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Walter Cronkite, America’s Anchorman (1916-2009)

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I'm old enough to remember Walter Cronkite on our television through crisis after crisis, providing reassurance that someone was there every evening who could be trusted to make sense of a chaotic world. The term "anchor" was coined specifically for Cronkite and all the anchors who have come since have lived in his shadow. It is unlikely that any will ever match his level of popularity or match his skill in personalizing the news.

Cronkite's broadcast career as the anchor of CBS News coincided with some of the most dramatic moments of history and his presentation of those events gave him a special place as the one figure who tied together the high and low points of the 1960s and 1970s with a single, coherent and reliable voice.

Through riots and assassinations and moon landings and wars and Watergate, Cronkite was there and his homely presence made the horrific more bearable and the glorious more accessible. Cronkite was the filter through which a generation faced the news and discovered the world and more than any other newsman he was literally loved by his viewers. I know my view of the news and of the events of my youth were profoundly influenced by his newscasts. It wasn't news until Cronkite reported it.

The rest is better said in his own words…

That's the way it was. Walter Cronkite passed away on Friday at the age of 92.

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About Dave Nalle

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Thanks, Dave, for the timely article. And it’s credit to you it’s not colored by your political views.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Roger, my political views were to some degree shaped by watching Cronkite on TV. Although pigeonholed by many as being on the left, he was really more of a classical liberal, and that works for me.

    Dave

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Well, lots of the anchors those days were respectable journalists – Eric Severaid, Huntley and Brinkley, and let’s not forget Ed Murrow who started the muckraking tradition in TV broadcasting,

  • http://willkillforfood.com Lisa McKay

    Like you, Dave, I grew up with Walter Cronkite’s reassuring presence guiding me through some of the more significant events of our time.

    People who have grown up with today’s “news” broadcasts can’t possibly appreciate what we’ve lost with the shift away from real journalism and toward infotainment — which is possibly why no one seems to mind.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Mr. Cronkite was one of those who I used to interpret for my deaf parents growing up. Perhaps in some way, Walter Cronkite along with Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and the first anchor term of Peter Jennings helped shape my own opinions.

    Upon hearing of his passing last night, I thought back to a different time. Back then once the national news came on television, I was there for the hour to fill my parents in on current events. There it was, the news unsanitized, factual, free of hyperbole. I remembered the Kennedy assassination coverage, the 1964 political conventions which introduced me to Goldwater Conservatism and Johnsonian policies. Imagine a kid at nine years old watching the extensive political convention coverage offered at that time. Back then you saw convention action gavel-to-gavel. There wasn’t all the commercial interruption and limited coverage of today.

    We’ve lost so many “pioneers” in the last three weeks — Gale Storm, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon; but Walter Cronkite forces me to realize that those days of journalistic integrity, factual news reporting and good old fashioned respect are absent from the news media.

    Today I realize more so than ever that I am blessed. I got to grow up watching those pioneers. While my childhood friends went off to play baseball, go swimming and do all those things that kids do, I was faithfully at home at the appointed hour. That’s the way it was — my parents had a thirst for the news at the supper hour. I may have had to grow up too fast, but I got the experience that most folks my age never had.

    Those under 35 don’t really understand the impact of a man like Walter Cronkite. And to those of you I can only say that Walter Cronkite was our Internet. He brought us the news in such a way that we could understand what was going on in the world around us. He remained steady in a stormy sea and his calm, factual delivery somehow made the worst of news a bit easier to handle.

    While Mr. Cronkite certainly has earned the praise and reminisces this day, what I mourn is the fact that people 45 and under can’t comprehend the totality of his passing. They didn’t grow up in the age of three networks. Most didn’t have the luxury of sitting with the family in the living room after supper to watch the CBS Evening News. I mourn that which they will never experience.

    Thank you, Mr. Cronkite, from this insignificant speck in the Universe. For so many years you were a part of my life. You were a pioneer with a standard for journalism that has long been forgotten. Sleep well, old friend. You’ve earned your place in Heaven’s News Room.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It was before cable TV, ladies and gentlemen, when news was the news and not just sound bites or entertainment. What is miss most is the coverage of political conventions. My first and most memorable, the Goldwater GOP convention in the sixties. My first year in the US and introduction to American politics.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    I winder if it’s a coincidence that Cronkite’s relatively early retirement came right at the same time that we saw cable start to take off.

    Dave

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Dave, wasn’t he “forced” out in favor of Dan Rather, a fellow Texan? I wonder if Rather would have risen to the fame he achieved were it not for the death of JFK. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Well, Cronkite was old. He didn’t become the first real anchorman until he was in his late 40s and he was pushing 70 when he retired. He had been a field reporter in WW2 before that.

    Rather had worked with Cronkite and I think more or less had his nod of approval, plus didn’t Cronkite move on to some sort of magazine-format show like UTTM?

    Dave

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Nice job on this, Dave. Allowing Cronkite to do the talking was the best memorial one could give this veteran journalist.

    Scanning the news at Arutz Sheva, I learned something I did not know about Israeli history. Apparently, in 1977, Cronkite asked Anwar el-Sadat if he would visit Jerusalem. Cronkite relayed this information to then Prime Minister MenaHem Begin on the same broadcast. While Begin claimed to have previously informed el-Sadat of an assassination attempt against him, thus winning a certain amount of respect from the Egyptian leader, the actual idea for visiting Jerusalem apparently was floated on Cronkite’s broadcast. This visit to the Knesset paved the way for the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

    I join with Lisa in expressing regret not only over the passing of the best TV journalist I was aware of (I did not really know or understand about Morrow until after he had died), and of the passing of news from broadcast TV. I was lucky, as were most of us over the age of fifty, getting to see real quality journalism on all three major networks in the United States. There was once a time when terms the words “Columbia Broadcasting System”, and “CBS News” engendered real respect. Now? Find me the nearest trash can.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    A reference to Huntley and Brinkley (reproduced from another comment on the same topic: So long Mom.

  • http://childoftv.blogspot.com Brent

    Cronkite wasn’t “forced out” by Dan Rather. At the time that he left CBS had a mandatory retirement age of 65. Cronkite held on held on for about a year after his 65th birthday largely because of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Now what Rather did do was to effectively freeze him out of freelance work for the network.

  • http://jetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    I apologize Dave, This article was not what I expected from you. In fact it’s damn near the article I almost wrote myself.

    It goes to show that people with a common history are more alike than we’d like to admit and I find myself guilty of something that I at times expect from others of a certain political persuasion here… I prejudged it before I read it.

    I was pleasantly surprised, and found this to be a very thoughtful and thought out article.

    Kudos
    Your friend
    Jet

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    We’d never have known if you hadn’t mentioned it, Jet.

    And I’m sure we do have lots of common ground, but it’s the disagreements which tend to stand out.

    Dave

  • Bliffle

    I always thought Cronkite was an old fuddy-duddy without much insight, when I saw him on TV back then. He was no Edward R. Murrow.

    His revelation in 1968 that the Vietnam War was a hopeless quagmire was no surpise to me. Although I vigorously supported Vietnam at first, when I penetrated the lies and deceptions in the early 60s, and especially the documents that I read in the secret military defence libraries I was privy to, by 1966 I reluctantly decided Vietnam was doomed. So when Cronkite said it in 1968 it was not news to me or most other thoughtful people.

    When I read “Peoples army, peoples war” by General Giap (a book which was then controlled by the US government) I realized that he was a military genius who would succeed against the stuffed shirt buffoon idiot generals that went from Washington to punch their tickets and get another star.

    Well, good for Walter: he finally got it.