The obituary of Walter Cronkite incorrectly described WTOP-TV, which eventually became WUSA, as being a CBS affiliate when Cronkite worked with the station in the 1950s. It was operated by CBS and jointly owned by The Washington Post Co. and CBS. The obituary also incorrectly said that NBC's nightly news program, hosted by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, was two weeks behind "The CBS Evening News" in expanding to a half-hour broadcast in 1963. NBC expanded its program one week after CBS did.
WALTER CRONKITE 1916-2009
America's Iconic TV News Anchor Shaped the Medium and the Nation
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Walter Cronkite, America's preeminent television journalist of the 1960s and 1970s who as anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News" played a primary role in establishing television as the dominant national news medium of that era, died last night at age 92.
CBS Vice President Linda Mason said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. with his family by his side at his home in New York after a long illness. He had been suffering from cerebrovascular disease, his family said recently.
Cronkite's career reflected the arc of journalism in the mid-20th century. He was a wire service reporter covering major campaigns of World War II before working in radio and then joining a pioneering TV news venture at the CBS affiliate in Washington. Later in New York, he anchored the network's nightly news program from 1962 to 1981, a period in which television established itself as the principal source of information on current events for most Americans.
In a statement last night, President Obama called Cronkite "more than just an anchor." He was "someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world," Obama said.
Describing him as "family," the president said Cronkite " 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."
CBS was widely considered the best news-gathering operation among the three major networks, and Cronkite was a major reason why. With his avuncular pipe-and-slippers presence before the camera and an easy yet authoritative delivery, he had an extraordinary rapport with his viewers and a level of credibility that was unmatched in the industry. In a 1973 public opinion poll by the Oliver Quayle organization, Cronkite was named the most trusted public figure in the United States, ahead of the president and the vice president.
"He was the voice of truth, the voice of reliability," said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism professor and sociologist. "He belongs to a time when there were three networks, three oil companies, three brands of bread." He was the personification of stability and permanence, even when, in Gitlin's words, his message was "that things are falling apart."
In the decades before media outlets and media audiences splintered into numberless shards, Cronkite's broadcasts reached an estimated 20 million people a night. His name became permanently linked in the minds of millions of Americans with the major news events of his time: the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert and of Martin Luther King Jr.; the triumph of the first moon landing; the Watergate scandal; the return of American hostages after the Iranian Revolution; and a cavalcade of political conventions, national elections and presidential inaugurations.
Cronkite was often viewed as the personification of objectivity, but his reports on the Vietnam War increasingly came to criticize the American military role. "From 1964 to 1967, he never took anything other than a deferential approach to the White House on Vietnam," Gitlin said, but added, "He's remembered for the one moment when he stepped out of character and decided, to his great credit, to go see [Vietnam] for himself."
In 1968, after the surprise Tet Offensive of the Communist North Vietnamese, Cronkite went to Southeast Asia for a firsthand look at the war. His reports on the "Evening News" and in a half-hour special were instrumental in turning the tide of American public opinion against U.S. policy.
"To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past," he said, casting doubt in the minds of millions of Americans on official versions of the war. Cronkite's viewers were certain that he would never lie to them, and the White House and the Department of Defense did not command that level of credibility.
President Lyndon B. Johnson was widely quoted as having told aides, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."