Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite

He told us that President Kennedy had died.

He told us that we had landed a man on the moon.

He walked us through national conventions.

No one was elected President until he said so.

The Viet Nam War ended when he said it was time to go.

He reported on the bombings of London.

And the Olympic skiers in Squaw Valley.

There were never any articles about his hairstyle.

We never knew whether he was Republican or Democrat.

He reassured us in times of national crisis.

Celebrated our triumphs and called us on our shortcomings.

He had no agendas.

He wasn’t folksy or perky.

He was the voice of reason.

The conscience of the country.

He was just… Uncle Walter. The most trusted man in America. And now that voice has been silenced. We’ve lost the last true journalist the broadcast industry will ever see. Just how monumental is his passing?

Name me one person, anybody, who could be called the most trusted man in America now. I can’t think of one either.

God bless you, Walter Cronkite. You were the best that ever was.

And that's the way it is.

39 comments:

Jennifer said...

This is truly the end of an era. The end of journalists who we believed in, news that seemed generated because it was important to our lives and not just to ratings.

Thank you for your reflection, Ken.

Eric Stephen said...

Very well said, Ken. Cronkite will truly be missed.

Baylink said...

NPR calls him "The Nation's Narrator".

You both nailed it.

katherine. said...

that is the way it was....I'd like a few of the news personalities to be that way again...

A great man, a long life well lived.

john brown said...

The morons that run the CBS network these days did a cut in for a brief moment and then went back to regular programming.

CNN, MSNBC, even Fox News covered this interviewing people who should have been on CBS talking about his passing.

Moonves and McManus can go to hell for the way they are treating this.

Walter is looking on and slowly shaking his head at CBS' indifference.

Mel Ryane said...

He was the Dad we all wanted. I miss him. He cannot be replaced.

Mel Ryane

bjdwsm said...

We can't trust anyone the way he was trusted.

This is a sad day.

Cathy Krasnianski said...

Lovely words, Ken. Walter Cronkite was a class act all the way; something more of today's people should aspire to.

Tom said...

Even though he left NIGHTLINE, I trust Ted Koppel 110%.

He left due to ABC's desire to give it a sensational makeover and/or replace it with Letterman when Dave was looking for a new home.

DerbyDave said...

Back in the 1980s, I worked for then-CBS affiliate WHAS-TV here in Louisville. I was picking up a news crew at the waterfront after the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Steamboat Race.
While I was waiting for the crew, I watched as the very popular Kentucky governor, John Y. Brown, Jr. came down the ramp of the steamboat Belle of Louisville. Imagine the Kennedy mystique on the state level. People crowded around him, shaking hands and asking for autographs.

Then Walter Cronkite came down the ramp.

Suddenly the popular Kentucky governor was the loneliest man in the world as the crowd shifted to their "Uncle Walter."

Brian Scully said...

That may be the nicest eulogy I have ever read. Well done, Ken.

Anonymous said...

He was the reason I was proud to say I worked for CBS. (Eric Sevareid too).

Tom Quigley said...

The day he retired, network news departments got turned over to the network advertising and marketing departments. I don't think we've had a day of honest news reporting since then.

A. Buck Short said...

Incredibly eloquent Ken. The man sure had dignity.

The closest I got to Walter Cronkite was when my friend, who was the program director where I had worked accidentally walked into his shot on the USS Constitution for the Bicentennial. Also nautically speaking, if I’m not mistaken, I think the word “anchor” was first used with regard to Walter Cronkite at the 1952 conventions.

I don’t know if we were just a little na├»ve, but it seemed like there were a lot of heavyweights at one time, who didn’t quite reach Cronkite’s level, but whom we also trusted. John Chancellor, Douglas Edwards, Harry Reasoner, David Brinkley., Howard K. Smith, Richard C. Hottelet, Robert Trout and the Murrow graduates. My God, you know the first team has gotta be great when Eric Sevareid (who looked like Andrew Jackson on a $20) was weekends and the sub. Or maybe I was just a kid and hadn’t yet been warned not to trust anybody over 30?

I think the more recent anchors have been doing a good job…considering. They might be somewhat justified in paraphrasing the Norma Desmond line, “I am trustworthy. It’s the news that got small.” To an extent, it was small when an entire late newscast could be sponsored by Camels cigarettes. Then John Cameron Swayze really started taking a licking while his Timex just ticket away, oblivious. John Daly moved laterally into games show hosting. And you thought Drew Carey and Howie Mandel were an odd fit?

I’m old enough to remember Cronkite anchoring the pseudo news historical reenactments “You are There,” every afternoon when I got home from school, I think it aired either before or after Jim McKay’s “The Verdict is Yours.” The one “You are There” I remember most was the “news coverage” of the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel in Weehawken, NJ. The onsite reporter would summarize what led up to it for Cronkite and then interview the participants about how “dissed” each felt by the other. But even then it was Cronkite's credibility that made the series seem like news -- rather than the Twilight Zone it could have been. As I recall I had Hamilton, but still beat the spread.

john brown said The morons that run the CBS network these days did a cut in for a brief moment and then went back to regular programming.

Not to excuse that, but between Cronkite bulletins on the Kennedy assassination, I believe they cut back to “As the World Turns” while scrambling to put something together. Dan Rather was the CBS bureau chief here in Dallas, and Bob Schieffer helped build his rep. at the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Gee, remember when networks actually had something they could call a “Dallas Bureau?”

The Milner Coupe said...

Thank you for this post. I can't think of anything to add to yours and your commentors beautiful words.

I'll just say that the world seems a little less civilized without Walter Cronkite.

Aloha and may he rest in peace.

Ernest said...

Very nice eulogy, Ken.

Only one quibble.

The Viet Nam War ended when he said it was time to go.

The national mood might have turned, but the war didn't end for another five years.

D. McEwan said...

"The Viet Nam War ended when he said it was time to go."

Then he should have said it ten years earlier.

Some of those scoops I heard from Huntley & Brinkley. Cronkite was great, but he wasn't the ONLY anchor on TV then.

Sweet Dick Whittington always called him "Father News." Whit taught me how to do my Cronkite impression, catching his particular, unique speaking cadence. And when Walter retired, Whit said, "With Walter gone, henceforth, there will be no more news."

And lest we forget his meeting Ted Baxter on a memorable MTM show.

Walter projected wisdom extremely well. Whether it was the real thing, or just his talent for seeming wise, I'll never know. The news did continue without him, but it was never the same.

Did he say "Now he belongs to the ages," or was he a tad too young?

Goodbye Walter. And that's the way it is, Friday, July 17th, 2009.

Vermonter17032 said...

The difference between Walter Cronkite's generation of news broadcasters and today's is integrity. The old guys had it and the current crop don't. Period. Can you imagine Cronkite spending the first third of his broadcast on Michael Jackson's memorial -- especially on a day when the president of the United States was in Russia? That's what we got from ABC news last week.

benson said...

Can you imagine Cronkite spending the first third of his broadcast on Michael Jackson's memorial -- especially on a day when the president of the United States was in Russia?

You can thank news consultants for that and market research. "Just giving the people what they want."

Beautiful piece,Ken. Thanks.

Lairbo said...

Ken, you captured it beautifully.

When watching CBS's "tributes," to Cronkite, bear in mind that they threw him overboard in 1981 without blinking that eye. We'll never see his likes again; they've made sure of that.

Heidi Germanaus said...

I thought he died 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Very nice tribute, Ken. And so true, so true. At least NPR goes into more depth, but the news just isn't what it used to be. When he retired, it was the end of an era. How sad.

estiv said...

As unfortunate as Cronkite's retirement was, it was the first time I saw Stone Phillips on NBC that it was clear the big network news departments had jumped the shark. Like Ted Baxter only not the least bit funny. The real message was that the networks no longer took news reporting seriously.

Pauline Kael once said that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg may have been very nice men, but they ruined the movies. I think that in the same way, Roone Arledge may have been a decent guy, but he ruined network news. Once the news division became seen as just another revenue stream, journalistic standards were going to fade. Now we have Glenn Beck to prove the point beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Cronkite said it best: "Everything we did was new."

Take that to heart in this age of constantly evolving technology and media choices.

Go do something new.

Anonymous said...

I respect Walter Cronkite immensely. But history will show us how stupid it is to let a newsman erode your national will in a time of war. There are two ways to lose a war:

• The enemy destroys your ability to fight

• Or you lose your will to fight

We can't afford to let journalists determine the outcome of our wars. They almost did it in Iraq. They did it in Vietnam. For example: Khe Sahn. It was a huge American victory, but because of news reports, everyone in America thinks it was a terrible defeat. The Vietnamese general in command at Khe Sahn (Giap) later told us how badly he was mauled in that battle.

But thanks to the news reports at the time he won. The American press is the greatest weapon the enemy wields against us.

Rest in peace, Walter. You had integrity. But on Vietnam you were duped.

Rick said...

My one shared moment in time with Walter. It was 1962 - summer. I was working as an apprentice at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. It's around 6 a.m. Sunday morning after a long strike night. I'm walking through the deserted streets of town - heading home to my little rooming house. Not another soul in sight.

I hear a motor in the distance - the high-pitched whine of a very fast engine. It gets louder. Suddenly, a red Triumph TR3 comes barreling down the slight incline into town. It takes a quick left onto West Bridge Street and slows down slightly as it approaches the bridge to Lambertville, New Jersey. The top's down. It's Walter! Hair not yet white ... except around the temples.

He gears down, the engine moans. He waves as he passes me ... then he guns the engine and he's off.

Gee, I say to myself (even back then!) there goes a legend!

Nice job Ken ... short and succinct - the kind of writing Walter would have liked!

Rick

Wayne said...

It was a touching eulogy but I can't wait for the one by Jermaine Cronkite.

Anonymous said...

Ken wrote, "He had no agendas."

With this I disagree.

brigadude said...

He had no agendas that you disagreed with, Ken.

Tod Hunter said...

Nicely done, although there's one tiny imperfection: it was Murrow who reported the bombings in London. Cronkite was a print reporter until he joined CBS in 1950.

Verification word: vaticra: Erectile dysfunction drug for people who work in the Pope's administrative offices.

Anonymous said...

The world lost a great journalist when Cronkite RETIRED, not when he died.

Roger Owen Green said...

Cronkite reported the important moments of my life, too. He opposed the war in '68 after we was there. I don't think he could have opposed the war earlier, because the critical mass hasd not yet formed.

Jay Zilber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Zilber said...

Maybe not so much while he was the voice of CBS News, but certainly on more than one occasion over the past 10 or 15 years -- Cronkite did make it pretty clear that he had been a lifelong Democrat. In fact, though I can't find a specific citation on short notice, i'm fairly certain sure he said so explicitly, on the record, at least once.

D. McEwan said...

"Roger Owen Green said...
I don't think he could have opposed the war earlier, because the critical mass hasd [sic] not yet formed."

Why would he, or anyone, need to wait for "critical mass" to form before realizing that protecting American business interests in Vietnam by keeping a dictator friendly to American business in power over a dictator inimical to American business ("Freedom" was never in the cards for Vietnam, either way) was not worth one single American life?

If Cronkite had opposed the war sooner, perhaps "critical mass" might have formed earlier. Why wait for trends? Do the right thing now.

I'm not blaming Cronkite for keeping the war going; that was first Johnson, the Nixon, two of Hell's most prominent current residents, and now welcoming that bastard McNamara. (Nixon's Deathday should be a national holiday, like Lincoln's Birthday. It was one of the happiest days in my life. I celebrated. I must visit his grave some time, for a good dance.) I just don't see why Cronkite's judgement had to wait on anyone else's.

We should never have been there in the first place. The "Domino Theory" was crap right from the start. It's been over 30 years since we lost that war, and the Vietcong still haven't landed on the beaches of California, as the liars in Washington said would surely happen right away if we let Saigon fall, to justify sending my generation to commit horrors, to kill, and to die. Fuck all those evil bastards forever.

Not that I'm still riled by it or anything.

Brent McKee said...

Walter Cronkite did report on the bombing of London - just not on radio. He also flew in a B-17 over Germany, was present at the landings in Normandy on D-Day, and hauled his typewriter out of a wrecked glider in Holland with 101st Airborne during Market-Garden, and resisted the urge to spit at the remnants of the Nazi leadership at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials.

And oh yes, he signalled his tacit approval of the current CBS news anchor by recording the introduction "This is the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric." He never did that for Dan Rather.

Roger Owen Green said...

My point - and sorry for the typo - is that I don't think Walter was all that comfortable being an opinion maker. I think his decision factored in the obvious loss of "objectivity". it was seeing the war on our TVs day in and day out, and counting the body bags that turned the tide.

I think that in '68, Cronkite was representing a growing sentiment. In '66, it was just wasn't the same level of awareness. In '66, he's only 4 years on the anchor job.

And I TOTALLY agree that we shouldn't have been there in the first place, but just as in the beginning of more recent wars we shouldn't have been in, once we are, it can be difficult to speak out against them.

Think of the Iraq war in May 2003, when Mission: Accomplished is the message as we eat our freedom fries. But as the war drags on, and the realization is that we've been sold a bag of goods is clearer, one can more easily poke holes in it.

I remember the US media buying this joint "war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan. But at some point, maybe 2005, the media started to ignore the White House rhetoric and differentiating the wars.

LeeFranke said...

Actually what Conkite did was call the government on the B.S. that it was spewing out regarding the war.

All you have to do it look back at the lead up to the Gulf War 2 and you see that all we have now is stenagraphers. Being objective is not just parroting back what you are told. You can still be objective and call people and the government out on their lies.

D. McEwan said...

"Roger Owen Green said...
I TOTALLY agree that we shouldn't have been there in the first place, but just as in the beginning of more recent wars we shouldn't have been in, once we are, it can be difficult to speak out against them."

I don't see why. The First Amendment is still in place, despite all of the Bush Administration's best efforts to destroy it. Once in, it can be EXTREMELY difficult to GET out, but speaking out against it is always easy; all it requires is courage and a working voice. And Cronkite, I believe, had courage. I was one of those kids chanting "Hey, hey LBJ; how many kids did you kill today?" in 1966.

"Roger Owen Green (also) said...
Think of the Iraq war in May 2003, when Mission: Accomplished is the message as we eat our freedom fries. But as the war drags on, and the realization is that we've been sold a bag of goods is clearer, one can more easily poke holes in it."

Well I was speaking out against going into Iraq to finish "Daddy's War" well before "Mission: Accomplished," - though not while eating French fries, as I try not to speak with my mouth full - because I never bought the bag of goods in the first place. It does save time if you just assume that any Republican president with family money in munitions is ALWAYS lying. From Day One I objected to going after Hussein when it was Bin Laden (still at large, Mission not even close to Accomplished) who was behind it.

"LeeFranke said...
All you have to do it look back at the lead up to the Gulf War 2 and you see that all we have now is stenagraphers. [sic]"

Absolutely right! I 100% agree.