Cronkite is the former CBS Evening News anchorman, whose commentary
defined issues and events in America for almost two decades. Cronkite,
whom a major poll once named the "most trusted figure" in American
public life, often saw every nuance in his nightly newscasts scrutinized
by politicians, intellectuals, and fellow journalists for clues
to the thinking of mainstream America. In contrast, Cronkite viewed
himself as a working journalist, epitomized by his title of "managing
editor," of the CBS Evening News. His credo, adopted from
his days as a wire service reporter, was to get the story, "fast,
accurate, and unbiased"; his trademark exit line ws, "And that's
the way it is."
working at a public relations firm, for newspapers, and in small
radio stations throughout the Midwest, in l939 Cronkite joined United
Press (UP) to cover World War II. There, as part of what some reporters
fondly called the "Writing 69th," he went ashore on D-Day, parachuted
with the l0lst Airborne, flew bombing mission over Germany, covered
the Nuremburg trials, and opened the UP's first post-war Moscow
he had earlier rejected an offer from Edward R. Murrow, Cronkite
joined CBS in 1950. First at CBS's Washington affiliate and then
over the national network, Cronkite paid his dues to the entertainment
side of television, serving as host of the early CBS historical
recreation series, You Are There. He even briefly co-hosted
the CBS Morning Show with the puppet Charlemagne. In a more
serious vein he narrated the CBS documentary series Twentieth
Century. Earlier, Cronkite had impressed many observers when
he anchored CBS's coverage of the l952 presidential nominating conventions.
April l962, Cronkite took over the anchorman's position from Douglas
Edwards on the CBS Evening News. Less than a year later program
was expanded from fifteen to thirty minutes. It was also ironic
that Cronkite's first thirty minute newscast included an exclusive
interview with President John F.Kennedy. Barely two months later
Cronkite was first on the air reporting Kennedy's assassination,
and in one of the rare instances when his journalist objectivity
deserted him, he shed tears.
rise at CBS was briefly interrupted in l964, when the network, disturbed
by the ratings beating CBS News was taking from NBC's Huntley and
Brinkley, decided to replace him as anchor at the l964 presidential
nominating conventions with the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd.
Publically accepting the change, but privately disturbed, Cronkite
contemplated leaving CBS. However, over ll,000 letters protesting
the change undoubtedly helped convince both Cronkite and CBS executives
that he should stay on. In l966, Cronkite briefly overtook the Huntley-Brinkley
Report in the ratings, and in l967 took the lead. From that
time until his retirement The CBS Evening News was the ratings
Cronkite was something of a hawk on the Vietnam War, although his
program did broadcast controversial segments such as Morley Safer's
famous "Zippo lighter" report. However, returning from Vietnam after
the Tet offensive Cronkite addressed his massive audience with a
different perspective. "It seems now more certain than ever," he
said, "that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate." He
then urged the government to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese.
Many observers, including presidential aide Bill Moyers speculated
that this was a major factor contributing to President Lyndon B.
Johnson's decision to offer to negotiate with the enemy and not
to run for President in l968.
year later Cronkite was one of the foremost boosters of America's
technological prowess, anchoring the flight of Apollo XI. Again
his vaunted objectivity momentarily left him as he shouted, "Go,
Baby, Go," when the mission rocketed into space. For some time Cronkite
had seen the space story as one of the most important events of
the future, and his coverage of the space shots was as long on information
as it was on his famed endurance. In what critics referred to as
"Walter to Walter coverage," Cronkite was on the air for 27 of the
30 hours that Apollo XI took to complete its mission.
the same token, Cronkite never stinted on coverage of the Watergate
Scandal and subsequent hearings. In l972, following on the heels
of the Washington Post's "Watergate" revelations the CBS
Evening News presented a 22 minute, two-part overview of "Watergate"
generally credited with keeping the issue alive and making it intelligible
to most Americans. On an international level.
could also influence foreign diplomacy, as evidenced in a l977 interview
with Eygptian President Anwar El-Sadat, in which he asked Sadat
if he would go to Jerusalem to confer with the Israelis. A day after
Sadat agreed to such a visit an the invitation came from Israeli
Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It was a step that would eventually
pave the way for the Camp David accords and an Israeli-Eygptian
criticized him for his refusal to take more risks in TV news coverage.
Others felt that his credibility and prestige had greater impact
because of his judicious display of those qualities. Similarly,
Cronkite was critized because of his preference for short "breaking
stories," many of them originating from CBS News' Washington bureau,
rather than longer "Enterprisers," which might deal with long range
and non-Washington stories. In addition, many felt that Conkite's
demand for center stage--an average of six minutes out of the 22
minutes on an evening newscast focused on him--took time away from
in-depth coverage of the news. Some referred to this time in the
spotlight as "the magic."
l981, in accord with CBS policy, Cronkite retired. Since then, however,
he has hardly been inactive. Indeed, his New Years Eve hosting of
PBS's broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic has become as much a
New Years Eve tradition as the dropping of the ball in Times Square.
He has also hosted PBS documentaries on health, old age and poor
children. In l993 he signed a contract with the Discovery and Learning
Channel to do 36 documentaries in three years.
legacy of separating reporting from advocacy has become the norm
in television news. In addition, his name has become virtually synonymous
with the position of news anchor worldwide--Swedish anchors are
known as Kronkiters, but in Holland they are Cronkiters.
CRONKITE. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, U.S.A., 4 November
1916. Attended University of Texas, 1933-35. Married: Mary Elizabeth
Maxwell, 1940; three children. Newswriter and editor, Scripps-Howard,
also for United Press, Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas,
Austin, and El Paso, Texas; and New York City; United Press war
correspondent, 1942-45, foreign correspondent, reopening bureaus
in Amsterdam, Brussels; chief correspondent, Nuremberg war crimes
trials, bureau manager, Moscow, 1946-48, manager and contributor,
1948-49, CBS-News correspondent, 1950-81, special correspondent,
since 1981; managing editor, CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,
1962-81. Honorary degrees: American International College; Harvard
University; LL.D., Rollins College, Bucknell University, Syracuse
University; L.H.D., Ohio State University. Member: Academy of Television
Arts and Sciences (president, national academy, New York chapter,
1959, Governor's Award, 1979); Association Radio News Analysts.
Recipient: several Emmy Awards; Peabody Awards, 1962 and 1981; William
A. White Award for journalistic merit, 1969; George Polk Journalism
Award, 1971; Gold Medal, International Radio and Television Society,
1974; Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award in Broadcast Journalism,
1978 and 1981; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1981.
You Are There
1957-67 Twentieth Century
1961-62 Eyewitness to History
1961-79 CBS Reports
1967-70 21st Century
1962-81 CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite (managing
1980-82 Universe (host)
TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)
Vietnam: A War That Is Finished
1975 In Celebration of US
1975 The President in China
1977 Our Happiest Birthday
The Challenges of Change. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press,
Eye on the World. New York: Cowles, 1971.
Arthur. "`Uncle Walter' and the `Information Crisis'" (interview).
Television Quarterly (New York), Winter 1990.
"Covering Religion" (interview). The Christian Century (Chicago,
Illinois), 14 December 1994.
Snow, Richard F. "He Was There" (interview). American Heritage
(New York), December 1994.
Attanasio, Paul. "Anchors Away: Good Evening Dan, Tom and Peter.
Now Buzz Off." The New Republic (Washington, D.C.), 23 April
Kathy. On the Edge of the Spotlight: Celebrities' Children Speak
Out About Their Lives. New York: Morrow, 1981.
Dan. "And That's the Way It Is." American Journalism Review
(College Park, Maryland), May 1994.
also Anchor; Kennedy,
John F., Assassination; News
Program and Television