CBS News Salutes Cronkite

The legendary on-air career of Walter Cronkite, who this weekend celebrates the 50th anniversary of his first broadcast from the CBS News anchor chair, began less auspiciously than one might expect.

On that Sunday, July 15, 1950 broadcast, he mispronounced his name.

"Yeah, I certainly did," the 83-year-old Cronkite told CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell.

"I was very worried that this director might goof up. I warned him against it. And I'm so worried that he did his job and everything was absolutely perfect. And did the final commercial, said I'll be back in a moment," Cronkite recalled. "I came back and said, 'So this is Walter Clunk--Walter Cronkite, saying good lu--good night, good night!'"

The slip-up was everything but a sign of things to come. Eventually, both his greeting ("Good Evening, this is the CBS Evening News") and his name became woven into the fabric of American television journalism.

"Walter Cronkite was known as 'the most trusted man in America,' and it was a title he earned," said Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News. "His name is synonymous with quality, integrity and fairness."

Cronkite, a veteran war reporter when he was hired by CBS News in the summer of 1950, believes that the time was ripe for his kind of newsman.

"We could concentrate on trying to inform. There was no effort to entertain," Cronkite said. "We could do it just as straight-out news people trying to get across to the public in the limited amount of time we had all the important news of the day."

I think it worked," he said.

Cronkite joined CBS News after working as a reporter for The Houston Post and United Press. He anchored the network's political convention and election coverage from 1952 to 1980. Cronkite served as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News for 19 years, beginning on April 16, 1962, when it was a 15-minute broadcast.

On Sept. 2, 1963, the program debuted as network television's first half-hour weeknight news broadcast, with Cronkite's headline-making interview with President John F. Kennedy.

Through the years, Cronkite was on the front lines of some of the most important stories of the 20th century.

"The thing I think I can remember with the greatest pleasure was the chance to pioneer the coverage on television of political conventions and elections," Cronkite recalled. "At that time it was a real civics lesson. The conventions were not sanitized for television at all."

Audiences also remember his passionate coverage of the space program, a passion Cronkite says came from his awe of the significance of the accomplishments he witnessed, such as man landing on the moon.

"(That) man, having left his own environment, could go to a distant orb, could go to the moon, was quite clearly a breakthrough that was going to make an immense difference to th future of mankind," he said.

And of course, there was November 22, 1963, when Cronkite, clearly struggling to keep his own emotions in check, told a stunned world that "President John F. Kennedy has been killed in Dallas."

After stepping down from CBS Evening News on March 6, 1981, Cronkite became a special correspondent for the network.

He hosted several acclaimed CBS News documentaries, including the Emmy Award-winning "Children of Apartheid" and the science magazine series "Walter Cronkite's Universe." In 1985, Cronkite was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.

"I give him the tip of the Stetson and a big salute for staying power," said CBS News Anchor Dan Rather. "To have staying power and to have it with excellence and quality is a tremendous monument to Walter Cronkite."

An avid sailor, Cronkite has written several books on the topic: South by Southeast (Oxmoor House, 1983), North by Northeast (Oxmoor House, 1986) and Westwind (Oxmoor House, 1990).

Cronkite's first book, Eye on the World (Cowles, 1971), is an edited compendium of CBS News' reporting on the major trends and stories of 1970, for which he provided analysis and commentary.

He continues to host many public affairs and cultural programs for PBS and for syndication. In 1993, he co-founded The Cronkite Ward Co., which has produced award-winning documentary hours for The Discovery Channel, PBS and other networks.

In 1996, Cronkite's memoirs, Cronkite Remembers, were broadcast as a two-hour CBS special in May and then as an eight-hour series on The Discovery Channel. That year, Cronkite completed his autobiography, A Reporter's Life, published by Knopf.

He was born in St. Joseph, Miss., on Nov. 4, 1916. Cronkite and his wife of 60 years, Betsy, live in New York City.

CBS News is paying tribute to Cronkite's 50 years at CBS this weekend with reports on his legendary career, beginning with a CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather interview of Cronkite on Friday. The tribute continues Sunday and Monday with looks back at Cronkite's remarkable famous career.

"More Americans learned of the cataclysmic events of the second half of the 20th century—from the assassination of President Kennedy to the Vietnam War, to Watergate to a man landing on the moon—from Walter than from any other news source," Heyward said. "His efforts helped build and shape CBS News as a top-notch broadcast journalism operation, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to him."