Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite — 1916-2009

Walter Cronkite has died.

From 1962 to 1981, Mr. Cronkite was a nightly presence in American homes and always a reassuring one, guiding viewers through national triumphs and tragedies alike, from moonwalks to war, in an era when network news was central to many people’s lives.

He became something of a national institution, with an unflappable delivery, a distinctively avuncular voice and a daily benediction: “And that’s the way it is.” He was Uncle Walter to many: respected, liked and listened to. With his trimmed mustache and calm manner, he even bore a resemblance to another trusted American fixture, another Walter — Walt Disney.

Along with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, Mr. Cronkite was among the first celebrity anchormen. In 1995, 14 years after he retired from the “CBS Evening News,” a TV Guide poll ranked him No. 1 in seven of eight categories for measuring television journalists. (He professed incomprehension that Maria Shriver beat him out in the eighth category, attractiveness.) He was so widely known that in Sweden anchormen were once called Cronkiters.

Yet he was a reluctant star. He was genuinely perplexed when people rushed to see him rather than the politicians he was covering, and even more astonished by the repeated suggestions that he run for office himself. He saw himself as an old-fashioned newsman — his title was managing editor of the “CBS Evening News” — and so did his audience.

One of my favorite Cronkite moments:

For those of you too young to remember him when he was on the air, he told us about everything from Vietnam to the Kennedy assassination, to the arrival of the Beatles and the landing on the moon. Before that, he reported from London and Europe during World War II as well the battles in Little Rock and Selma. Through it all he was calm, quiet, and, despite the grumblings of both the left and the right, about as objective as you could get in the business of broadcast journalism. And that’s the way it was.