Cronkite's Centennial: Remembering a great newsman

60 Minutes remembers the legendary CBS News anchor, born 100 years ago. America knew him as anchor; Andy Rooney knew him as friend

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Iconic CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite – once called “the most trusted man in America” -- was born 100 years ago this week. Cronkite died in 2009, leaving a legacy almost as powerful as the stories he covered.

It was Cronkite who told the nation about some of the toughest tragedies of the 20th century – including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

And it was Cronkite who announced our triumphs as well, such as the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, with Cronkite echoing to the nation what astronaut Neil Armstrong had just said through static: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Walter Cronkite in 1958. AP

Cronkite’s reporting career began when he was assigned to cover Europe during World War II as a newspaper reporter. In 1950, Edward R. Murrow recruited him to join CBS News, after which, Cronkite covered national and international events, from the Dawson’s Field hijackings to the Watergate break-in.

Cronkite’s 1968 reporting of the Vietnam War – which he called “a stalemate” -- was so impactful that President Lyndon Johnson reportedly declared: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

During the Iran Hostage crisis, Cronkite began a tally that became the standard way to measure its duration and to pressure a presidential administration, as one by one, 444 days ticked by. 

Walter Cronkite’s final day as anchor of the CBS Evening News, March 6, 1981. CBS Photo Archive

60 Minutes correspondent Andy Rooney, who died in November 2011, was Cronkite’s close friend and paid tribute to the newsman in 2009. As Rooney explained in the clip above, the two met in 1944 while covering the Eighth Air Force in London. 

When CBS News suspended Rooney for three months in 1990, Cronkite supported him, telling Rooney, “I’d like to use whatever residual goodwill I have with the American people by being seen at dinner with you tonight.” 

Andy Rooney, left, and Walter Cronkite in 2002. AP

Cronkite, Rooney said, was a great anchorman because he knew what was important. “Every writer, every newsman or woman who’s worth anything secretly hopes he or she will have some good influence on the world,” Rooney said. “It’s a preposterous wish, of course, but my friend had it. If it can be said about any individual in our business that he’s been a force for good in the world, Walter Cronkite was that person.”

Happy Birthday, Uncle Walter.