Legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite has died at age 92. It had been reported recently that the retired news anchor was quite ill, so his death from cerebral vascular disease was not a surprise. But for friends, colleagues and average Americans, the passing of “Uncle Walter” was also the end of a great era of broadcast journalism.
“He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly missed,” said a statement from President Barack Obama.
Cronkite had long since retired by the time Obama took office, but his reporting at CBS had covered Presidents from Harry Truman onward. He was lauded by many and despised for some for his on the ground reporting from the Vietnam War, which convinced many Americans that it was a hopeless cause and effectively ended the political career of President Lyndon Johnson. Cronkite’s voice was also imprinted in the minds of many Americans for his bulletin on CBS announcing that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas – and then that the young president had died.
“He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator,” said CBS Corporation CEO Les Moonves.
“It’s hard to imagine a man for whom I had more admiration,” said CBS News Correspondent Mike Wallace, himself now 91, in an interview with CNN.
“NAB mourns the passing of Walter Cronkite, who leaves an unmatched legacy of authoritative journalism. From moonwalks to Watergate, from political conventions to a presidential assassination, he was welcomed into 20 million American homes every night as television’s trusted father figure. America has lost a hero, and broadcasting has lost an iconic ambassador for credible journalism,” said the NAB in a statement by Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton.
“Walter Cronkite was truly a legend in broadcasting. He set the standard for anchors today,” said Dave Aeikens, President of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“I’m saddened to learn of the passing of Walter Cronkite – one of the most influential newsmen of our time. I will never forget our memorable visit together to Hanoi on the 10th anniversary of the fallof Saigon,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who had been held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
“Walter Cronkite’s passing today marks the loss of the ultimate reliable source, the nation’s narrator and the standard by which all other TV news anchors are judged. It also marks the loss of a special friend to NPR. For six years, in a series of occasional essays for NPR, Walter Cronkite offered his unique perspective on news events he reported on over the past century that still resonate today. Beginning on December 7, 2001, on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Cronkite reflected on the lone dissenter in the Congressional vote to declare war — political pioneer Jeanette Rankin — and how another lone dissenting vote granting President Bush added powers to hunt Osama bin Laden echoes Rankin’s own vote,” said a statement from National Public Radio President Vivian Schiller, recalling Cronkite’s radio broadcasting as well as his TV career.
CBS replaced “60 Minutes” last evening with a one-hour special, “That’s the Way it Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite.” The broadcast anchored by Katie Couric recalled the many milestones in the life of the beloved anchor. While Couric came to CBS long after Cronkite’s departure, having spent most of her career at NBC, the veteran newsman endorsed her inheritance of his former anchor chair by voicing the opening for “The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric.”
RBR/TVBR observation: We can never go back to the days of three networks and an anchor who many referred to as “The Voice of God,” nor should we. But we can look back to Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley and Howard K. Smith for lessons in professionalism and a devotion to accuracy, rather that sensationalism. In this day of 24/7 cable news and ranting bloggers, those lessons often seem to have been forgotten.