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Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. 1916-2009

The most trusted man in America” died today. Walter Cronkite was 92. He died from complications of cerebrovascular disease. The very concept of “credibility” is diminished by his passing. Cronkite’s sign-off, “And that’s the way it is,” provided a measure of stability, as the result of Cronkite’s belief in reporting the news without opinion. Today, we are never quite sure how it REALLY is.

Walter Cronkite was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 4, 1916. He respected his father, a dentist, so much that he grew his famous mustache in emulation of him. The family moved to Kansas City soon after, and to Houston, TX when Cronkite was 10 years old. Walter Cronkite delivered newspapers and started a high school publication. Cronkite attended the University of Texas at Austin, but dropped out in 1935 after getting a full-time job as a newspaper reporter.

Cronkite moved to Kansas City for radio work at KCMO. He met his wife, Betsy Maxwell, in Kansas City in 1936. They married in 1940 and were married for almost 65 years when she passed away in 2005.

In 1942, Cronkite became a UP war correspondent on a number of dangerous assignments. He was the chief UP correspondent at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Cronkite opened the UP’s Moscow bureau after the war, went back to radio for awhile, then went to CBS, where he became the anchor of WTOP-TV.

Cronkite’s work at the 1952 political conventions (1, 2), where he served as the CBS “anchorman,” a word that was coined to describe his role as a “point person” for other correspondents, brought him to national attention.

In 1962, Cronkite took over from Douglas Edwards as the anchor of CBS Evening News. In the first half of the 1960’s, Cronkite’s news broadcast was second in popularity to NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report.” Later in the decade, Cronkite’s broadcast took the number one spot and held it for the rest of Cronkite’s 19-year tenure with CBS.

Cronkite’s dedication to objectivity rarely gave way to on-air emotion. Notable exceptions were the John F. Kennedy assassination (video is linked from the CNN article) and the Apollo 11 1969 moon landing.

At times, Cronkite actually MADE the news: an interview with Anwar Sadat about Sadat’s intent to go to Israel and an editorial after the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in which he called the Vietnam War “mired in stalemate” that caused President Lyndon Johnson to realize that he had lost both Cronkite and Middle America.

In 1973, a poll named Walter Cronkite “the most trusted man in America.”

The CNN article also quotes Cronkite, who later became a CBS board member, as saying, “I want to say that probably 24 hours after I told CBS that I was stepping down at my 65th birthday, I was already regretting it. And I regretted it every day since.” Cronkite disliked the corporatization of the news. His daughter, Kathy, once played a Patty Hearst-like character in the 1976 satirical film “Network.” Cronkite said that the movie was “all comedy” to him, but he shared beliefs in its message.

Cronkite once said that, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”

Walter Cronkite won many awards, including the nation’s highest honor for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Jimmy Carter.

Cronkite is survived by his three children, Nancy, Kathy, and Walter III (“Chip”), and four grandchildren.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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