Remembering Walter Cronkite

There are thousands of voices delivering the news today, but there once was a time, not long ago, when one voice mattered most:

"Good evening from CBS News Control Center in New York.
This is Walter Cronkite reporting."

"There is no way you can analyze it. You can't send it out to 'CSI' and say, 'Alright, look at the DNA of Walter Cronkite and how do we replace that or replicate it?'" newsman Ted Koppel said of Cronkite's unique journalistic abilities.

"There was a time when someone, one person could say, 'That's the way it is.' And we all trusted it was true," said Diane Sawyer, co-anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Primetime Live."

Of Cronkite's reports, Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News" said, "It gave such a global-village feel to things. No one moved. America gathered… this was the gateway to the American evening."

"I'm the son of a newsman, and it's a huge part of my life," said actor/producer George Clooney. "I grew up in a newsroom… I know Walter very well. We did a live television show… It's fun to be around somebody who's actually been part of real historical events. You know, the guy who held our hands through some of the biggest changes in our country's history."

"In Dallas, Texas. The flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, Two o'clock Eastern Standard Time. Some 38 minutes ago."

"We didn't know whether John F. Kennedy had died. Walter was the one who told us," ABC's Barbara Walters said of Cronkite's memorable live report of President John F. Kennedy's death on Nov. 22, 1963.

"There is something that is so quintessentially American about Walter Cronkite… his honesty and candor in difficult times," said Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News."

President Bill Clinton said, "to me, he represents the best of the First Amendment. The best of the freedom of the press."

Clinton on Cronkite

"He understood how to translate things to the television medium and make them work," said Charlie Gibson, anchor of ABC "World News."

Dan Rather, former anchor of the "CBS Evening News," said "Walter Cronkite didn't just play a reporter on TV. He was a reporter."

"It's amazing to see the man. For me he's such an icon. Meeting him was the best thing. He almost feels like an uncle to me," said actor/comedian Robin Williams. "At that point in American history, he was the voice - a voice that people believed and trusted."

Sawyer said, "I think he is the most wonderful combination of a certain steel of integrity, but absolute humanity."

Drummer Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead invited Cronkite to a performance. "He said, 'I love your music.' He was a freedom fighter and he was an honest, truthful guy that used his power while he was here on earth well. He was for the good."

"I think I was a workaholic from the very beginning," Walter Cronkite said in an interview. "It just seemed to me I always had two or three jobs going at the same time, but it was the newspaper work for me. I just fell in love with the darned business… I went off to war… shortly after Pearl Harbor. I was 25 at the time."

Cronkite: In His Own Words

"I don't know of another reporter who has a better record of covering combat than Walter did in World War II. He got where the work was. He got where the fighting was," Dan Rather said.

"He was in London as a journalist then he started flying bombing missions," Robin Williams explained. "It's a tough gig, you know, given the fact that, you know they're not gonna just say, 'Look, it's a journalist. We cannot shoot at that plane!' And he would come back and give these reports about, you know, on the mission."

"It was my first time on camera," Cronkite explained of covering the occupation of North Africa by American troops. "I never took any elocution lessons, no diction lessons. I might have been a pretty decent broadcaster if I had. What ya see I'm afraid, is what ya get…"

Cronkite went on to explain, "In 1950, I got a call from Ed Murrow, who wanted me to come to work at CBS. Now that I had a family [and] a mortgage, I thought well, why not?"

"I lived in Chicago in 1952. I watched Walter cover the Democratic and Republican conventions in that year and I was riveted," said Charlie Gibson.

"I didn't watch much television at all. But something I did watch was 'The 20th Century' with Walter Cronkite," Robin William remembered fondly, imitating the newsman's voice. "It's a great voice. Coming from a great man, that's a great thing."

Special report: Walter Cronkite

Cronkite was assigned to take over the "CBS Evening News" in the spring of 1962. Of those early days, "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt said, "We were making it up as we went along. And out of it came today's television."

"You walk into that studio, you were walking into his office… And he was the managing editor. And he was the managing editor," said "60 Minutes" Correspondent Emeritus Mike Wallace.

According to "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt, who was the executive producer of the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite," "[Cronkite] could pick up the phone and get Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kennedy on the phone."

"I remember the first time CBS had a half-hour broadcast was in 1963," said Charlie Gibson. "And it was Walter Cronkite, to commemorate that broadcast, interviewing the president, Jack Kennedy… A couple of months later when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember thinking, 'Isn't that ironic, just a couple of months ago he was interviewing the president and now he's reporting on his death."

"I was standing, actually, at the United Press machine at the moment that the bulletin came that shots rang out while the President's motorcade drove through the streets of Dallas… I said, 'Let's get on the air. Let's get on the air,'" Cronkite recalled in an interview.

"I was suffering the same thing the people were - This can't happen, my God. And when you finally had to say, 'It's official, the President is dead.' Pretty tough words in a situation like that. They were hard to come by."

"From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard time. Two o'clock Eastern Standard time. Some 38 minutes ago. Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas. But we do not know… to where he has proceeded. Presumably he will be taking the Oath of Office shortly, and become the 36th President of the United States."

On Cronkite's JFK Coverage

Of that report, Robin Williams remembered, "…he had to take a moment, take off his glasses. When that happens, you realize a whole nation can't speak."

"He suffered and he pulled it right back," noted Sawyer. "It was simultaneously, 'Oh, heaven, what do we do now?' And 'We'll go on.'"

"Walter Cronkite was the person who connected us all on that day," said Barbara Walters.

"It was a very frightened country," Don Hewitt recalled. "Walter became, not only everybody's anchorman, he was everybody's minister, priest and rabbi. He calmed America down."

"And I think the day President Kennedy died was the day that television news as we now know it was born, for all intents and purposes," Dan Rather said. "And Walter Cronkite was a very important part of making it so."

"The finality of it overwhelmed me," Cronkite admitted. "Up 'til then, there was a nightmare quality as developments piled one on the other. This said it's all true. It had happened. It was over. It was done. We're about to bury it. Bury something of our past along with that man."

And of seeing a young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket, Cronkite choked up during an interview, as he wiped tears from his eyes. It was a "tough time… anchormen shouldn't cry."

"The Beatles were on American television for the first time not as history seems to have it recorded on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' but on the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." "If there's some credit in history for that, I want it," Walter Cronkite said in a interview.

The Beatles' First Time On American TV

"On Nov. 22, 1963, the "CBS Morning News" aired a piece about the Beatles," Katie Couric explained. "Because President Kennedy died, it never made air that night. Later in December, Walter decided to run the piece because he thought this was the time when Americans needed to be uplifted."

"And my gosh, we weren't off the air one minute that I had a phone call from Ed Sullivan, who I knew quite well," said Cronkite. "And Ed said, 'Walter, Walter, tell me about those kids. Tell me about those kids!' What kids, Ed? 'Those kids you just had on the air. The - the what do you call 'em, the Bugs, the Beatles or something?'"

Cronkite said he was invited backstage for that first appearance, and he was able to take along his two teenage daughters.

"The Beatles were everything," said daughter Kathy Cronkite. "They were everything for girls my age at that time and to be able to even just see them perform, much less meet them, was outrageous."

"I don't think up to that time they really cared very much what their father did, but I suddenly was a hero in their eyes," Cronkite said.

Perspective On Cronkite

And then, as Don Hewitt explained, there was Frank Sinatra.

"I went into Sinatra's office and he said, 'What do you want?' I said 'I wanna do a documentary on you. I'm gonna ask you to sit in a seat opposite Walter Cronkite. That's the same seat Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and Jack Kennedy sat in. If you don't think you're big enough to sit in that seat, I wouldn't do it if I were you," Hewitt explained. "And he looked at me and he said, 'I'm recording tomorrow night at United. You wanna start then?'"

Cronkite said Sinatra became quite a close friend, despite an interview that he granted to the newsman.

"In the middle of the interview, I said, 'Tell me Frank, what about these allegations of mafia connections.' Wham. He got up out of the seat, he stormed out and said, 'Hewitt, come with me.'"

Said Hewitt, "He said, 'You know, I ought to kill you.' And I said, 'You know, with anyone else that's a figure of speech. With you… you probably mean it.' And he said, 'I mean it.' And I said, 'Well, if I had a choice, I'd rather you didn't.' And I left and Cronkite stayed and finished the interview."

"What's the reaction of a mother of a highly popular entertainer when she reads these stories about your mobster associations, that sort of stuff in the papers?" Cronkite asked Sinatra.

"Well, there's no degree of truth to begin with. And we just can't continue to try to fight something that has no basis. Because it… you just tire after a while," the singer replied.

"And we got by with it that way to my satisfaction and apparently to his. Although he wasn't happy about it," Cronkite recalled.

Of Cronkite's coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, director Spike Lee said, "Walter was one of the few people in power positions that got behind that and pushed the story. In Birmingham, Ala., 1963, 16th Street Baptist Church was blown up by Klan members. Four little girls are murdered. The fact that it was four little girls, the fact that it took place in a church on a Sunday. That really shook people up."

"At that moment that that bomb went off, America understood the real nature of the hate that was preventing integration, particularly in the South, but also throughout America. This was the awakening," Cronkite said in Lee's 1997 documentary, "4 Little Girls."

Then there was the Vietnam War.

"In the early stages of our involvement in Vietnam, basically, I felt that our course was right," said Cronkite in a interview. "My concern grew with the concern of the American people. And the American people were confused; they were confounded by what was going on, even as I was. So I thought why not go out there and do a first-person story on what I found out. What I felt about that war."

"Walter was a product, very much, of World War II and that war - the last good war, as they called it," said Morley Safer. "And for Walter to come 'round to a view that America was fighting a wrong war took a bit of real strong stuff."

Cronkite explained, "We flew out of Hue in a helicopter loaded with body bags and dead Marines. And as I got back and heard the leadership say, 'Now we've got the Vietcong on the run - 150,000, 200,000 more men and we're really gonna finish them off.' I couldn't help but think - tell that to the Marines. Tell it to those guys in that chopper."

Cronkite on Vietnam

"At the conclusion of the CBS documentary, 'Report from Vietnam,' simply told people what I thought about the state of the war in Vietnam, and it was that we better get out of it," Cronkite said.

"We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then would be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could. This is Walter Cronkite. Good night."

Said President Bill Clinton, "And I think it pained him to have to say what he thought about Vietnam, but he also understood how isolating the White House can be and how people can get to the point where they don't hear discordant voices. And he thought he knew what the truth was. And he thought he had an obligation to tell it."

"He changed the history of the war overnight," George Clooney said, "because it was for that time period, in general, a young person's protest. And it became everyone else's wrong war at that point."

Clooney Reflects on Cronkite and Vietnam

"Lyndon Johnson was sitting at a television set that night and said, 'If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost the American people," said Don Hewitt.

"It is...remarkable that one anchorman, one reporter, one journalist ... could really affect the political fate of the country," said "60 Minutes" Correspondent Morley Safer. "But they didn't call Walter 'The most trusted man in America' for nothing."

"In those 20 years while he was on the air, occurred probably some of the most, you know incredible things, I would have to say in our lifetime. He was there and reporting it," said Robin Williams.

"America ate to Walter Cronkite, they sat on the couch to Walter Cronkite and Walter gave it to them in as comfortable a way as you could pass on some of that bad news that he was passing on," said Ted Koppel.

"He learned long ago, I think, a very important lesson that some of us have yet to learn," added Brian Williams. "If you're gonna work as hard as he did and shoulder the responsibility that he did, you've got to play in equal amounts."

Of why she thinks America trusted Cronkite, Diana Sawyer said, "You knew he had a real life, you knew he had that family. The good, muscular newsman in him always had the ballast of family, too."

"I don't think there was ever a more difficult parental period in our history as there was for us who had teenage children in the 1960s," Cronkite explained in an interview. "I'll tell ya how out of touch I was. I was way out of touch.

"Our daughter called and said, 'Some of us have been invited to go to a concert.' Her mother and I just jumped to a conclusion that this was something probably with the New York Philharmonic. My gosh, the next thing we know, coming on television is this wild bunch in the muck and the mud up at Woodstock with the dope running rampant," he recalled.

"My father, of course, was reporting the Woodstock Festival and was just going, 'Oh, my God,'" Kathy Cronkite remembers of her father's reaction.

"Woodstock? Concert!," Cronkite laughs as he retold the story. "Could that be where Kathy is? We got the first phone call from her [saying] 'I'm alright. I'm alright.'"

Cronkite called America's conquest of space "one of the great stories of the 20th century."

Cronkite and the Space Program

"He was the eyes that the country got to watch that through, as well, 'cause he was like a kid watching those. He couldn't believe it," said George Clooney.

Not only did Cronkite believe in the program, Mike Wallace said he knew all of the astronauts and cared about them.

When America's first three Apollo astronauts - Gus Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chafee - were trapped and killed by a flash fire that swept Saturn 5 during a launch pad test at Cape Kennedy, Cronkite once again reassured the country.

"This is a time for great sadness, national sadness, and certainly the personal sadness of the people in the space program. But it's also a time for courage. And if that sounds trite, I'll change the words to guts," he told viewers.

"I think we forget that the space program wasn't just about exploration, it was about phenomenal bravery in the face of complete unknown," said Diane Sawyer. "We were looking at nightmare scenarios, one after the other. The possibility that they would head to the Moon and not be able to come back. It was scary. And [Cronkite] so believed in it, and so saw it as what mankind had to do. That it really did help make us stronger."

Cronkite called Apollo 11 "the beginning of man's greatest adventure" and said there'd never be anything like it. He admitted the moon landing presented him with an "interesting emotional challenge."

"I had just as much time to prepare for that landing as the space program did," he said. "I'd watched it from the beginning… And yet, when that vehicle landed on the Moon, I was speechless. I really couldn't say a thing."

Epic Journey: Cronkite Recounts Apollo 11's 1969 Journey to the Moon and Back

Ted Koppel said, "When Walter rejoiced over man landing on the Moon, America rejoiced with him. I hope they put his ashes in an urn and stick it on one of those space probes when they go up. I think Walter would feel good just knowing that."

"Walter Cronkite's embrace of that program gave people American heroes at a time when they really needed them," Katie Couric said.

"There are stories that probably do some good in pushing people in the right direction," Cronkite explained in an interview about his role in brokering peace in the Mideast.

"Prime Minister Begin of Israel and President Sadat of Egypt have been bitter enemies, as all the Arab nations are with Israel. We got President Sadat on the television by satellite… And the first thing he always said to me when we talked was, 'Well, hello Walter. How's Barbara?'" Cronkite said imitating Sadat.

"And I didn't care how Barbara was, to tell you the truth, and we got over that quite quickly. And then I asked him, I said, 'There's talk about your going to Jerusalem," he said.

Said Barbara Walters, "It was Walter who said to both Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, 'Why don't you get together in Jerusalem.' And to everybody's amazement, Anwar Sadat said, 'Yes!'"

"And we got him on the television and I reported what Sadat had said, and Begin kinda looked back and he said, 'He said that?' And I said, 'Yes. He said, 'Well, tell 'em he can come. Tell 'em he can come," Cronkite recalled.

It's not that surprising that Cronkite would know heads of state or politicians, but rock musicians?

"Certainly Walter had no idea that he was gonna fall in with the Grateful Dead," said drummer Mickey Hart. "I invited him to a Grateful Dead show... and it was Walter Cronkite at the soundboard at Madison Square Garden. He came back at halftime and he said, 'I was thinking of a thousand reasons to leave early. But I can't think of one now! You guys really get to somebody. I love your music.'"

"And that's how it all began," said Hart. "I feel very fortunate to be his friend. He's seen it all."

"He was on the air at the time Lyndon Johnson passed away. And Tom Johnson, who was Lyndon Johnson's press secretary at the time, called Cronkite while he was on the air. And he took the call during a commercial," Charlie Gibson explained. "But he didn't have all the facts by the time he was back on the air, and so when the camera came back up, he said, 'Wait a minute. Hold on. I'm learning something here,' and stayed on the phone talking to Tom Johnson until he had the who, what, why, where, when. And then told the American public that Lyndon Johnson passed away.

"Now, in all this day, when it has to be perfect, and it has to be right and you can't make a mistake on the air and all of that, Cronkite understood, 'Hey, we're about learning stuff here. We're about finding out things,' said Gibson.

"And so, he just told the American public watching his broadcast that night, to wait a minute while I find out what's going on. And then I'll tell ya."

Of Walter Cronkite's memorable appearance on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the newsman said he was "…tickled to death. The only problem with doing the show for me was I wanted to hang around longer, but unfortunately, we did it in one take."

"He took his job seriously, he took the responsibility seriously. And it's hard to say that he didn't take himself seriously. But you never felt that he was taking himself all that seriously," said Mike Wallace of Cronkite's sense of humor.

"The best time to be with Walter is when he ... was with [his late wife] Betsy, you know, and one cocktail... because then they both get kind of wonderfully salty and funny," Robin Williams joked. "It's the idea of him telling a joke at all... He's really elegant, but really kick-ass funny - if you can say kick on television."

"I remember when he started talking about retiring. I'm going, 'You know, I just can't see [him] with a button-down cardigan in the workshop building, you know decoys or something," said his daughter, Kathy.

"I couldn't shake the feeling when he retired that something more than one man was leaving the chair," said Brian Williams.

On March 6, 1981, Cronkite anchored his last broadcast of "The CBS Evening News."

Cronkite's Last Broadcast

This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News. For me, it's a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we've been meeting like this in the evenings. And I'll miss that.

Dan Rather was next in line for the anchor chair. "Walter Cronkite was a justified legend, nobody replaces Walter Cronkite. I succeeded him, but I didn't replace him," Rather stated.

In an interview at his home in 2007, Cronkite said of retirement, "I stepped down with delight that I was now going to have some free time… to be with my family. I must say that it lasted only a short time. I realized that I had left something behind that I was missing."

"The passing of the years did not diminish, as nearly as I could tell, one iota, his interest in and love for his country and his desire to see the world get better," Bill Clinton said.

Mike Wallace said a lot of people wanted him to run for office, "and he could have."

"President Cronkite. I like the way that sounds," said Hart. "You know, he was that popular. And he would have made a damn good President."

When asked at a San Francisco conference, "Who's the most interesting person you've ever met and why?" Cronkite replied, "Oh, probably my wife."

"When he lost his North Star in life, when we lost Betsy Cronkite, a lot of us worried that there would be a wobble in his trajectory," said Brian Williams. "She was a fantastic, fantastic woman and a great leveling presence in his life. But life went on it turns out, for this man with so many lives."

And a man of so many talents.

"To see him conducting the orchestra ... that was a great thing to see," said Robin Williams. "That was another skill he had [that] I didn't know [about]. If, all of a sudden, he put on skates at that moment, I'd go, 'OK, a double axel.' [In Cronkite's voice:] 'I think I can do it. It seems appropriate.'"

"His legacy," George Clooney said, "will be one of the great legacies of, you know, great Americans. It sounds overstated. But it isn't. He's that important to us - not just to generations before him, but to generations coming up."

"Walter got early on that this job is part hand holding, so that all of us in this line of work, who on days like 9/11 have been forced into any kind of explanatory roll, Walter is with you whether you see him in the studio or not," Brian Williams explained.

"America kind of loved him, America had a love affair with Walter Cronkite," said Don Hewitt.

"He brought us all those stories large and small which would come to define the 20th Century," said President Barack Obama. "That's why we love Walter, because in an era before blogs and e-mail, cell phones and cable, he was the news. Walter invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down."

Obama Remembers Cronkite

Andy Rooney said it's simple as to why America loves Cronkite. "You know why? Because he was the best newsman. He was just dedicated to news. He really cared about what the news was and he thought it was important to tell it to the American people."

"And Walter's early lessons would be well kept in mind by all of us who have followed him," said Charlie Gibson. "And that is to keep it on the news, tell people what happened that day, keep it short, keep it direct and keep it accurate."

"A man of integrity at a time when we needed it. At a time when we still need it. A man, a legacy of someone who believes in the First Amendment as being one of the prime directives of democracy, but also of civilization. The idea of speaking out, and speaking directly," said Robin Williams.

"If someone has integrity, to me, that is the finest attribute they can have," said Katie Couric. "That means honor at a time when so many people are dishonorable… and I think Walter Cronkite was, and will always be, the personification of those qualities."

"You miss these people who stand above the horizon a little bit and remind you where to look," said Diana Sawyer. "You miss people who seem to stand for… not just something… but stand for us."

"There were others and they were very good, but they were not Walter," said Barbara Walters. "No one has that voice today. No one has that power today, either in print or in radio or television and maybe that's not the worst thing."

"That's probably good that there will never be a most trusted man in America again. Because if we're not lucky enough to get Walter Cronkite… then we might be in a lot of trouble, if they were really trusted," said George Clooney.

"It just so happens that everybody's trust was put in the right place. That's the lucky part of all this," said Mickey Hart.

"We were proud to work with him… for him. We loved him," said Mike Wallace.

"What I miss about Walter… is that at 2:30, 3:30 in the morning [he'd say] 'Let's have another drink. Let's find another friendly saloon,'" recalled Morley Safer. "No, not the more do-er, First Amendment man, it was that wonderful, fun loving, life loving, kid really."

"You will never again have a day when one man or one woman says, 'Alright, listen up America. I'm gonna tell you what happened. And at the end I'm gonna say, and that's the way it was. And you're gonna believe me,'" said Ted Koppel.

"I've been delighted that I've been able to be a journalist all my life," Cronkite said. "From the time I was a boy in high school until today…"

He later said, "I think it all worked out pretty well."

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