By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A throwback even at his peak

In my latest for the Guardian, I weigh in on the life and long career of CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite.

Yanked from the Democratic National Convention anchor desk in 1964 because of low ratings, number-two to his rivals at NBC for much of the ’60s, Cronkite did not achieve icon status until late in his career and during his long, productive retirement. With his serious, old-fashioned delivery, he was something of a throwback even at his peak, in stark contrast, for instance, to the sardonic persona adopted by his rival David Brinkley.

Yet Cronkite truly earned his reputation for trustworthiness. And his 1977 interviews with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin paved the way for a peace agreement that holds, however tenuously, to this day.

Exactly 40 years ago today, humans first walked on the moon. The boyishly enthusiastic Cronkite was a more visible symbol of the space program than even any of the astronauts. It’s too bad he couldn’t have been with us for such a momentous anniversary.

We’ll miss you, Uncle Walter.

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  1. Howard Owens

    Dan Kennedy wrote: "The boyishly enthusiastic Cronkite was a more visible symbol of the space program than even any of the astronauts."It's interesting to me that Cronkite is held out as the journalists-journalists, the standard by which the fair and objective journalists should be judged (hope I'm not setting up too much of a straw man there, but that's my perception of how many revere him). Yet, often the specifics he's most remembered from — the space program, Kennedy's assassination, his handling of how he reported the war in Vietnam — are the times when he was least objective, least balanced.But I would argue — he was always fair.There's a lesson in that for today's journalists, I think.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Howard: That's actually one of the angles that I considered taking. Kovach and Rosenstiel's "The Elements of Journalism" doesn't even mention objectivity. Independence, fairness, and truth-telling are what matter.

  3. Neil

    I think the most interesting thing about the fortieth annniversary of the moon landing is how little the event has turned out to have mattered. Ask a young person the name of the first man on the moon. At the time it seemed obvious that Neil Armstrong would be as famous as Elvis but he is practically a Trivial Pursuit answer. Walter Cronkite sitting at a desk watching and commenting was more famous than Armstrong.In general I think the era of manned anything is rightly growing to a close. Drone aircraft steered remotely are doing bangup work as it were, in Pakistan. Cheaper, smaller, and of course no risk to the pilot. Ditto submersibles for the deep sea stuff. Space exploration should be likewise left to the robots. Having to design systems to haul the human out there and back again increases complexity and cost enormously, with little or no data gain.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Cronkite had been retired for 17 years when the Lewinsky scandal broke. Do you think he took a lifetime blood oath? Cronkite was indeed a liberal, as we learned during his retirement — not while he was anchoring the "CBS Evening News."

  5. O-FISH-L

    Sadly, Cronkite will be known as the one who has given the "OK" for journalists to come out of the closet as liberals. A "Harvey Milk" of journalists, if you will.In an unscripted moment, shortly after Cronkite's death was announced, 88 year-old TV legend Hugh Downs revealed something that was immediately hushed up (as Downs was hurried off the air).According to Downs, as real journalists gathered around the Vineyard to rightfully question Clinton on the developing intern-for-sex scandal, it was Cronkite who arranged a "boating trip" off-shore so that the media couldn't get near the soon to be impeached President. The other night, CNN quickly cut Hugh Downs mic.The great Republican A. Lincoln wrote Cronkite's legacy 100 years before the latter came on TV. "You can't fool all the people all the time." God Bless the brave soldiers killed in Vietnam as a result of what Cronkite said on TV.

  6. Neil

    God Bless the brave American soldiers who were able to survive Vietnam as a result of what Cronkite said.While we're at it, God bless everybody who agrees with me, and small children with big weepy brown eyes. Especially if they're wrapped in American flags and are maybe a little undernourished. And the firefighters. And puppies! For I am on the side of righteousness.

  7. Peter Porcupine

    DK – thank you for mentioning that objectivity and fairness are not synonyms.(And I still don't get it…Huntley/Brinkley was vastly superior…)

  8. Howard Owens

    We were a Cronkite house when I was growing up, so I don't know … but Huntley/Brinkley have always struck me as having snob appeal, sort of like NPR or News Hour on PBS.

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