Cronkite, who defined the role of anchor, dies at 92

The Associated PressJuly 18, 2009 

  • Closing remarks on Nov. 25, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy's funeral: "It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant.

    "But today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can lead only to violent deeds?

    "This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world's doubts must be put to rest.

    "Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed.

    "If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain."

    "That's the way it is, Monday Nov. 25, 1963. This is Walter Cronkite, good night."

    Editorial on the Vietnam War, February 1968: "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 seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation. And for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the north, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of 100 or 200 or 300,000 more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to cosmic disaster.

    "To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. ... It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did they best they could."

    Still heard on the recorded introduction to the nightly newscast: "This is the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."

  • Closing remarks on Nov. 25, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy's funeral: "It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant.

    "But today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can lead only to violent deeds?

    "This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world's doubts must be put to rest.

    "Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed.

    "If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain.

    "That's the way it is, Monday Nov. 25, 1963. This is Walter Cronkite, good night."

    Editorial on the Vietnam War, February 1968: "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 seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation. And for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the north, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of 100 or 200 or 300,000 more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to cosmic disaster.

    "To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. ... It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did they best they could."

    Still heard on the recorded introduction to the nightly newscast: "This is the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."

— Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the networks' golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called "the most trusted man in America," died Friday. He was 92.

Cronkite's longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler, said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. at his Manhattan home surrounded by family. She said the cause of death was cerebral vascular disease.

Adler said, "I have to go now" before breaking down into what sounded like a sob. She said she had no further comment.

Cronkite was the face of the "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to racial and anti-war riots, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.

It was Cronkite who read the bulletins coming from Dallas when Kennedy was shot Nov. 22, 1963, interrupting a live CBS-TV broadcast of the soap opera "As the World Turns."

Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title "anchorman" was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages. (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.)

"He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator," CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.

CBS has scheduled a prime-time special, "That's the Way it Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite," for 7 p.m. Sunday.

His 1968 editorial declaring the United States was "mired in stalemate" in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in U.S. opinion of the war. He also helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

He followed the 1960s space race with open fascination, anchoring marathon broadcasts of major flights from the first suborbital shot to the first moon landing, exclaiming, "Look at those pictures, wow!" as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon's surface in 1969. In 1998, for CNN, he went back to Cape Canaveral to cover John Glenn's return to space after 36 years.

"It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite," CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement. "More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments."

A former wire service reporter and war correspondent, he valued accuracy, objectivity and understated compassion. He expressed liberal views in more recent writings but said he had always aimed to be fair and professional in his judgments on the air.

Off camera, his stamina and admittedly demanding ways brought him the nickname "Old Ironpants." But to viewers, he was "Uncle Walter," with his jowls and grainy baritone, his warm, direct expression and his trim mustache.

When he summed up the news each evening by stating, "And THAT's the way it is," millions agreed. His reputation survived accusations of bias by Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, and being labeled a "pinko" in the tirades of a fictional icon, Archie Bunker of CBS's "All in the Family."

Two polls pronounced Cronkite the "most trusted man in America": a 1972 "trust index" survey in which he finished No. 1, about 15 points higher than leading politicians, and a 1974 survey in which people chose him as the most trusted television newscaster.

Like fellow Midwesterner Johnny Carson, Cronkite seemed to embody the nation's mainstream. When he broke down as he announced Kennedy's death, removing his glasses and fighting back tears, the times seemed to break down with him.

And when Cronkite took sides, he helped shape the times. After the 1968 Tet offensive, he visited Vietnam and wrote and narrated a "speculative, personal" report advocating negotiations leading to the withdrawal of American troops.

"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," he said, and concluded, "We are mired in stalemate."

After the broadcast, President Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

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