Friends, colleagues honor Walter Cronkite

Newsman Walter Cronkite, in a 2007 photo, was honored at a memorial service in New York on Wednesday.
Friends and colleagues of legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite gathered Wednesday in New York’s Lincoln Center to remember “the most trusted man in America.”

“Like all of you, I have benefited as a citizen from his dogged pursuit of the truth, his passionate defense of objective reporting, and his view that journalism is more than just a profession,” President Obama told the crowd. “It is a public good, vital to our democracy.” “Walter wasn’t afraid to rattle the high and the mighty,” he said. “I thought that he had the most trusted news program because he had an inquiring mind and a caring heart and a careful devotion to the facts,” former President Bill Clinton said. “He was always looking for the story, not the storyline. And there’s a big difference.” “I thought he was one of the most interesting men I ever saw,” Clinton added. Watch Clinton share memories of Cronkite Cronkite died on July 17 at the age of 92. He had anchored the “CBS Evening News” from 1962 until 1981. Other speakers at the memorial on Wednesday included CBS colleagues Katie Couric, Andy Rooney and Bob Schieffer, as well as former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. Cronkite’s career spanned much of the 20th century, as well as the first decade of the 21st. The native of St. Joseph, Missouri, broke in as a newspaper journalist while in college, switched over to radio announcing in 1935, joined the United Press wire service by the end of the decade, and jumped to CBS and its nascent television news division in 1950.

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He also made his mark as an Internet contributor in his later years with a handful of columns for the Huffington Post. Cronkite covered World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, the Nuremberg trials, several presidential elections, moon landings, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon’s administration. At times he even made news himself. A 1977 question to then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat about Sadat’s intent to go to Israel — at the time considered a nonstarter because of the lack of a treaty between the two countries — received a surprising “yes” from the Egyptian leader. Soon after, Sadat traveled to Jerusalem, a trip that eventually led to the Camp David Accords, which included a peace deal between Israel and Egypt. At his height of influence as CBS anchorman, Cronkite’s judgment was believed so important it could affect even presidents. In early 1968, after the Tet Offensive, Cronkite traveled to Vietnam and gave a critical editorial calling the Vietnam War “mired in stalemate.” Noting Cronkite’s commentary, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Less than two months later, Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. Cronkite’s own name was often floated as a presidential possibility — wishful thinking on the part of some pundits, because Cronkite had little desire to enter politics once he’d become a successful anchorman. He became, however, an outspoken critic of what he saw as flaws in government and broadcast journalism. He disliked the current war in Iraq, telling Esquire magazine, “Indeed, we are in another Vietnam. Almost play by play. It’s a terrible mistake that we’re in Iraq, and it’s a terrible mistake to insist on staying there.”

And he disliked the corporatization of news. “The nation whose population depends on the explosively compressed headline service of television news can expect to be exploited by the demagogues and dictators who prey upon the semi-informed,” he wrote in his 1996 memoir, “A Reporter’s Life.”