Jul 17, 2009 8:15 pm US/Eastern
CBS Legend Walter Cronkite Dies At 92
'Most Trusted Man In America' Was Also One Of The Most Influential Figures In Broadcast Television History
Iconic Journalist Anchored CBS Evening News From 1962-1981, Ending Each Newscast With His Trademark, 'And That's The Way It Is'
NEW YORK (CBS News) ―
Walter Cronkite solemnly reports that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.
Walter Cronkite, the iconic broadcast journalist who was dubbed the "most trusted man in America" during his time as the face of "The CBS Evening News," has passed away. He was 92.
Cronkite anchored the CBS News flagship broadcast from 1962 to 1981, signing off each broadcast with his trademark, "And that's the way it is..."
And for two turbulent decades – the '60s and '70s – Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr., told us the way it was when the news was good, and when it was awful:
"The flash -- apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m Central Standard Time -- 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time -- some 38 minutes ago," he said, his glasses in hand, his voice cracking with emotion, in the moments after John F. Kennedy's assassination.
He had a temper – when he saw correspondent Dan Rather getting roughed up at the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention, he called those trying to push Rather away "a bunch of thugs." That same year, he would share another opinion, with far greater impact, in his documentary, "Report From Vietnam."
"It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate," he said to his viewers then.
In an interview years later, he said he was only doing his job of telling the way it is.
"I simply told people what I thought about the state of the war in Vietnam and it was that we better get out of it," he said.
When Cronkite declared the Vietnam war unwinnable, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
In fact, polls found Cronkite the "most trusted man in America," and presidents knew it. He was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter in 1981.
It was the political conventions that thrust Cronkite into the limelight and propelled him into the "Evening News" anchor chair in 1962. His believability helped keep him there.
"We came to trust him, we came to believe him. One of the most important things that happened to television journalism was Walter Cronkite," colleague Mike Wallace said years ago.
And Cronkite certainly paved the way for the many honorable broadcast journalists who have since followed. Even Cronkite himself believed he lacked the talent seen in many personalities today.
"I don't think if I were competing today with the anchor people out there I'd get a chance of getting on the air," he once said in an interview.
He got on the air the old fashioned way. Some newspapering in Texas, then radio announcing in Kansas City, and later a UPI correspondent during World War II. He was chief correspondent reporting from the Nuremberg war crimes trials and joined the infant CBS Television News operation in 1950.
For 65 years, wife Betsy, whom he married in 1940, was by his side. They had worked together at KCMO in Kansas City. He called her "the most gorgeous creature I'd ever seen in my life." She died in March of 2005 at the age of 89.
Many have wondered how his signature closing line came to be. Since the news was expanding to 30 minutes back in 1963, Cronkite thought to himself, Why couldn't I have a signature line?
"And that's the way it is, Monday, September the 2nd, 1963," was the first time he'd say those very famous words.
And that is the way it was until Cronkite signed off the "Evening News" on Friday, March 6, 1981. He had been forced to retire by a CBS policy, no longer in effect, that required retirement at age 65.
He did other television after that, along with some writing, and he even contributed liberal opinion online. But for most of us, Cronkite chronicled the way were, and if we believed in him, so did he in us.
"If there's anything I've learned, it is that we Americans do have a way of rising to the challenges that confront us. Just when it seems we're most divided, we suddenly show our remarkable solidarity," he once said.
In 2006, CBS celebrated Cronkite's 90th birthday with a primetime special in which his former colleagues and longtime friends honored his legendary career.
CBS News colleagues Don Hewitt, Dan Rather, Morley Safer and Mike Wallace took viewers behind the headlines that Cronkite masterfully reported to reveal the professionalism, dedication and extraordinary influence of the man they knew so well.
Competitors Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, as well as the newest generation of anchors -- Katie Couric, Charles Gibson and Brian Williams -- spoke about the unique role Cronkite played in American culture and how he continued to influence them in the modern era of electronic journalism.
But, lest viewers think "the most trusted man in America" was one-dimensional and singularly obsessed with the news, some of Cronkite's personal friends, including actor/comedian Robin Williams, actor/director George Clooney and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, as well as President Bill Clinton and filmmaker Spike Lee, shared poignant personal thoughts and revealing recollections of the newsman's "other side."
Of Cronkite's unique journalistic abilities, Koppel said, "There is no way you can analyze it. You can't send it out to CSI and say, 'all right, look at the DNA of Walter Cronkite and how do we replace that or replicate it?'"
On his memorable live report of President John F. Kennedy's death on Nov. 22, 1963:"He had to take a moment; take off his glasses. When that happens, you realize a whole nation can't speak," said Robin Williams.
Said Couric: "He handled it as a human being first and an anchorman second, and I think in times like that, that's what you want."
"It was a very frightened country. Walter became not only everybody's anchorman, he was everybody's minister, priest and rabbi," said Hewitt. "He calmed America down."
"I think that the day President Kennedy died was the day that television news as we now know it was born, for all intents and purposes," said Dan Rather. "And Walter Cronkite was a very important part of making it so."
Of Cronkite's coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Lee said, "Walter was one of the few people in power positions that got behind that and pushed the story. In Birmingham, Ala., 1963...four little girls were murdered...The fact that it was four little girls, the fact that it took place in a church, on a Sunday -- that really shook people up. America needed to look deep into itself, and this is one of the pivotal moments."
On Cronkite's coverage of the Vietnam War: "It pained him to have to say what he thought about Vietnam, but he also understood how isolating the White House can be and how people can get to the point where they don't hear discordant voices," said Clinton. "And he thought he knew what the truth was, and he thought he had an obligation to tell it."
"He changed the history of the war overnight because it was, for that time period in general, a young person's protest. And it became everyone else's wrong war at that point," Clooney said.
Said Safer: "It is...remarkable that one anchorman, one reporter, one journalist...could really affect the political fate of the country... But they didn't call Walter the most trusted man in America for nothing."
Of Cronkite's coverage of the space program and man landing on the moon, Couric said, "Here was something everyone could rally around, and I think Walter Cronkite's embrace of that program gave people American heroes at a time when they really needed them."
And of Cronkite's "other" side?
"I invited him to a Grateful Dead show...and it was Walter Cronkite at the soundboard at Madison Square Garden," said drummer Mickey Hart. "And he came back at halftime and I introduced him to Jerry [Garcia], and he said, 'I was thinking of a thousand reasons to leave early. But I can't think of one now!'"
"The best time to be with Walter is when he...was with [his late wife] Betsy," remembered Robin Williams. "You know and one cocktail...because they both get kind of wonderfully salty and funny."
Williams added, "To see him conducting the orchestra...that was a great thing to see. That was another skill he had [that] I didn't know [about]. If, all of a sudden, he put on skates at that moment, I'd go, 'Okay, a double axel.' [In Cronkite's voice:] 'I think I can do it. It seems appropriate.'"
Clinton and Clooney, perhaps, put it best. Clinton said, "He's a truly wonderful man, an old-fashioned gentleman, but a ferocious, ferocious citizen. He cares about things still."
Clooney added, "Every once in awhile, you get someone who is the exact right person at the exact right moment. In fact, I think we were just very lucky that it happened to be him."
CBS 2's John Slattery contributed to this report.
CBS Legend Walter Cronkite Dies At 92 - wcbstv.com
Legendary CBS anchor Walter Cronkite dies at 92 - Yahoo! News
By FRAZIER MOORE, Associated Press Writer Frazier Moore, Associated Press Writer – 16 mins ago
NEW YORK – Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the networks' golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called "the most trusted man in America," died Friday. He was 92.
Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. with his family by his side at his Manhattan home after a long illness, CBS vice president Linda Mason said. Marlene Adler, Cronkite's chief of staff, said Cronkite died of cerebrovascular disease.
Morley Safer, a longtime "60 Minutes" correspondent, called Cronkite "the father of television news."
"The trust that viewers placed in him was based on the recognition of his fairness, honesty and strict objectivity ... and of course his long experience as a shoe-leather reporter covering everything from local politics to World War II and its aftermath in the Soviet Union," Safer said. "He was a giant of journalism and privately one of the funniest, happiest men I've ever known."
Cronkite was the face of the "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to racial and anti-war riots, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.
It was Cronkite who read the bulletins coming from Dallas when Kennedy was shot Nov. 22, 1963, interrupting a live CBS-TV broadcast of the soap opera "As the World Turns."
Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title "anchorman" was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages. (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.)
"He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator," CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
CBS has scheduled a prime-time special, "That's the Way it Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite," for 7 p.m. Sunday.
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying that Cronkite set the standard by which all other news anchors have been judged.
"He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly missed," Obama said.
His 1968 editorial declaring the United States was "mired in stalemate" in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in U.S. opinion of the war. He also helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
He followed the 1960s space race with open fascination, anchoring marathon broadcasts of major flights from the first suborbital shot to the first moon landing, exclaiming, "Look at those pictures, wow!" as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon's surface in 1969. In 1998, for CNN, he went back to Cape Canaveral to cover John Glenn's return to space after 36 years.
"It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite," CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement. "More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments."
He had been scheduled to speak last January for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., but ill health prevented his appearance.
A former wire service reporter and war correspondent, he valued accuracy, objectivity and understated compassion. He expressed liberal views in more recent writings but said he had always aimed to be fair and professional in his judgments on the air.
Off camera, his stamina and admittedly demanding ways brought him the nickname "Old Ironpants." But to viewers, he was "Uncle Walter," with his jowls and grainy baritone, his warm, direct expression and his trim mustache.
When he summed up the news each evening by stating, "And THAT's the way it is," millions agreed. His reputation survived accusations of bias by Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, and being labeled a "pinko" in the tirades of a fictional icon, Archie Bunker of CBS's "All in the Family."
Two polls pronounced Cronkite the "most trusted man in America": a 1972 "trust index" survey in which he finished No. 1, about 15 points higher than leading politicians, and a 1974 survey in which people chose him as the most trusted television newscaster.
"He was the most trusted man in America and he was a reporter. Imagine. Who could we say that about today?" said Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes," who began working at CBS News the year Cronkite stepped down from the anchor job.
Like fellow Midwesterner Johnny Carson, Cronkite seemed to embody the nation's mainstream. When he broke down as he announced Kennedy's death, removing his glasses and fighting back tears, the times seemed to break down with him.
And when Cronkite took sides, he helped shape the times. After the 1968 Tet offensive, he visited Vietnam and wrote and narrated a "speculative, personal" report advocating negotiations leading to the withdrawal of American troops.
"We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds," he said, and concluded, "We are mired in stalemate."
After the broadcast, President Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
In the fall of 1972, responding to reports in The Washington Post, Cronkite aired a two-part series on Watergate that helped ensure national attention to the then-emerging scandal.
"When the news is bad, Walter hurts," the late CBS president Fred Friendly once said. "When the news embarrasses America, Walter is embarrassed. When the news is humorous, Walter smiles with understanding."
More recently, in a syndicated column, Cronkite defended the liberal record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and criticized the Iraq war and other Bush administration policies.
But when asked by CNN's Larry King if that column was evidence of media bias, Cronkite set forth the distinction between opinion and reporting. "We all have prejudices," he said of his fellow journalists, "but we also understand how to set them aside when we do the job."
Cronkite was the top newsman during the peak era for the networks, when the nightly broadcasts grew to a half-hour and 24-hour cable and the Internet were still well in the future.
As many as 18 million households tuned in to Cronkite's top-rated program each evening. Twice that number watched his final show, on March 6, 1981, compared with fewer than 10 million in 2005 for the departure of Dan Rather, Cronkite's successor.
Dan Rather, who replaced Cronkite at the anchor desk, called Cronkite "a giant of the journalistic craft."
"Walter loved reporting and delivering the news, and he was superb at both," Rather said. "He deserves recognition and remembrance, too, for the way he solidly backed his correspondents and producers, defending them vigorously in coverage of difficult stories such as the Vietnam War and the Watergate crimes."
A vigorous 64 years old, Cronkite had stepped down with the assurance that other duties awaited him at CBS News, but found little demand there for his services. He hosted the shortlived science magazine series "Walter Cronkite's Universe" and was retained by the network as a consultant, although, as he was known to state wistfully, he was never consulted.
He also sailed his beloved boat, the Wyntje, hosted or narrated specials on public and cable TV, and issued his columns and the best-selling "Walter Cronkite: A Reporter's Life."
For 24 years he served as on-site host for New Year's Day telecasts by the Vienna Philharmonic, ending that cherished tradition only in 2009.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Cronkite was selected to introduce the postponed Emmy awards show. He told the audience that in its coverage of the attack and its aftermath, "television, the great common denominator, has lifted our common vision as never before."
Cronkite joined CBS in 1950, after a decade with United Press, during which he covered World War II and the Nuremberg trials, and a brief stint with a regional radio group.
At CBS he found a respected radio-news organization dipping its toe into TV, and it put him in front of the camera. He was named anchor for CBS's coverage of the 1952 political conventions, the first year the presidential nominations got wide TV coverage. From there, he was assigned to such news-oriented programs as "You Are There" and "Twentieth Century." (He also briefly hosted a morning show, accompanied by a puppet named Charlemagne the Lion.)
On April 16, 1962, he replaced Douglas Edwards as anchor of the network's "Evening News."
"I never asked them why," Cronkite recalled in a 2006 TV portrait. "I was so pleased to get the job, I didn't want to endanger it by suggesting that I didn't know why I had it."
He was up against the NBC team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, which was solidly ahead in the ratings. Cronkite lacked Brinkley's wry wit and Huntley's rugged good looks, but he established himself as an anchorman to whom people could relate.
His rise to the top was interrupted just once: In 1964, disappointing ratings for the Republican National Convention led CBS boss William S. Paley to dump him as anchor of the Democratic gathering. Critics and viewers protested and he was never displaced again.
Cronkite won numerous Emmys and other awards for excellence in news coverage. In 1978, he and the evening news were the first anchorman and daily broadcast ever given a DuPont award. Other honors included the 1974 Gold Medal of the International Radio and Television Society, a 1974 George Polk journalism award and the 1969 William Allen White Award for Journalistic Merit, the first ever to a broadcaster.
In 1977, Cronkite conducted a two-way interview in which he got Sadat to say he wanted to go to Israel if invited and then got Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to say Sadat was invited if he wanted to come. Sadat's trip was a major step in Middle East peace efforts, and the leaders of the two nations received the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
His salary reportedly reaching seven figures, he was both anchorman and star — interviewed by Playboy, ham enough to appear as himself on an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." But Cronkite repeatedly condemned television practices that put entertainment values ahead of news judgment.
"Broadcast journalism is never going to substitute for print," he said. "We cannot cover in depth in a half hour many of the stories required to get a good understanding of the world."
The evening news program expanded from 15 minutes to half an hour in September 1963, 17 months after Cronkite took over, but it never got to the full hour he said he needed to do a proper job.
Cronkite denied rumors that he had been forced out by Rather, but chastised him upon his 2005 departure as anchor in the wake of a disputed "60 Minutes" story about President Bush's military service.
"Dan gave the impression of playing a role, more than simply trying to deliver the news to the audience," Cronkite said. He apparently felt more warmly about Katie Couric, providing a voiceover to introduce the former "Today" show host when she debuted as the CBS anchor in 2006.
Couric said Friday on CNN that everyone at the network was aware of Cronkite's deteriorating health.
"We were all worried about when this day would come," she said. "He was so revered and beloved here. ... He was a personification of integrity and decency and humanity."
Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Mo., the son and grandson of dentists. The family moved to Houston when he was 10. He joked years later that he was disappointed when he "didn't see a single damn cowboy."
He got a taste of journalism at The Houston Post, where he worked summers after high school and served as campus correspondent at the University of Texas. He also did some sports announcing at a local radio station.
Cronkite quit school after his junior year for a full-time job with the Houston Press. After a brief stint at KCMO in Kansas City, Mo., he joined United Press in 1937. Dispatched to London early in World War II, Cronkite covered the battle of the North Atlantic, flew on a bombing mission over Germany and glided into Holland with the 101st Airborne Division. He was a chief correspondent at the postwar Nuremberg trials and spent his final two years with the news service managing its Moscow bureau.
Cronkite returned to the United States in 1948 and covered Washington for a group of Midwest radio stations. He then accepted Edward R. Murrow's invitation to join CBS in 1950.
In 1940, Cronkite married Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" Maxwell, whom he had met when they both worked at KCMO. They had three children, Nancy, Mary Kathleen and Walter Leland III. Betsy Cronkite died in 2005.
In his book, he paid tribute to her "extraordinarily keen sense of humor, which saw us over many bumps (mostly of my making), and her tolerance, even support, for the uncertain schedule and wanderings of a newsman."
Associated Press Writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report from New York.
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