Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. (born November 4, 1916) is an American journalist, best known for his work as a television news anchorman. During his tenure at CBS Evening News he was often called "the most trusted man in America."
Indeed, his current biography at King Features Syndicate, for whom he writes a weekly column called "And That's The Way I See It" notes that "In a nationwide viewer opinion poll as recently as 1995, more than a decade after leaving the CBS anchor desk, he again was voted 'Most Trusted Man in Television News.'" In broadcast journalism history, Cronkite's stature is exceeded only by that of his former CBS colleague, Edward R. Murrow.
Cronkite was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and grew up in Houston, Texas. He attended middle school at Lanier Middle School. Thereafter he attended the University of Texas at Austin.
After various newspaper reporter jobs covering news and sports, he entered broadcasting as a radio announcer for a station in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He joined the United Press in 1937, and became one of the top American reporters in World War II, covering battles in North Africa and Europe. After the war, he covered the Nuremburg trials, and served as the United Press main reporter in Moscow for two years.
CBS and popularity
In 1950, he joined CBS News, in their growing young television division. He anchored the network's coverage of the 1952 presidential election, as he would continue to do with American elections until his retirement.
Cronkite served as anchorman of the CBS Evening News from April 16, 1962 until March 6, 1981, a job in which he became an American icon. On September 2, 1963, Cronkite launched network television's first half-hour evening newscast when CBS Evening News expanded from 15 to 30 minutes.
During the early part of his time anchoring the CBS Evening News, Cronkite competed against NBC's anchor team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who anchored the Huntley-Brinkley Report. During the greater part of the 1960s, the Huntley-Brinkley Report had more viewers than Cronkite's broadcast. This began to change in the late 1960s, as RCA made a corporate decision not to fund NBC News at the levels CBS funded CBS News. Consequently, CBS News acquired a reputation for accuracy and depth in broadcast journalism. This reputation meshed nicely with Cronkite's wire service experience, and in 1968, the CBS Evening News began to surpass the Huntley-Brinkley Report in viewership during the summer months. The CBS Evening News achieved total dominance of the American news viewing audience in 1970, when Huntley retired and corporate dithering on RCA's part crippled the selection of a successor anchor, and successive format. During this time, Cronkite's broadcast achieved a dominance it would not lose while he was at the anchor desk. Although NBC ended up picking a well-respected and popular telejournalist in John Chancellor, Cronkite proved to be much more popular.
For many years, Cronkite was considered one of the most trusted figures in the United States. Affectionately known as "Uncle Walter," he covered many of the important news events of the era so effectively that his image and voice are closely associated with the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and the Watergate scandal. He is remembered by many as finishing the CBS Evening News with the phrase, "…and that's the way it is," followed by the date. (Cronkite's succesor, Dan Rather, echoed the phrase by ending his own broadcasts with "…and that's part of our world tonight.")
Cronkite is vividly remembered by some Americans as the first anchor to break the news of the death of President John F. Kennedy: "From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official (reading AP flash): President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. (CST)--2:00 EST, some 38 minutes ago." At one point during the announcement Cronkite paused briefly and appeared to tear up, a rare loss of composure for the usually unflappable newsman.
The announcement of his retirement plans February 14, 1980 became a national event. Dan Rather succeeded him as anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Cronkite currently writes a syndicated opinion column for King Features Syndicate. He has continued to broadcast occasionally as a special correspondent for CBS, CNN, and NPR into the 21st century; one such occasion was Cronkite anchoring the second space flight by John Glenn in 1998 as he had Glenn's first in 1962.
His other projects since his retirement have included voicing a character based on Benjamin Franklin in the educational television cartoon Liberty's Kids and, as Amateur Radio operator KB2GSD, narrating a documentary about Amateur Radio in the public service for the American Radio Relay League. Cronkite also appeared in a 2004 MTV special report on the American presidential election.
The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication is part of Arizona State University.
Since retiring, Cronkite has become outspoken as a voice for liberal causes. In his column, he has repeatedly condemned President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 1998, he befriended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial. He has also been a proponent of world government, penning fundraising letters for the World Federalist Association (now Citizens for Global Solutions). In an October 1999 speech to the United Nations, Cronkite said:
- It seems to many of us that if we are to avoid the eventual catastrophic world conflict we must strengthen the United Nations as a first step toward a world government patterned after our own government with a legislature, executive and judiciary, and police to enforce its international laws and keep the peace. To do that, of course, we Americans will have to yield up some of our sovereignty. That would be a bitter pill. It would take a lot of courage, a lot of faith in the new order. But the American colonies did it once and brought forth one of the most nearly perfect unions the world has ever seen.
He can also be seen in the opening movie in the Walt Disney World attraction, The Magic of Disney Animation , interviewing Robin Williams as if he's still on the CBS news channel, ending his on camera time with his famous catchphrase. He also is shown inviting Disney guests and tourists to the Disney Classics Theater.
On March 15, 2005, Cronkite's wife since 1940, Betsy, died at 89 after a battle with cancer.
- Cronkite, Walter: [The First Priority of Humankind...], Speech to the United Nations, Oct. 1999.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04