I imagine that no one would have been more astonished and more delighted than Walter Cronkite at the vast amount of ink and airtime occasioned by his death last Friday. That a generation later he should share a global stage with the moon landing anniversary would have seemed only the natural order of things.
Three decades after he reluctantly vacated the anchor seat at CBS News, no one has come to fill his place in American hearts and minds as the prototype newsman, the most trusted man in America.
Once asked to run for office, he said, smilingly, that he could not step down.
His image was the impartial purveyor of facts, without bias or opinion. Actually, some of his most dramatic moments involved departures from objectivity. The spontaneous "Oh boy!" as he watched the moon landing; the catch in his throat when he announced that President Kennedy had died. The eruption, "I think we've got a bunch of thugs here," from the anchor booth at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago when he saw Dan Rather being roughed up by security guards. And, famously, his 1968 visit to Vietnam and on-camera conclusion that the war was unwinnable and should be ended.
President Johnson told his aide Bill Moyers, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
Cronkite also drew on his reservoir of trust when it came to reporting the Watergate scandal. In October 1972, about a month before the election, Cronkite noted to me, as designated Watergate correspondent, that CBS wasn't giving enough attention to the deepening investigation.
"This has been mainly a newspaper story," he said. "It's time to make it a television story."
We put together two lengthy packages summarizing all that was known about the scandal.
Ben Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post, later said that Cronkite and CBS had turned a newspaper story into a national story.
No one commanded more confidence than this plainspoken newsman from the Midwest. And, given the trend toward tabloid journalism, we are not likely to soon see another "Uncle Walter."