Walter Leland Cronkite Jr, born November 4th 1916, Died July 16th 2009, was an icon in American Journalism. As the anchorman of the CBS Evening News, he came into our living rooms for nearly two decades. He retired nearly two decades ago. The man who took over for him at CBS, Dan Rather has himself retired. Sowhy do we still hold such reverence for Walter Cronkite?
He exuded confidence and trust. We called him the most trusted man in America, Uncle Walter. When you got the news form Cronkite, you tended to believe it. He was a journalist’s journalist in a time when the word actually meant something.
I grew up watching Walter Cronkite. My parents always watched CBS News, so when I was old enough to pay attention to the news, I watched Walter.
One of my earliest memories of Cronkite was during the Gemini Space missions. Walter Cronkite seemed genuinely interested in what he was telling us about the Gemini flights, and the succeeding Apollo missions. When he asked the Science correspondent questions about the space flights, they were questions we all were curious about.
Cronkite was always there, giving us the day’s events in calm, confident, avuncular tones. While I do not specifically remember the coverage of the JFK assassination, I have since seen the recordings, of Walter taking off his horn rimmed glasses, and choking back tears as he told the nation of the death of a young president.
We felt it along with Walter.
I can remember watching Apollo 11 landing on the moon. I especially remember watching him gleefully rubbing his hands together, as the words came; “Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.”
Again we felt the emotions of this monumental achievement along with Uncle Walter.
When he came back from Viet Nam and reported on the Tet Offensive in 1968, he said; “To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson upon hearing this apparently said to an aide; “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
A few weeks later, Johnson decided against running for reelection.
Walter Cronkite was in my opinion the last of a breed. Today’s anchormen and women seem nothing more that talking heads, who simply read the news. They do not write it, research it, or participate in it.
Walter was the end of an era.
And that’s the way it was. Goodbye, Uncle Walter.