Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. (born November 4, 1916 - died July 17, 2009) is a retired American broadcast journalist, best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years (1962–81). During the heyday of CBS News in the 1970s and 1980s, he was often cited in viewer opinion polls as "the most trusted man in America" because of his professional experience and kindly demeanor.
Early years at CBS
In 1950, Cronkite joined CBS News in its young and growing television division, recruited by Edward R. Murrow, who had previously tried to hire Cronkite from UP during the war. Cronkite began working at WTOP-TV, the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.. On July 7, 1952, the term "anchor" was coined to describe Cronkite's role at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which marked the first nationally-televised convention coverage. Cronkite anchored the network's coverage of the 1952 presidential election as well as later conventions, until in 1964, he was temporarily replaced by the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd. This proved to be a mistake, and Cronkite was returned to the anchor chair for future political conventions.
From 1953 to 1957, Cronkite hosted the CBS program You Are There, which reenacted historical events, using the format of a news report. His famous last line for these programs was: "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times... and you were there." He also hosted The Twentieth Century, a documentary series about important historical events of the century which was made up almost exclusively of newsreel footage and interviews. It became a long-running hit. (Note: In the early 1970s, You Are There, hosted by Walter Cronkite, was revived and redesigned to attract an audience of teenagers and young adults. It aired on Saturday mornings.) He also hosted a game show called It's News to Me, a game show based on news events.
The CBS Evening News
Cronkite succeeded Douglas Edwards as anchorman of the CBS Evening News on April 16, 1962, a job in which he became an American icon. The program expanded from 15 to 30 minutes on September 2, 1963, making Cronkite the anchor of American network television's first nightly half-hour news program.
During the early part of his tenure anchoring the CBS Evening News, Cronkite competed against NBC's anchor team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who anchored the Huntley-Brinkley Report. For most 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 its 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. In that same year, the faculty of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University voted to award him the Carr Van Anda Award "for enduring contributions to journalism."
In 1969, with Apollo 11, and later with Apollo 13, Cronkite received the best ratings and made CBS the most-watched television network for the missions.
In 1970, Walter Cronkite received a "Freedom of the Press" George Polk Award. That same year, the CBS Evening News finally dominated the American TV news viewing audience, when Huntley retired. Although NBC finally settled on the skilled and well-respected broadcast journalist John Chancellor, Cronkite proved to be more popular and continued to be top-rated until his retirement in 1981. That year, President Jimmy Carter awarded Cronkite the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
One of Cronkite's trademarks was ending the CBS Evening News with the phrase, "...And that's the way it is:", followed by the date (keeping to standards of objective journalism, he omitted this phrase on nights when he ended the newscast with opinion or commentary). Beginning with January 16, 1980, "Day 50" of the Iran hostage crisis, Cronkite added the length of the hostages' captivity to the show's closing to remind the audience of the unresolved situation, ending only on "Day 444", January 20, 1981.
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. Enjoying the cult of personality surrounding Cronkite in those years, CBS allowed some good-natured fun-poking of its star anchorman in some episodes of the network's popular situation comedy, All in the Family, during which the lead character Archie Bunker would sometimes complain about the newsman, calling him "Pinko Cronkite."
Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult-to-understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute. Currently, Walter Cronkite's voice can be heard announcing CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric at the beginning of the news broadcast, and at Retirement Living TV's Daily Cafe.
Historic moments as anchor
Cronkite is vividly remembered by many Americans as breaking the news of the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Cronkite had been standing at the United Press International wire machine in the CBS newsroom as the bulletin of the President's shooting broke and clamored to get on the air to break the news. However, cameras were not ready for use and Cronkite would be forced to break the news without them while one warmed up.
At 1:40 PM, A "CBS News Bulletin" bumper slide broke into the live broadcast of As the World Turns. Over the slide Cronkite began reading:
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."
A second bulletin arrived as Cronkite was reading the first one, which detailed the severity of President Kennedy's wounds:
"More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously...President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called "Oh no!," the motorcade sped on. United Press [International] says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News: President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details."
Just before the bulletin cut out, a CBS News staffer was heard saying "Connally too," apparently hearing the news that Texas Governor John Connally had also been shot while riding in the Presidential limousine with his wife Nellie and Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy.
Following the first bulletin, a commercial for Nescafe coffee aired, followed by an As the World Turns sponsor bumper, a preview bumper for the scheduled episode of Route 66 to air that night, and a ten second station identification break for the CBS affiliates. Just as the sponsor bumper for the second part of As the World Turns began, it was cut off. The "CBS News Bulletin" slide came back on the screen and Cronkite reported further information on the shooting of the President, with this bulletin relaying to the viewing audience for the first time that Governor Connally had also been shot.
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. Further details on an assassination attempt against President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. President Kennedy was shot as he drove from Dallas Airport to downtown Dallas; Governor Connally of Texas, in the car with him, was also shot. It is reported that three bullets rang out. A Secret Service man has been...was heard to shout from the car, "He's dead." Whether he referred to President Kennedy or not is not yet known. The President, cradled in the arms of his wife Mrs. Kennedy, was carried to an ambulance and the car rushed to Parkland Hospital outside Dallas, the President was taken to an emergency room in the hospital. Other White House officials were in doubt in the corridors of the hospital as to the condition of President Kennedy. Repeating this bulletin: President Kennedy shot while driving in an open car from the airport in Dallas, Texas, to downtown Dallas."
Cronkite then recapped the events as they had happened: that the President and Governor Connally were shot and in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital and no one knew their condition as of yet. He then reminded the viewers that CBS News would continue to provide updates as more information came in.
CBS then decided to return to ATWT, which was now midway through its second segment and continued as the cast had not apparently been told of the situation in Dallas. When the segment wrapped the show took its second scheduled commercial break, during which Cronkite broke in a third time with this bulletin.
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News...President Kennedy has been the victim of an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas. It is not known as yet whether the President survived the attack against him."
This particular bulletin went into greater detail than the other two, as for the first time Cronkite detailed where the shooting victims were wounded (Kennedy had been shot in the head, Connally in the chest). At the conclusion of the bulletin Cronkite told viewers to stay tuned for further details, perhaps implying that the network would be returning to regular programming. However, Cronkite remained on the air for the next ten minutes continuing to read bulletins as they were handed to him, followed by recapping the events as they were known and interspersing the new information he'd received where it was appropriate. He also brought up recent instances of assassination attempts against sitting Presidents (including the murder of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak in a botched assassination attempt on then-President-elect Franklin Roosevelt), as well as a recent attack of United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson in Dallas which resulted in extra security measures being taken for Kennedy's visit to the city. He also received word that Congressman Albert Thomas of Texas had been told that for the moment the President and Governor were still alive.
By 2:00 EST, Cronkite was informed that the camera was ready, and told the viewers over the air that CBS would be taking a station identification break so the affiliates could join the network. Within twenty seconds all the CBS affiliates (with the exception of KRLD in Dallas, who was covering the tragedy locally) joined the network's coverage of what was taking place. Cronkite appeared on-air in shirt and tie but without his suit coat, given the urgent nature of the story, and opened with this:
"This is Walter Cronkite in our newsroom, and... there has been an attempt, as perhaps you know now, on the life of President Kennedy. He was wounded in an automobile driving from Dallas Airport into downtown Dallas, along with Governor Connally of Texas. They have been taken to Parkland Hospital there, where their condition is as yet unknown."
Cronkite then tried to throw to KRLD's coverage of the Dallas Trade Mart meeting that the President was supposed to address, but the camera was not ready. After a few seconds Cronkite began speaking again but after a few more, the broadcast abruptly cut into the aforementioned meeting where the station's news director Eddie Barker was reporting (a director was audibly heard saying "Okay, go ahead. Switch it" while Cronkite was talking). He said that the President was still alive (as Cronkite had been told by the report from Congressman Thomas earlier and directly by Congressman Jim Wright just moments before Barker's report was filed). About five minutes later Barker reported that rumors has begun to circulate that Kennedy was in fact dead.
Cronkite reappeared several minutes after Barker reported that Kennedy was rumored to have been killed, advising that two priests had been called to Kennedy's bedside although the reasons for which were not made clear. He also played an audio report by KRLD's Jim Underwood, recounting that someone had been arrested in the assassination attempt at the Texas School Book Depository. After said report, Cronkite was told that KRLD was reporting that that the President was dead and Barker was reporting that he had been told by a doctor at Parkland Hospital of the President's death. While the coverage continued at the Dallas Trade Mart meeting Barker said that the assassination was officially confirmed, but neither the Associated Press or United Press International had done so. He then retracted the statement, saying that it still had yet to officially be confirmed that the President was dead. Shortly thereafter CBS stopped showing KRLD's coverage and returned to their own coverage of the incident.
Cronkite reported on location during the Vietnam War.Following Cronkite's editorial report during the Tet Offensive that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
During the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Cronkite was anchoring the CBS network coverage as violence and protests occurred outside the convention, as well as scuffles inside the convention hall. When Dan Rather was punched to the floor (on camera) by security personnel, Cronkite commented, "I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, Dan."
 Other historic events
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to his former SHAEF headquarters for an interview by Cronkite on the CBS News Special Report D-Day + 20. This program was telecast on June 6, 1964. "SHAEF" means "Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force," and it had various locations, including in London, England, and in France.
Cronkite is also remembered for his coverage of the United States space program, and at times was visibly enthusiastic, rubbing his hands together on camera with a smile on July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing mission put the first men on the Moon. Cronkite has criticized himself for being at a loss for journalistic words at that moment.
According to the 2006 PBS documentary on Cronkite, there was "nothing new" in his reports on the Watergate affair; however, Cronkite brought together a wide range of reporting, and his credibility and status is credited by many with pushing the Watergate story to the forefront with the American public, ultimately resulting in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon on August 9, 1974. Cronkite had anchored the CBS coverage of Nixon's address, announcing his impending resignation, the night before.
Cronkite also was one of the first to receive word of President Lyndon B. Johnson's death, receiving the information during the January 22, 1973, broadcast of the CBS Evening News. While a videotaped report by Peter Kalischer about the apparently successful Vietnam war peace talks was being shown to the nation, Johnson's press secretary Tom Johnson (no relative of Lyndon Johnson) telephoned Cronkite to inform him of Johnson's death. CBS cut abruptly from the report at 6:38 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to Cronkite, who was still speaking to Johnson on the phone. After holding up a finger to pause and let Johnson finish, he broke the news to the nation that the former President had died, then continued to speak with Johnson (who was not patched through to the air) for a few more seconds to gather whatever remaining details he could, then hung up the phone and relayed those details to the audience. During the final ten minutes of that broadcast, Cronkite reported on the death, giving a retrospective on the life of nation's 36th president, and announced that CBS would air a special on Lyndon Johnson later that evening.
From the Museum of Broadcast Communications