The Significance of Walter Cronkite

Walter-cronkite2jpg-215x300 The Most Trusted Man In America.

Amazingly that statement was not Madison Avenue hype. Today if someone said that about Katie Couric or Brian Williams it would be a stretch. A trusted voice in America, sure. THE trusted voice in America? Not so much.

Walter Cronkite really was above the rest and it wasn't by accident. He was what his PR said he was; professional, fair, intelligent, balanced, objective, respected. Trusted.

Like so pitifully few do today, he earned our trust and never let us down.

My family growing up was a CBS family.  Whose wasn't? My Mom watched her soaps on CBS every day and my Dad watched
Walter nightly. He was my Dad's age. He sort of reminded me of my Dad. My five year old self  could imagine curling up in his lap to read "Little Bear."

He defined professionalism, not just for journalists, but for professionals of all stripes. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite interrupting someone the way Bill O'Reilly
does all the time? Or lecture viewers with a smirk the way Keith
Olbermann does? No way. Walter was a straight up guy. He treated you like an adult and believed that the unpolished facts was all you needed to develop your own opinion.

Back in the day, television united us no matter where we lived. The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, watching Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella (the one with Leslie Ann Warren) or the first episode of Roots. I grew up in Kansas. You may have grown up in Manhattan, Virginia, California or South Buffalo, it doesn't matter. If you're of a certain age we have these common memories, the sounds, the sights, the emotions.

One of my earliest memories is watching President Kennedy speak about the missile standoff with Cuba. My parents looked so solemn. I had no idea what was going on just that it was serious. Later it was Kennedy's assassination, the funeral and tears.  Throughout all of it was Walter Cronkite's comforting baritone. His dispassion was not perceived as unfeeling. The message came through as if from a very concerned mentor whose head governed his heart, but you always knew he had a heart. I don't know how he pulled it off. Training? Character? Belief in the principle of objectivity in reporting? He was all that rolled into one with a dose of hard work and compassion for his fellow humans.

Then there was 'And That's The Way It Was' a show for kids or I thought it was. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe Walter thought adults could use a little history lesson to keep from making dumb mistakes in the present. The angle was Walter Cronkite reporting historical events as if they were taking place today. It was hilarious and informative at the same time; Walter interviewed the engineer who designed the pyramids, with just the teeniest bit of a twinkle in his eye.

My kids have no idea what I'm talking about.

"He was a class act and it’s a sad day because he is gone."

~Kara Swisher of Boomtown


  • Natalie

    Although Walter Cronkite was before my time of watching (and understanding) the news, I feel sad at the news of his passing. Not because it’s tragic… he was 92 and more than likely had a full life. It’s sad because his passing marks the end of an era. Many of the news clips I’ve seen documenting key events in our history have Walter Cronkite in them. I think if he would have continued be broadcasting while I was growing up, we would have watched him.
    Reading your entry made me think… could Tim Russert have been the same type of man as Walter Cronkite… respected, honest, and to the point without being rude? Sadly, I didn’t watch Tim either, but I got the same vibe hearing about him as I do hearing about Walter Cronkite.

  • Dear Natalie,
    Your comparing Tim Russert with Walter Cronkite inspired me to re-write this piece and send it in to WBFO-FM, the local NPR station. They liked it so much I recorded it at their studio this morning and it will air tomorrow morning. If you don’t get a chance to hear it the commentary will be posted on their web site as a podcast mp3 file.
    Thanks so much for your insight!
    Dr. Aletta

  • SD

    Dr Aletta and Natalie,
    Great work. I think the comparison to Tim Russert is a great one.

  • Natalie

    Wow, that’s awesome! I’ll have to check out the website tomorrow to hear it. Glad I could help. :)

  • Natalie and SD,
    The commentary was broadcast this morning. They posted it on their website. You can find the link in my side bar just above the Twitter Updates. Tell me what you think!
    Dr. Aletta

  • SD

    Dr Aletta,
    I just listend to the commentary. You sounded great and the way you compared to Tim Russert worked very.

  • Much as I loved Tim Russert, the only thing he had in common with Uncle Walter is that he did his homework — he wasn’t actually a trained journalist. In fact, he was special counsel and chief of staff for a couple of politicians. (There goes that objectivity thing.)
    BTW, it’s Brian Williams. You conflated him with Peter Jennings, whom I miss terribly and to whom Brian does not hold a candle. :-)

  • You have excellent points. And you are absolutely right about Brian Williams (I will correct that) and that he didn’t hold a candle to Peter Jennings. He was great.


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