Walter Cronkite, often called “the most trusted man in America,” has died at age 92. Cronkite was anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, bringing many key moments of modern world history into American homes before the age of cable “news.” The Washington Post writes:
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 John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. 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 series of political conventions, national elections and presidential inaugurations.
Cronkite was on the air for hours after the Kennedy assassination. The video above shows Cronkite announcing the death of JFK. He was a such a strong promoter of the space program in its early years that he was called “the eighth astronaut.” When Apollo XI landed on the moon, “Cronkite was on the air for 27 of the 30 hours that Apollo XI took to complete its mission.”
Many have wondered where the media was in the build up to the Iraq war as the press frequently repeated the lies of the Bush administration without doing independent reporting. Walter Cronkite experienced a similar situation with Vietnam, ultimately becoming instrumental in changing public opinion:
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.