Cases and Conflicts

Dr. Donnelly's Interview with Walter Cronkite


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Walter Cronkite interview with Dr. David Donnelly, University of Houston, School of Communication. (4/98)

WC: I am absolutely opposed to any form of censorship whatsoever, but I do feel people who access the Internet must be held responsible for what they put on there in the same fashion that print publications and broadcast organizations are. In other words, they should be subject to libel and slander.... they should have to identify themselves with the work they do.

DD: How did you find out about the Tim Hughes web page "Walter Cronkite spit in my food? "

WC: I found out about it because various friends punch up Cronkite once in while to see what I'm up to. And they ran into this thing.

DD: Why did you consider it libelous?

WC: Well because it clearly to me said a lot of things that simply did not happen in any way. There's no resemblance of truth in this, nothing of this kind took place at all and it certainly is hardly what I'd call behavior that I believe that my life has led people to think I uphold. And the act described to me was vile and disgusting. I hardly believe that a court in the land would not think it libelous.

DD: If the author had not pulled the web page, do you think you would have pursued the libel case ?

WC: Well I think I probably would have. I can't assert that for sure, because I never took it to a lawyer and never asked what would be involved in suing. I do know, of course, as we all know who have been on the other side of libel cases, that suing for libel just gives more publicity to the libel that has occurred and I'm not sure that that would have been the smart thing to do. I don't know what I would have done quite honestly for sure. I know that I was certainly inclined to do something. I was certainly inclined to take it to my lawyer and we were going to talk it over at a more appropriate time... we never got around to it.. he took the thing off. Of course, he took the thing off ungraciously as I understand, he said that it was taken off because I had no sense of humor.

DD: There is a similar page up that is even more offensive and I was curious if you thought about threatening that web author with libel?

WC: What page is that ... I haven't seen it?

DD: Uhhhh ....mmmmmmm ... I don't know how to say this graciously....
It's called the "Walter Cronkite urinated in my beer " page.

WC: .... What... urinated where... ?

DD: In my beer... some other web author put this up... I suppose it's some sort of take-off on the original page, but that page is still up ... I don't have the web address, but somebody has put that page up and I was curious about your reaction to that?

WC: Is there any indication where it came from ?

DD: I can send you the web address, I know that it's still up. I don't have the address on hand, but I did come across that page searching around.

WC: Well, I don't know... I'll make every effort to try to identify the individual.. My guess is that he or she is not identifiable from the page. These people who do that kind of thing aren't willing to stand up and be counted. I came across the Tim Hughes identification only because he bragged about it in a bar in I think Columbus or Dayton or somewhere in Ohio where he is from and it got back to the AP man in town and he called me and asked me what I knew about it.

DD: Can I ask you something about the Internet and the fact that anybody can publish statements including amateur authors who might not be familiar with libel laws, what advice would you give to these new authors who are publishing these comments ?

WC: Well I think that they probably ought to try to attend night courses at least in libel law at some nearby communications school. Libel and slander, of course they're going to be wide open to it if indeed anybody enforces an identification upon them. The problem with it now is that this stuff is all anonymous.

DD: And what is your stance on anonymity on the Internet?

WC: Oh, I am absolutely opposed to it. That's what I was trying to say a moment ago. I favor legislation that requires people to stand by their words by identifying themselves on the Internet. They should not be permitted to operate anonymously.

DD: OK, thank you so much. Is there anything else that you would like to add ?

WC: I don't think so.. go after them... (laughs) I'm not sure you're in my corner, but any exposure of this problem is helpful.

I hope to make it clear that I did say that I am opposed to any form of censorship. This is identification... forced identification by those who use the Internet. Not censorship. It is simply requiring them to take the same responsibility that people in print and in broadcasting have to take.


Cases and Conflicts