MONDAY, APRIL 16, 1962: On this day, 50 years ago, Walter Cronkite took the anchor chair at CBS News from Douglas Edwards. Even before he took the most important seat in American news media, Cronkite was the first TV journalist to be called an “anchor” (when he headed CBS coverage of a political convention in 1952). In less than a year in the nightly news anchor’s chair, Cronkite and CBS took Americans from 15 minutes of news headlines to our first half-hour-length nightly news report on Sept. 2, 1963. Even that length wasn’t enough time to cover what we needed to know each day, Cronkite said later.
As our leading voice on news, Cronkite saw us through gee-whiz scientific innovations, President Kennedy’s assassination, the war in Vietnam, the first landing on the moon, Watergate and so much more. His rare moments of personal emotion and opinion became historical landmarks—so different than the current world of TV news where fiery personal viewpoints are encouraged.
Cronkite’s last day in the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News was on March 6, 1981, when Dan Rather took the chair. For that special day, Charles Osgood prepared a brief retrospective, which you can see below. Some of the footage is grainy—or even downright snowy—but can you recall what our little black-and-white TV screens looked like when Cronkite first took the air? The video is worth watching both because of Osgood’s eloquent overview and because we hear that Voice, Cronkite’s voice. Click the video screen below to watch the clip. (If you don’t see a screen, try reloading this story on your browser.)
WALTER CRONKITE REFLECTS LATER ON HIS MILESTONE IN VIETNAM
On Feb. 27, 1968, Cronkite completed a lengthy report on America’s current war, which he had produced himself while traveling through parts of Vietnam. He stunned the nation by including a brief editorial criticizing the escalation of U.S. forces. (A clip of the original editorial is in the video, above.) In favor of diplomatic negotiations, Cronkite rejected President Lyndon B. Johnson’s optimism for further military deployment to end the standoff between U.S. and Viet Cong forces. In a 1996 interview, shown below, Cronkite remembers the effect his editorial had on President Johnson, who reportedly have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
Cronkite died in 2009 at age 92. Far from an answer in triva games, the name Walter Cronkite continues to open new perspectives on news media. This week, on April 19, 2012, the University of Texas at Austin, which Cronkite attended in the 1930s, will unveil a major art installation reflecting on his legacy by artist Ben Rubin. What’s the name of this new multimedia artwork? Of course, it’s simply …
“And That’s the Way It Is.”
Read the two other related stories, including our remembrance of Mike Wallace’s tough take on religion and philosophy throughout his television career. And, from Walt Whitman, a remembrance of his famous When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.