Friday, July 17, 2009

And that's the way he was. . . .

Uncle Walter is dead.

That's a big thing if, like me, you grew up in a city that had only two television stations -- either Walter Cronkite or Huntley-Brinkley -- in a time before cable. For the most part, ours was a Cronkite house.

And that's the way it was in network news.

I WASN'T yet three on Nov. 22, 1963, when Uncle Walter (above) told a nation its president had been murdered. But I can guarantee you I was watching, both from my dim memories of that day, and because Walter Cronkite's first CBS bulletins on the tragic events in Dallas interrupted the popular soap opera As the World Turns.

As the World Turns was my mother's "story."

When I learned of Cronkite's death, I was preparing the previous post, reveling again in his coverage of Neil Armstrong's first footsteps on the moon, just as the CBS anchor reveled in that moment. It somehow felt fitting that he would leave us now, 40 years after one of our -- and his -- finest hours.

I could go on but won't. It seems to me all you need to know about Mr. Cronkite -- assuming you are too young to remember him from his work and his ubiquitous television presence more than a generation ago -- is this:

In Sweden, television news anchormen are called Kronkiters. In the Netherlands, they are Cronkiters. And the American term "anchorman"? That was coined to describe Uncle Walter, "the most trusted man in America."

May God rest his soul.

Here's the story from The Associated Press:

Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the U.S. networks’ golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called “the most trusted man in America,” died Friday. He was 92.

Cronkite’s longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler, said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. at his Manhattan home surrounded by family. She said the cause of death was cerebral vascular disease.

Adler said, “I have to go now” before breaking down into what sounded like a sob. She said she had no further comment.

Cronkite was the face of the “CBS Evening News” from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to racial and anti-war riots, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.


His 1968 editorial declaring the United States was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in U.S. opinion of the war. He also helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

He followed the 1960s space race with open fascination, anchoring marathon broadcasts of major flights from the first suborbital shot to the first moon landing, exclaiming, “Look at those pictures, wow!” as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon’s surface in 1969. In 1998, for CNN, he went back to Cape Canaveral to cover John Glenn’s return to space after 36 years.

“It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite,” CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement. “More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments.”

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