A Look Back At Cronkite's Career In Broadcasting

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Dubbed "the most trusted man in America," Walter Cronkite was best known as CBS News anchor - a title he held for 19 years. Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Getty Images

Dubbed "the most trusted man in America," Walter Cronkite was best known as CBS News anchor - a title he held for 19 years.

Getty Images

Cronkite in 1991 testifying before the US Senate Committee about Pentagon rules on media access to the Persian Gulf War. Luke Frazza/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Luke Frazza/Getty Images

There are two types of history to consider when trying to put CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite into context. There's the history of broadcast news — CBS News in particular — and there's history itself, especially the tumultuous 1960s.

Anyone who was alive then, and old enough to care about current events, will remember when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy was shot or that man had landed on the moon — and in the United States, it was most likely that you heard that news from Cronkite.

Cronkite rose to prominence just as TV news itself did. In an age long before the existence of 24-hour cable news networks, broadcast TV was where people turned when news was breaking — and more than anywhere else, they turned to Cronkite.

CBS News has a history that is as simple as it is legendary. On radio, the concept of responsible news reporting was pretty much invented by Edward R. Murrow, who brought his excellence and passions to television in 1951 with See It Now, television's first true newsmagazine.

But when CBS launched a 15-minute nightly newscast in 1948, Murrow didn't want to be bothered with it, so Douglas Edwards took the job. Cronkite took over in 1962, expanded the newscast to 30 minutes, and was in place to cover many of the biggest news story not only of the decade, but of the century.

It was his voice people heard breaking in to deliver the first word of President Kennedy's shooting in Dallas, and for much of the next several days, TV broadcast nonstop, acting like CNN decades before there was a CNN. People watched, breathlessly, as the suspected assassin was hunted and captured — and as he, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot and killed on live TV while being transferred by authorities.

TV broadcast Kennedy's funeral, too, and provided a communal way for the nation to mourn. Even Cronkite, as he delivered the news, got caught up by emotion at one point — removing his glasses, and clearing his throat, in a moment anyone who saw it, surely remembers.

In a decade filled with one major news event after another, two other Cronkite reports stand out, in my memory, above all others. One was his 1968 documentary on Vietnam, when he took a trip, and a camera crew, to assess the status of the war. He came back persuaded that the best option was to withdraw with honor — and the power of his opinion, and his platform, was enough to mark a major political sea change.

Then, in 1969 — 40 years ago — there was Cronkite's coverage of the Apollo 11 flight, and the first manned moon landing in history. When the lunar lander touched down, and astronaut Neil Armstrong descended the ladder in full view of a global live TV audience, Cronkite, once again, let his emotions get the better of him. But this time, those emotions were sheer joy, and he was beaming like a little kid.

Cronkite was forced to retire in 1981, when Dan Rather took over. With or without Connie Chung as co-anchor, Rather held the reins until the appointment of the current anchor, Katie Couric — and that's it, the entire history of the CBS Evening News: four solo anchors in more than 60 years.

It's no disrespect to the others to say that Cronkite was the best of them all — or that, in terms of all of broadcast news history, Murrow stands at the top, then Cronkite, then everyone else.

There will never be another Walter Cronkite — because of the fragmentation of TV audience levels, there can't be — but when Cronkite was the most viewed news anchor, he also was the most trusted, which is a proud legacy for any newsman to leave. And that's the way it is



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