CBS newsman Walter Cronkite speaks at a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington celebrating the 35th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2004.
By John P. Walsh, November 4, 2016.
The date of November 4, 2016 is American newsman Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday. The CBS News anchor died in 2009 at 92 years old. Employed with CBS News since 1950, Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News from April 1962 to Friday, March 6, 1981. Walter Cronkite lived by professional journalistic standards that appear to be largely out of favor in 2016.
Working in times as exhilarating and turbulent as our own, the mustached newsman came nightly into Americans’ living rooms for decades and became lionized as “the most trusted man in America” in viewer polls. This was not, in Cronkite’s case, any hollow accolade. Because of its accuracy and in-depth reporting, Cronkite’s broadcast was, after 1967 until his retirement, the top-rated news program on television.
Since grade school I have been a news junkie and, along with Cronkite’s broadcast in those same years, I frequently tuned in the nightly newscasts of Howard K. Smith at ABC (originally at CBS) and John Chancellor at NBC. To quote Bob Dylan, this year’s Nobel laureate in Literature: The Times They Are a-Changin’. In 2016 there is an obvious conflation of journalism and partisan American politics at many important media outlets, including Cronkite’s own diverse and venerable CBS News.
What, if any, is or should be the line of advocacy and objectivity in journalism? The formula promulgated in and by the media today appears ill-fitted to Cronkite’s inveterate viewpoint for the journalistic duty to objective reporting. What would centenarian Walter Cronkite say about the spectrum of media bias as practiced in 2016?
In honor of Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday, here are Cronkite quotations germane to the subject:
“I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.”
“Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”
“In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.”
“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free or you are not free.”
American military journalists undergoing combat flight training for bombing missions in 1943. Left to right: Gladwin Hill, William Wade, Robert Post, Walter Cronkite, Homer Bigart, and Paul Manning.
“Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.”
“I think it is absolutely essential in a democracy to have competition in the media, a lot of competition, and we seem to be moving away from that.”
“Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.”
“There’s a little more ego involved in these jobs than people might realize.”
“I am neither a Republican nor Democrat. I am a registered independent because I find that I cast my votes not on the basis of party loyalty but on the issues of the moment and my assessment of the candidates.”
Walter Cronkite anchored the top-rated news broadcast from 1967 to 1981 when the mustached newsman retired. This is the April 4, 1968 title card for the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
“I regret that, in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn’t make them stick. We couldn’t find a way to pass them on to another generation, really.”
“I think that being liberal, in the true sense, is being non-doctrinaire, non-dogmatic, non-committed to a cause but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing; it’s a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal. If they’re not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they’re preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can’t be very good journalists.”
“If that is what makes us liberals, so be it, just as long as in reporting the news we adhere to the first ideals of good journalism – that news reports must be fair, accurate and unbiased.”
“It is not the reporter’s job to be a patriot or to presume to determine where patriotism lies. His job is to relate the facts.”
“It is a seldom proffered argument as to the advantages of a free press that it has a major function in keeping the government itself informed as to what the government is doing.”
Breaking news of the assassination of President Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963. CBS was ten minutes into its live broadcast of the soap opera As the World Turns when a “CBS News Bulletin” bumper slide abruptly broke into the broadcast at 1:40 pm, ten minutes after the assassination took place in Dallas. Over the slide, Cronkite began reading what would be the first of three audio-only bulletins that were filed in the next twenty minutes: “Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”
Walter Cronkite in Vietnam to cover the Tet Offensive, 1968.
Vietnam. Walter Cronkite and a CBS Camera crew use a jeep for a dolly during an interview with the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, during the Battle of Hue City.
Walter Cronkite was so known for his extensive coverage of the U.S. space program. Cronkite gets a taste for moon walking at the reduced gravity simulator at NASA’s Langley Research Center in August, 1968.
Walter Cronkite reporting on television a debate during the 1976 presidential election.
“The ethic of the journalist is to recognize one’s prejudices, biases, and avoid getting them into print.”
“I don’t think people ought to believe only one news medium. They ought to read and they ought to go to opinion journals and all the rest of it. I think it’s terribly important that this be taught in the public schools, because otherwise, we’re gonna get to a situation because of economic pressures and other things where television’s all you’ve got left. And that would be disastrous. We can’t cover the news in a half-hour evening event. That’s ridiculous.”
“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
Walter Cronkite interviews President John F. Kennedy on Labor Day, September 2, 1963 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. (Mrs. Cronkite is in the foreground). Cronkite challenged the president about the “hot war” in Vietnam which already “seems to parallel other famous debacles.” Kennedy, citing 47 personnel killed in Vietnam, agreed that the situation was “very ominous.” Kennedy went on to say that calls to withdraw from Vietnam were “wholly wrong.” They appeared on a special program of the CBS Evening News. They also discussed civil rights, including the August 1963 march on Washington, school integration, and the movement’s potential impact on Kennedy’s re-election chances. Kennedy was asked what he believed were the major issues of the 1964 presidential election campaign. Kennedy replied that they were national security, education, and jobs, The president specifically cited chronic unemployment that he believed was addressed by his tax cut and various job training programs. The Test Ban Treaty Kennedy signed in August 1963 and confirmed a few weeks later in the U.S. Senate was also discussed.
Journalists pose with President Nixon on February 28, 1972, including Walter Cronkite in Shanghai, China.
Cronkite with Nixon in China. (Same image as above.)
Journalists Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, and Bob Schieffer interviewing President Gerald R. Ford in the Blue Room of the White House on April 21, 1975 for CBS News.
Three days before Walter Cronkite’s retirement, 65-year-old Cronkite greets 70-year-old President Ronald Reagan on March 3, 1981 for an interview at the White House. Reagan died in 2004 and Cronkite in 2009.
“Putting it as strongly as I can, the failure to give free airtime for our political campaigns endangers our democracy.”
“We cannot defer this responsibility to posterity. Time will not wait.”
Walter Cronkite congratulates graduates via video on May 11, 2007 during the Sporing convocation at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication (Grady Memorial Auditorium). Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916, Saint Joseph, MO – July 17, 2009, Manhattan, New York City).
“And that’s the way it is…”
Cronkite at NASM in 2004 -This photograph is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted”.
Cronkite in 1943- This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer/employee of the U.S. Government as part of official duties under terms of Title 17 Chapter 1 Section 105 of the US Code.
Cronkite April 4, 1968 news card-fair use-
CBS News Bulletin card- This image consists only of simple geometric shapes or text. It does not meet the threshold of Originality needed for copyright protection, and is therefore in the public domain.
Cronkite in Vietnam, February 20, 1968-Public Domain-NARA via WikiCommons. This image or file is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Cronkite Vietnam interview-Public Domain- Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. U.S. Marine Corps. National Archives at College Park.
Moon Walking-Public Domain-NASA.gov.
Cronkite on television in 1976-This work is from the U.S. News & World Report collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work. See WikiCommons.
Kennedy and Cronkite- Public Domain-NARA record: 4538278)
Nixon in China -Public Domain-NARA via WikiCommons.
Ford and Cronkite-photographer Unknown- Gerald R. Ford White House Photographs (NARA: 1756311.
Reagan and Cronkite-Public Domain- Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, PD as official government record.
“2007 Spring Convocation” by ASU_Cronkite is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 .
Cronkite at helm-Public Domain- Senior Chief Photographer’s Mate Terry A. Cosgrove – http://www.navy.mil/navydata/navy_legacy_hr.asp?id=243
Introduction and captions ©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.