast. After tens of phone calls and leaving it for four months at a repair shop, the multi-faceted electronic device still doesn't work. NS of Cincinnati regrets buying contact lens. TOMORROW: The bravest of all. GBA.