Walter Cronkite dies at 92
Hosted 'CBS Evening News' for two decadesIndustry remembers Walter Cronkite
Walter Cronkite, who earned the accolade “the most trusted man in America” for his earnest and stalwart style as the anchorman of the “CBS Evening News” for nearly two decades, died Friday. He was 92.
CBS vice president Linda Mason says Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. ET after a long illness with his family by his side.
Cronkite, recruited by Edward R. Murrow from the United Press wire service, joined CBS News in 1950. He served as “Evening News” anchor and managing editor of CBS News from April 16, 1962, to March 6, 1981. Beginning in 1937, his career spanned more than six decades in radio, print and TV.
During a period of great national stress -- like the one brought on by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 -- Cronkite’s demeanor soothed a nation whose sense of reality had been threatened. With his pipe in hand and his manner like a kind relative, he was the authority figure the nation turned to for explanation and solace. He was often referred to by the media as “Uncle Walter.”
At the height of his career, Cronkite was the only journalist included in U.S. News and World Report’s “Most Influential Decisions Makers in America” rankings. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981, the highest honor a civilian can attain, and a Peabody Award in 1980 for his “unsurpassed skills and integrity in reporting the news.”
In 1985, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
When Cronkite joined CBS News, its nightly newscast was only 15 minutes long. On Sept. 2, 1963, it became the country’s first half-hour evening news show, debuting with Cronkite interviewing Kennedy.
When JFK was shot and killed roughly two months later, Cronkite calmed the nation with his humane, steadfast style.
When Cronkite voiced objection to President Lyndon Johnson’s Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, it was a major setback for Johnson and his Vietnam policy: “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” Johnson lamented.
Cronkite closed each “Evening News” newscast with the line, “And that’s the way it is,” followed by the date.
Following his departure from CBS News, he served as the correspondent for CBS Reports’ “Child of Apartheid,” which won an Emmy and an Overseas Press Club Edward R. Murrow Award for outstanding documentary. He also produced and hosted an eight-part Discovery Channel series “Cronkite Remembers,” which traced historical events of the 20th century.
Ever a great champion of the network news division, Cronkite declared that the news should not be judged in a numbers-crunching/profit fashion as is the rest of network television.
“There’s no reason why they should believe the news has to develop the same profits as the rest of their schedule,’ he told TV Guide in a 1966 interview. “The news has sanctity to it, that sacredness that should be observed, and they should be willing to accept a far lesser degree of profit. I don’t think they should even require a profit.”
Cronkite was born in St. Joseph, Mo., on Nov. 4, 1916, but raised in Houston. In high school, he began his career in journalism as a campus correspondent for the Houston Post. At the University of Texas, he wrote for the college newspaper and covered the state capital in Austin, stringing for various news organizations.
He quit school after reading an article about a foreign correspondent and took a full-time news job with the Post in 1935. Two years later, he joined United Press wire service, where he was to remain for 11 years. In 1940, he married Betsy Maxwell.
As a UP correspondent, Cronkite covered World War II, including the U.S. campaigns in Northern Africa and the Normandy beachhead assaults in 1944. He was one of the first newsmen to report the German surrender. Following the war, Cronkite established U.S. bureaus in Europe and was named UP bureau chief in Brussels. During the tenure, he covered the Nuremberg trials. From 1946-48, Cronkite served as the UP’s chief correspondent in Moscow.
He joined CBS News in 1950 as a Washington correspondent. In 1952, the term "anchor" was coined to describe his role at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, which marked the first nationally televised convention coverage. From 1953-57, he hosted the CBS program “You Are There,” which reenacted historical events.
For the 1964 conventions, CBS replaced Cronkite with a pairing of Roger Mudd and Robert Trout to combat the ratings power of NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. That move didn’t work, and Cronkite was returned to the network’s top news perch.
Ever passionate about American’s voyage into space, he was especially prominent during the early Kennedy years and the space shots, beginning with Alan Shepard. In retirement, he continued that fascination with science with such other shows as a hosting stint on “Dinosaur” for A&E.
Active in retirement, Cronkite anchored the CBS News science magazine, “Walter Cronkite’s Universe,” which debuted as a pilot broadcast in 1979 and aired as a miniseries from 1980-82. He was also seen on the “Prudential Report,” a staple in early Sunday evening viewing for many years. In 1996, CBS and Cronkite produced “Cronkite Remembers,” a two-hour special on his career. During the same period, he wrote his autobiography, “A Reporter’s Life,” which became a best-seller.
During the period, he was involved in a confrontation with the CIA when TV newsman Sam Jaffe reported seeing his name on an alleged White House list of journalists who had worked for the CIA. Cronkite demanded that then-CIA director George Bush disclose if any CBS journalists had indeed been CIA operatives. Bush refused. CBS news went on to report that at least two former network correspondents, not Cronkite, however, had worked for the spy agency.
An enthusiastic sailor, he owned and maintain a 60-foot yacht, the Wyntje. Cronkite recounted his sailing adventures, which spanned the waters from Chesapeake Bay to Key West, in three sailing memoirs: “South by Southwest,” “North by Northeast" and, later, in “Westwind.” He also penned “Eye on the World,” a compendium of CBS News reporting on the major trends and stories of the age, providing analysis and commentary.