About This Interview
Related To This Video
Video: SCVTV.com Apollo 11 - Walter Cronkite Remembers
* Autobiography: A Reporter's Life by Walter Cronkite
from the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television
Walter Cronkite is the former CBS Evening News anchorman, whose commentary defined issues and events in America for almost two decades. Cronkite, whom a major poll once named the "most trusted figure" in American public life, often saw every nuance in his nightly newscasts scrutinized by politicians, intellectuals, and fellow journalists for clues to the thinking of mainstream America. In contrast, Cronkite viewed himself as a working journalist, epitomized by his title of "managing editor," of the CBS Evening News. His credo, adopted from his days as a wire service reporter, was to get the story, "fast, accurate, and unbiased"; his trademark exit line ws, "And that's the way it is."
After working at a public relations firm, for newspapers, and in small radio stations throughout the Midwest, in l939 Cronkite joined United Press (UP) to cover World War II. There, as part of what some reporters fondly called the "Writing 69th," he went ashore on D-Day, parachuted with the l0lst Airborne, flew bombing mission over Germany, covered the Nuremburg trials, and opened the UP's first post-war Moscow bureau.
Though he had earlier rejected an offer from Edward R. Murrow, Cronkite joined CBS in 1950. First at CBS's Washington affiliate and then over the national network, Cronkite paid his dues to the entertainment side of television, serving as host of the early CBS historical recreation series, You Are There. He even briefly co-hosted the CBS Morning Show with the puppet Charlemagne. In a more serious vein he narrated the CBS documentary series Twentieth Century. Earlier, Cronkite had impressed many observers when he anchored CBS's coverage of the l952 presidential nominating conventions.
In April l962, Cronkite took over the anchorman's position from Douglas Edwards on the CBS Evening News. Less than a year later program was expanded from fifteen to thirty minutes. It was also ironic that Cronkite's first thirty minute newscast included an exclusive interview with President John F.Kennedy. Barely two months later Cronkite was first on the air reporting Kennedy's assassination, and in one of the rare instances when his journalist objectivity deserted him, he shed tears.
Cronkite's rise at CBS was briefly interrupted in l964, when the network, disturbed by the ratings beating CBS News was taking from NBC's Huntley and Brinkley, decided to replace him as anchor at the l964 presidential nominating conventions with the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd. Publically accepting the change, but privately disturbed, Cronkite contemplated leaving CBS. However, over ll,000 letters protesting the change undoubtedly helped convince both Cronkite and CBS executives that he should stay on. In l966, Cronkite briefly overtook the Huntley-Brinkley Report in the ratings, and in l967 took the lead. From that time until his retirement The CBS Evening News was the ratings leader.
Initially, Cronkite was something of a hawk on the Vietnam War, although his program did broadcast controversial segments such as Morley Safer's famous "Zippo lighter" report. However, returning from Vietnam after the Tet offensive Cronkite addressed his massive audience with a different perspective. "It seems now more certain than ever," he said, "that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate." He then urged the government to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Many observers, including presidential aide Bill Moyers speculated that this was a major factor contributing to President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to offer to negotiate with the enemy and not to run for President in l968.
A year later Cronkite was one of the foremost boosters of America's technological prowess, anchoring the flight of Apollo XI. Again his vaunted objectivity momentarily left him as he shouted, "Go, Baby, Go," when the mission rocketed into space. For some time Cronkite had seen the space story as one of the most important events of the future, and his coverage of the space shots was as long on information as it was on his famed endurance. In what critics referred to as "Walter to Walter coverage," Cronkite was on the air for 27 of the 30 hours that Apollo XI took to complete its mission.
By the same token, Cronkite never stinted on coverage of the Watergate Scandal and subsequent hearings. In l972, following on the heels of the Washington Post's "Watergate" revelations the CBS Evening News presented a 22 minute, two-part overview of "Watergate" generally credited with keeping the issue alive and making it intelligible to most Americans. On an international level.
Cronkite could also influence foreign diplomacy, as evidenced in a l977 interview with Eygptian President Anwar El-Sadat, in which he asked Sadat if he would go to Jerusalem to confer with the Israelis. A day after Sadat agreed to such a visit an the invitation came from Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It was a step that would eventually pave the way for the Camp David accords and an Israeli-Eygptian Peace treaty.
Many criticized him for his refusal to take more risks in TV news coverage. Others felt that his credibility and prestige had greater impact because of his judicious display of those qualities. Similarly, Cronkite was critized because of his preference for short "breaking stories," many of them originating from CBS News' Washington bureau, rather than longer "Enterprisers," which might deal with long range and non-Washington stories. In addition, many felt that Conkite's demand for center stage--an average of six minutes out of the 22 minutes on an evening newscast focused on him--took time away from in-depth coverage of the news. Some referred to this time in the spotlight as "the magic."
In l981, in accord with CBS policy, Cronkite retired. Since then, however, he has hardly been inactive. Indeed, his New Years Eve hosting of PBS's broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic has become as much a New Years Eve tradition as the dropping of the ball in Times Square. He has also hosted PBS documentaries on health, old age and poor children. In l993 he signed a contract with the Discovery and Learning Channel to do 36 documentaries in three years.
Cronkite's legacy of separating reporting from advocacy has become the norm in television news. In addition, his name has become virtually synonymous with the position of news anchor worldwide--Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters, but in Holland they are Cronkiters.
Cronkite died in New York on July 17, 2009. He was 92.
WALTER CRONKITE. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, U.S.A., 4 November 1916. Attended University of Texas, 1933-35. Married: Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, 1940; three children. Newswriter and editor, Scripps-Howard, also for United Press, Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas, Austin, and El Paso, Texas; and New York City; United Press war correspondent, 1942-45, foreign correspondent, reopening bureaus in Amsterdam, Brussels; chief correspondent, Nuremberg war crimes trials, bureau manager, Moscow, 1946-48, manager and contributor, 1948-49, CBS-News correspondent, 1950-81, special correspondent, since 1981; managing editor, CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, 1962-81. Honorary degrees: American International College; Harvard University; LL.D., Rollins College, Bucknell University, Syracuse University; L.H.D., Ohio State University. Member: Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (president, national academy, New York chapter, 1959, Governor's Award, 1979); Association Radio News Analysts. Recipient: several Emmy Awards; Peabody Awards, 1962 and 1981; William A. White Award for journalistic merit, 1969; George Polk Journalism Award, 1971; Gold Medal, International Radio and Television Society, 1974; Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award in Broadcast Journalism, 1978 and 1981; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1981. Died in New York on July 17, 2009 at age 92.
1953-57 You Are There
1957-67 Twentieth Century
1961-62 Eyewitness to History
1961-79 CBS Reports
1967-70 21st Century
1962-81 CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite (managing editor)
1980-82 Universe (host)
TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)
1975 Vietnam: A War That Is Finished
1975 In Celebration of US
1975 The President in China
1977 Our Happiest Birthday
- Walter Cronkite on what it meant to be given a "watch" in the broadcast business
Clip begins at: 05:46, Duration: 01m 41s
- Walter Cronkite on how proud he was of the very first CBS Evening News broadcasts, done without a script and a very small staff
Clip begins at: 11:46, Duration: 04m 05s
- Walter Cronkite on replacing Douglas Edwards on the CBS Evening news
Clip begins at: 08:24, Duration: 03m 56s
- Walter Cronkite on coming up with his signature signoff "and that's the way it is"
Clip begins at: 12:32, Duration: 02m 06s
- Walter Cronkite on announcing the assasination of President Kennedy; the emotional impact of that day
Clip begins at: 14:52, Duration: 02m 23s
- Walter Cronkite on "the great story of our century"; man landing on the moon
Clip begins at: 17:15, Duration: 01m 33s
- Walter Cronkite on the difficulties of neutrality in covering the Vietnam War; and the Nixon administration's attempts to weaken the press
Clip begins at: 20:08, Duration: 02m 54s
- Part 1
- On his childhood, on his fascination seeing President Harding's obituary in the newspaper
Clip begins at: 0:0
- On moving to Texas; on building a telegraph set and learning Morse code; on the Great Depression.
Clip begins at: 09:43
- On going to the University of Texas; on working at the Houston Post; on interviewing Gertrude Stein; working for the Scripps-Howard Bureau
Clip begins at: 19:34
- On his initial experience with the new medium of radio; on working in radio at KNOW
Clip begins at: 25:27
- Part 2
- On meeting the notorious criminal Raymond Hamilton while working on a radio story
Clip begins at: 0:36
- On the process of filing stories in the 1930s; working as the news and sports director at KCMO in Kansas City
Clip begins at: 04:20
- On getting fired from KCMO; going to United Press then WKY in Oklahoma City
Clip begins at: 16:05
- On devising a system to call football games that failed, and lessons learned about live sports broadcasting
Clip begins at: 19:16
- Part 3
- On first appearing on a demo television at the Chicago World Fair (1933)
Clip begins at: 0:27
- On joining CBS (ca 1950); on being assigned the CBS radio eleven o'clock news
Clip begins at: 02:18
- On being assigned the six o'clock television evening news on CBS affiliate WOIC in Washington, DC. On his disappointment in not getting assigned as a correspondent in Korea
Clip begins at: 05:46
- On his relationship with Edward Murrow; on CBS's policy to not include editorial opinion in news commentary.
Clip begins at: 17:54
- On being offered a job at CBS by Edward R. Murrow, but ultimately turning it down after United Press made him a generous offer to stay
Clip begins at: 22:44
- Part 4
- On beginning his work as a correspondent for CBS television news. On first use of the term "anchorman". On coverage of the 1952 political conventions
Clip begins at: 0:21
- On the challenges of covering a live event; the technology used on television at the 1952 political conventions.
Clip begins at: 08:44
- On his impression of changes with conventions between 1952 and 1980.
Clip begins at: 18:49
- On the impact the 1952 convention had on his career. On raising his image as a major national figure and the impact of television on the country.
Clip begins at: 21:15
- On the use of the Univac (computer used to predict election results); first televised tour of the White House with President Harry S. Truman.
Clip begins at: 23:12
- Part 5
- On coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the logistical challenge of that coverage
Clip begins at: 0:41
- On the program "You Are There"; on getting the assignment for the "CBS Evening News", taking over from Douglas Edwards; on expanding the evening news from 15 to 30 minutes
Clip begins at: 07:09
- On coming up with his signature sign-off "And that's the way it is"
Clip begins at: 12:32
- On President John F. Kennedy's assassination coverage
Clip begins at: 14:52
- On the Space Race; on the moon landing
Clip begins at: 17:17
- On the coverage of the Vietnam War; Spiro Agnew's "conspiratorial campaign" against the press
Clip begins at: 19:49
- On the coverage of the Middle East conflict; on his greatest achievement
Clip begins at: 27:08
- Part 6
- On the program "You Are There"; on the historical reconstruction of the Hindenburg disaster filling his studio with smoke
Clip begins at: 0:35
- On You Are There, other productions. On the Hollywood Blacklist.
Clip begins at: 12:38
- On the failure of the networks to stand up to the Hollywood Blacklist; on the influence of the sponsors; on Frank Stanton not standing up against the pressure, and how different this way from his later reputation
Clip begins at: 18:40
- On the journalistic integrity of You Are There ; changing a Winston cigarette slogan on-air
Clip begins at: 26:09
- Part 7
- On The Morning Show and special guests; getting fired from The Morning Show and replaced by Jack Paar
Clip begins at: 0:42
- On Dick Van Dyke taking over The Morning Show from Paar and Cronkite being re-hired as a presenter; getting fired a second time from The Morning Show for allegedly insulting Van Dyke
Clip begins at: 11:54
- On the programs Twentieth Century and Air Power
Clip begins at: 18:51
- On a script he wrote for a program on the city of Houston for Twentieth Century
Clip begins at: 26:24
- Part 8
- On the question of whether he found it difficult to report the news when CBS itself was the news; as in the Quiz Show scandals, and Watergate
Clip begins at: 0:26
- On interviewing Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960 about being Catholic
Clip begins at: 05:18
- On the transition of the CBS Evening News anchor spot from Douglas Edwards to Walter Cronkite; on first hearing the term "anchorman"; on the 15 minute newscast becoming a half-hour newscast
Clip begins at: 09:30
- On anchoring the first Telstar satellite transmission; Eisenhower gaffe on live television; on accepting the expansion to a 30-minute news broadcast in 1963
Clip begins at: 18:11
- On the first 30-minute broadcast featuring an interview with President Kennedy on September 2, 1963Topic: Television & The Presidency (Kennedy)
Clip begins at: 26:03
- Part 9
- On Kennedy's revelatory announcement during his interview with Cronkite about the then-ruler of Vietnam, Diem and the need to stay in Vietnam.
Clip begins at: 0:28
- On his on-air commentary on the Vietnam war following the Tet offensive, on how he felt the war was unwinnable
Clip begins at: 09:39
- On stepping down from the CBS Evening News in 1981; on learning of Dan Rather replacing him as anchorman
Clip begins at: 14:50
- On changes he's witnessed in the news medium; the deterioration of the quality of the news
Clip begins at: 19:24
- On the positive aspects of the news medium and its challenges in the future
Clip begins at: 23:06
- On his mentors in the print medium; his admiration for Edward Murrow
Clip begins at: 26:03
- On how he wants to be remembered
Clip begins at: 29:33