Walter Cronkite Dies, and That’s the Way It Is

July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite DiesLegendary CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite, 92, died this evening of cerebrovascular disease. Before CNN and the cable television explosion, before websites and blogs and social networking and Twitter, before wall-to-wall coverage of everything, there was Cronkite — anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981. “It was a time when one voice mattered,” Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of 48 Hours, told CNN. Cronkite was often described as the most trusted man in America, until forced prematurely into retirement at age 65 by CBS owner Bill Paley. He was part of the fabric of our lives. Every night at 6:30, his reassuring voice brought us the day’s news. He had what would now be considered serious street cred. Every reporter wanted to be Cronkite. He was the gold standard. Fellow veteran reporter Mike Wallace described Cronkite as “a superb reporter, an honorable man, a fine friend. . . admired him so damn much. . .They don’t come any better.”

Walter Cronkite Announces President Kennedy AssassinationOne of the most heartbreaking moments in broadcast journalism came when Cronkite, always calm and collected, announced on 22 November 1963: “From Dallas, Texas, the (AP) flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago,” he said as he glanced at a clock. Trying to keep his composure, Cronkite paused. Tears shimmered in his eyes. He put his glasses back on and swallowed hard.

If Cronkite said something, it mattered. “He could change public opinion,” as Larry King said tonight. When he reported from Vietnam during the Tet Offensive that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, President Lyndon Johnson said: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” He’s credited with pushing the Watergate story to the forefront of the news, ultimately leading to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

“Uncle Walter’s” last day as anchorman came on 6 March 1981. He was replaced the following Monday with Dan Rather who, while groomed for the position, never could quite fill Cronkite’s shoes.

CBS Anchor Walter Cronkite in 2006In his farewell to us, Cronkite said: “This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings, and I’ll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I’m afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow. And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists: writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I’m not even going away! I’ll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is: Friday, 6 March 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.”

Goodnight, Mr. Cronkite.

Cronkite wouldn’t have approved but, yes, it’s possible to crash a server blogging about Michael Jackson. Read about our experiment.

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