President BARACK OBAMA: For decades, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted voice in America. His rich baritone reached millions of living rooms every night, and in an industry of icons, Walter set the standard by which all others have been judged.
He was there through wars and riots, marches and milestones, calmly telling us what we needed to know, and through it all, he never lost the integrity he gained growing up in the heartland.
SCOTT SIMON, host:
President Obama, of course, giving his reaction to the death of Walter Cronkite. NPR News analyst Juan William joins us now. Good morning, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And, boy, 28 years after he left the biggest spot in television, he still casts an enormous, enormous presence on America life. Help us understand how he defined what we think of as the news.
WILLIAMS: Well, the key here, Scott, is trust. He was a trusted narrator through so many events that I think defined this generation, especially if you think in terms of the baby boomers, the '60s, the '70s. So we're talking about everything from the assassination of President Kennedy, the assassination of Dr. King, riots in the street, the moon launch as you heard just now in the David Folkenflik piece, even going forward through Watergate.
Here is a steady influence that kind of says, you know what, we are going forward, and here is sort of the cavalcade of life unfolding before us, and there's this one person who's really making a concerted effort to tell the story as it is. And don't forget his famous signoff: And that's the way it is.
SIMON: Nowadays there's much - kind of people lobbing opinions back and forth, and openly, perhaps, seeking to exert some political influence. He certainly was determined not to do that, and yet when he decided he had to something, it gave enormous weight to what he said.
WILLIAMS: He did. You know, I just want to say first, though, that I think that you made such an important point. It's not just that he was reluctant to become the pundit, but he was, in terms of the news show that he produced - and he was highly competitive about beating NBC, would watch their show after his show to make sure that he had everything. But here was someone who didn't allow the show to devolve into the cult of personality, which now defines lots of primetime news programming, and he wouldn't pander to the audience by putting on entertainment or celebrities in order to boost the ratings. It was really about the news.
And on that point, when he then does a special on Vietnam, and it was rare that he would do an hour-long special, it carried tremendous weight, or when he does the extended segments on Watergate - again, it carries tremendous impact because the audience understands this is not someone who is attacking the politician, coming from left or right, but simply trying to give you an account of our times, and that is such a rarity. Today, I don't think you can have a Walter Cronkite in the fragmented, niche media that we see, especially on television today. Just - it just - there's no space for Walter Cronkite.
SIMON: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Thanks so much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.