News Legend Walter Cronkite Passes Mainstay of CBS New Was 92
Walter Cronkite, the longtime CBS News anchor news anchor whose authoritative yet reassuring demeanor made him, at one point, the most trusted man in America, died July 17, 2009, at his home in New York City. He was 92.
The reported cause was complications of dementia.
Cronkite oversaw the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, a period of time that gave him a forum to see the nation through moments both tragic — the assassination of president John F. Kennedy — and triumphant — the first moonwalk.
His formidable platform and undeniable talent made Cronkite a television star, a mantle he wore uneasily. Indeed, like so many high-level news personalities who rose to their positions through the reporting ranks, he regarded himself as an in-the-trenches newsman who would, in truth, prefer to chase a big story than to describe it from the studio.
Highly sensitive to the distinction between the role of an anchor and that of a commentator or analyst, Cronkite was careful to avoid injecting opinion into his broadcasts.
This aversion to present a personal point of view gave the rare occasions when he did so all the more impact. A memorable case in point came in 1968, when, after visiting Vietnam during the war, he returned and supported a peace settlement.
Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born on Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Missouri. He became involved in the news business at an early age by selling magazines and newspapers as a boy. In his teens, after his family had moved to Houston, he got a job with The Houston Post as a copy boy and entry-level reporter — while maintaining a paper route delivering the Post to his neighbors.
In 1933, at age 16, he visited Chicago for the World’s Fair, where he volunteered to help demonstrate an experimental version of television.
After two years at the University of Texas, during which he worked for the school paper as well as the Houston Press, Cronkite left school when the Press offered him a full-time job.
During a visit to Kansas City, he was hired as a news reader by radio station KCMO. Wile working at the station, he met his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, who was an advertising writer at the time. They were married for 64 years until her death in 2005.
In 1939 he left KCMO and began working at the United Press news agency, for which reported from Houston, Dallas, El Paso and Kansas City.
With the outbreak of World War II he became a war correspondent and accompanied the first Allied troops into North Africa, reported on the Normandy invasion and covered major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge, in 1944.
In 1943, iconic newsman Edward R. Murrow invited Cronkite to join his wartime broadcast team in CBS’s Moscow bureau, but Cronkite declined Murrow’s higher-paying offer to stay with United Press
He continued his distinguished reporting, both during the war and in its aftermath, which included coverage of the Nuremberg war-crimes trials. From 1946 to 1948 he was based in Moscow. He then became the Washington correspondent for a dozen Midwestern radio stations. In 1950, Murrow successfully recruited him for CBS.
Within a year he was appearing on nationally broadcast public affairs programs like Man of the Week, It’s News to Me and Pick the Winner.
In 1953 he began the long-running series You Are There, which recreated historic events and reported them as if they were breaking news. The following year he became host of the CBS Morning Show.
In 1952, Cronkite was chosen to lead the coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions. He went on to anchor every national political convention and election night until 1980, with the exception of 1964. That year he was replaced at the Democratic convention in Atlantic City by Roger Mudd and Robert Trout in an effort to challenge NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley team, which had won the ratings battle at the Republican convention in San Francisco that summer.
In 1961, Cronkite replaced Murrow as CBS’s senior correspondent, and on April 16, 1962, he began anchoring the evening news, succeeding Douglas Edwards. In his concurrent role of managing editor, Cronkite also helped shape the nightly report.
Originally, the evening broadcast ran 15 minutes, but on Sept. 2, 1963, against the objections of its local affiliates, CBS doubled the length to a half-hour. In the first extended broadcast, which was renamed CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite, Cronkite interviewed President Kennedy.
At the time the broadcast was lengthened, Cronkite inaugurated his famous sign-off, “And that’s the way it is.”
In 1981, at age 64, Cronkite retired from the CBS Evening News, and was succeeded by Dan Rather. For some years, however, he continued to work. He remained as host of the science series Walter Cronkite’s Universe, which ran from 1980 to 1982. CBS also named him a special correspondent, and he sat on the network’s board, and was a strong opponent in reduction of news budgets. He also appeared on CNN, National Public Radio and other news outlets.
In addition, he covered Senator John Glenn’s return to space on the shuttle Discovery in 1998, 36 years after his astronaut days. He also made dozens of documentaries and served as host of the annual Kennedy Center Honors.
His many awards included Emmys, a Peabody and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For his enduring contribution to the medium of television, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences inducted Cronkite into its Hall of Fame at the second induction ceremony.
In yet another accolade, Arizona State University named its journalism school after him.
In addition to his son, Walter Leland III, known as Chip, Cronkite is survived by his daughters, Nancy Elizabeth and Mary Kathleen; and four grandsons.
Walter Cronkite was interviewed by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation’s Archive of American Television in two sessions, on April 28, 1998 and October 18, 1999, in New York City. Don Carleton conducted the combined four-and-a-half-hour interview.
During the conversation, Walter Cronkite recalled the moment that led President Lyndon Johnson to declare he had lost the country’s support of the Vietnam War, by losing Cronkite: “I very clearly said I will have a personal view of this after [the] commercial… I came back and said this is an unusual departure. I’m going to deliver an editorial, in effect; I’m going to give you my personal view… And with that, I said that I thought we should get out of Vietnam.”
Cronkite outlined his early experience in journalism, including positions with various radio stations and the United Press. On joining CBS in the early 1950s, he spoke of his radio days and his assignment for the six o’clock television evening news on CBS affiliate WOIC, in Washington, D.C. He spoke in detail about the 1952 political conventions and how his anchoring of them (the first time the term was used) raised his profile to a national level.
He looked back on other news stories he covered, including the first televised tour of the White House (with President Truman) and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He recalled his appearance on the now-classic historical recreation series You Are There, for which he served as a “reporter” to famous past events.
He described taking over the anchoring duties of the CBS Evening News from Douglas Edwards and commented on using the signature sign-off “And that’s the way it is.” Among the many historical events that Cronkite discussed were: the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, the Vietnam War and Watergate. In the second part of his interview he recalled the mishaps of “live TV” while doing You Are There; his tenure as host of the Morning Show (and his replacement by Jack Paar); his work on the documentary series The Twentieth Century and Air Power; his interviews with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy; his on-air commentary about the Vietnam War; and his stepping down from the CBS Evening News.
Cronkite also revealed how he felt following his final broadcast as anchor: “…when the cameras went off, I threw the script up in the air and said, ‘school’s out, school’s out!’”