In Memoriam: Walter Cronkite


Walter Cronkite

(1916 — 2009)

"And that's the way it is."

My hero is gone. Walter Cronkite has passed. An era is truly now over.

Cronkite shaped journalism. At CBS he created the type of journalism I wanted to practice ever since I was a boy. Watching him every night inspired my career and my life. He instilled a sense of history and place in me and catalyzed me to find answers in history books, in outer space and in everyday reporting. Taking the foundations established by Edward R. Murrow at CBS and with the help of his able producer Ed Bliss, Cronkite’s CBS Evening News established a standard for news on television.

I’m sorry to say it seems that was the zenith of television journalism. The state of journalism on television has receded quickly ever since Cronkite departed the airwaves. You can blame Dan Rather, or CBS or Van Gordon Sauter, but Cronkite’s news organization was dismantled. The version of CBS News anchored today by Katie Couric is not even a ghost of the past, Bob Schieffer’s contributions not withstanding.

Cronkite was for years the most respected man in America. He deserved it. He was known for reporting straight ahead. No frills. I watched American history through Cronkite’s lens: the Kennedy assassinations and that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. too; Vietnam (a war that Cronkite affected with his frank commentary after the Tet Offensive); and the landing on the moon.

In the 1990s, I got to meet my hero. At the time I was at the University of Southern California. Cronkite came to pick up an honor and speak to journalism students. “You’ll have to speak up,” Cronkite told me immediately upon my approach in a very loud tone, “these days I’m as deaf as a post.” Helped by his wife, I was able to have a nice chat with Uncle Walter about the state of journalism. This was a tiny moment but a memorable one because Cronkite was the man who had been projected to all of us for so many years via television: he was friendly and avuncular but also honest and direct.

I am sad to see him go. Television news, these days, does not reach the standard he set. His passing marks a moment that means truly those glory days of television journalism are mostly in the past. And that is also sadder, but that is the way it is, Saturday, July 18, 2009.

~Rick Rockwell

(The photo of Walter Cronkite is from a speech at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. in 2004. The photo is by Bill Ingalls of NASA; as the photo is from NASA, a government agency, it is in the public domain. Please see The New York Times for Cronkite's obituary. To see a retrospective on Cronkite, in his own words, please check below.)

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