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"Walter Cronkite Spit in My Food" Web Site
When I first listed the site in Yahoo, if you searched on Walter Cronkite's name you got three possible options. One was the grade school he attended as a child, another was a graduate school named after him, and the third was a site called "Walter Cronkite spit in my food". "Walter Cronkite spit in my food" was categorized under Tasteless Humor in Yahoo, and it certainly fit that bill. It was an unbelievable account of a drunken Walter Cronkite raging at a honeymooning couple in a restaurant. It included an obviously faked video clip of Walter Cronkite spitting and a fuzzy photograph of a man who looked vaguely like Cronkite. The whole thing was pretty distasteful, but I didn't believe for a second that it that it was anything but fiction.
Occasionally I would point it out to people as an example of the weirdness of the Internet. I'm sorry now that I didn't print out a copy because late in January (1997) the site went off the air under the threat of a lawsuit from Walter Cronkite. A note in the "Names & Faces" section of the Boston Globe said, "the web site purports to account an incident in September of 1994 at the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot Center in Orlando"and that a photograph shows Cronkite "clearly visible" (ha!) in the background. Cronkite apparently admitted that he was at the restaurant at the time. To me, this was the most stunning revelation, that is, that the story actually had some grain of truth at its center. A brief note posted in place of the "Walter Cronkite spit in my food" web site said "Walter Cronkite didn't really spit in my food! Walter didn't get the joke so the page is gone. It was never my intention to hurt anyone". In February, another brief article in the Boston Globe mentioned that Cronkite was still mulling a libel suit despite the lukewarm apology and the axing of the web page.
When I was in college, some friends of mine competed to see who could come up with the Halloween costume that was in the poorest taste. A guy dressed as Jacqueline Kennedy (complete with pill box hat and ketchup blood stain) won hands down. "Walter Cronkite spit in my food" was that level of humor.
The Boston Globe said that Cronkite was considering his proposed lawsuit as a possible test case of freedom of speech on the Internet. Cronkite expressed concern that because of the almost instantaneous circulation of information that there should be some kind of limitation on Internet speech. This is frightening stuff coming from someone who complained about U.S. armed forces censorship during the Gulf War. He doesn't seem to understand that instantaneous circulation and easy access are at the heart of what makes the World Wide Web attractive to people. I don't think that Cronkite ever actually sued.
All in all, the issue was resolved the way that it should be. Once Cronkite found out about it he complained. Once the creator of "Walter Cronkite spit in my food" was shown the error of his ways he removed the site. If someone wants to file a landmark suit regarding material posted on an Internet web site, it should be for something dangerous (like a bomb recipe) rather than for some tasteless joke.
I was a very interested observer in the confrontation over "Walter Cronkite spit in my food". I could barely contain my glee when I first heard about the brouhaha. I realized that any publicity surrounding Cronkite would bring more people to The Writing 69th site. They would search on Cronkite's name in Yahoo and find both "Walter Cronkite spit in my food" and "The Writing 69th home page". Any increase in the number of people visiting my site would increase the chance that someone would visit who could help me with my research. Before the "Walter Cronkite spit in my food" story broke, the site was getting about 50 hits a week. A week after it broke it got 150 hits.
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Copyright 1996-2003, Jim Hamilton
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