"Face the Nation" on Walter Cronkite

Harry Smith spoke with John Glenn, Historian Douglas Brinkley, and Bob Schieffer about the legacy of "America's anchor" Walter Cronkite.
CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer said his former colleague and boss Walter Cronkite earned the trust of America "because he was a reporter."

"Everybody knew that Walter didn't get that suntan from the studio lights," Schieffer said. "He got it from being out on the scene of story after story after story.

"That's why you like to work for Walter. Walter knew that the news didn't come in over the wire service machine - [he knew] that some reporter had to go out there, somebody had to climb up to the top of the city hall steeple to see how tall it was.... Walter knew how hard it was to get news because he had been there."

Schieffer admitted that as a young reporter a nod from Cronkite meant a lot.

"When you work for Walter, he knew and you knew that he appreciated what you had done to get the story. That's why when Walter said, 'You done pretty good on that one, son,' that's why it meant so much to you," he told guest moderator Harry Smith on "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Also on the show, former astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn admitted that Cronkite was a most real and important friend to the space program.

"[I]t was something for him he saw as sort of a big thing for this country and a big step for the whole world. He was interested in it," Glenn said.

Glenn said Cronkite also had a lighter side.

"[H]e was pretty much to me off the air the same as he was on the air. He was just a good guy to be around and a lot of jokes. A lot of fun. In addition to it, there were a lot of pranks down around the Cape in some of the early days. Walter was right in the middle of some of them," Glenn said.

Presidential historian Doug Brinkley said that Cronkite's unique mix of being an unbiased reporter and an affected American made him a legend.

"By the time Cronkite is in his prime by the early '60s, the Kennedy years, he is sort of an advocate of space, NASA and the armed forces. Yet he also is a product of Murrow's dissent that a reporter has to tell the truth no matter what. That combination I think made him absolutely irreplaceable in the 1960s and '70s," Brinkley said.

Schieffer noted that Cronkite's famed visit to Vietnam was a true example of how trusted his former boss was.

"Walter seldom if ever expressed his opinion or took a stand on anything. So when he came back from Vietnam and said 'This is going nowhere,' basically what he said is 'We've got to find a way to get out of here, this is not working,' when he said that it really meant something because Walter so seldom ever took a stand on something like that," Schieffer said.

"He stuck with the facts," Glenn chimed in. "I think that's the reason he came to be trusted so much, was because people knew that when they heard from Walter Cronkite, why, it was true. He looked into the background of it. It wasn't just his opinion. He was giving the facts, whatever the situation was."