Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)
The man America trusted most has finally gone on to meet the real newsmaker. Walter Cronkite, the voice of CBS News for decades, who followed Edward R. Morrow's tradition of hard-hitting broadcast journalism, became known to millions of American and citizens of the world as the voice of trusted news. He set such a high standard that even in Sweden, the term for a news announcer was given the honorific term of a "cronkiter." He was in many ways "Uncle Walter," an endearing term for a favorite relative who came into American homes each weekday evening and smartly and assuredly gave each of us a recap of the day's events. He was the reporter and anchor who watched with disgust as President Kennedy was gunned down in Texas and who paused in awe as American astronauts romped and cavorted on the surface of the moon. When he became disenfranchised from the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson quipped that if he had lost Cronkite, he had "Middle America." Cronkite started out in the Midwest as I did as a high school journalism student. He had a penchant for being in the thick of a news story and started his radio broadcasting career with the air name of Walter Wilcox. His World War II correspondence from Africa and London got him noticed by Edward R. Murrow and his distinctive and authoritative delivery gave him the opportunity to move into the nascent television industry. He was there when Fred Friendly and Murrow set up shop at CBS News and he carried with him the highest standards of ethical journalism at a time when rules were being made and broken on a daily basis. Today there are a number of very talented network anchors that carry with them huge salaries, but I look to Walter Cronkite as I would Babe Ruth. He was grossly underpaid during his time on the air, although he would probably defend his salary as quite sufficient. His impact on America and me qualifies him as one of my true heroes in journalism. When he lost his wife Betsy four years ago, he was without her for the first time in nearly 65 years. A man who loved sailing, Cronkite's wind was forever gone from his sails. For him the love they shared was deep and abiding and the two of them were rarely without each other as he noted in his book "A Reporter Remembers." He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 from President Reagan and I remember seeing the broadcast that year and the wonderful video tribute that went with the honor. Katie Couric's introduction on the CBS Evening News was rendered by Cronkite. I hope it will stay as a daily reminder of the high standards of broadcast journalism he set for himself and all others that will follow him. And that's truly the way it is.