Who would have thought that in a new century overloaded with information and innumerable ways to get it, that there would be a return to an avuncular television presence who can calm us before bedtime as he talks and makes sense of the terrible things we’ve seen and heard on the news?
Waleed Aly has emerged as Australia’s much, much belated answer to America’s Walter Cronkite. Smart, articulate, and concerned, Aly, like Cronkite, has the charisma to look down the barrel of the camera with sincerity and authority and talk directly to his audience sensibly about events that are far from sensible.
Cronkite was a CBS news anchor who earned the title “America’s Most Trusted Man” for his delivery and interpretation of events during the tumultuous 1960s and ’70s. His words, expression and body language told Americans about everything from the assassination of JFK through to the horrors of the Vietnam War, and so he told them how to feel.
Although Australia has had its share of kindly-eyed Father Knows Best nightly newsreaders since the 1950s, those men were as unlikely to venture into editorialising as they were likely to be seen hosting a telethon.
Everyone might have an opinion and a way to broadcast it these days, but Aly’s editorials on Channel Ten’s The Project, whether by accident or design, are a return to the paternalistic ways of 1950s when a TV host’s kind face comforted a populace discombobulated by the footage of terror that was brought into their living rooms.
Aly’s editorials appear to be serving the same function which is incredible given the diversity of news sources available now. His carefully chosen words addressing 21st century terror – Isis, the Paris attacks, and last night’s call for tolerance and forgiveness of those whose views you don’t agree with on social media — have become must watch television (although most of us watch it the next day on our devices).
Aly’s editorial “Isis is Weak” last year was watched more than 30 million times on Facebook and his defence of TV host Sonia Kruger (“Sonia isn’t Evil”) last night has been watched on Facebook 4.9 million times today.
It’s hard to imagine any other television host or public figure in Australia with such influence. Although The Project is entertainment first and its brand of news comes second, Aly’s ability to change minds – especially the large number of under 35s who watch the show – might put Aly on track to becoming Australia’s first “Most Trusted Man”.
Although Aly has his haters in the right wing media, it’s going to take some trickery for it to discredit a man asking for tolerance, forgiveness and telling it to turn the other cheek.