MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
There are newscasters, there are anchormen and then there was Walter Cronkite. The journalist who was known as the most trusted man in America died this evening at the age of 92.
For nearly two decades at CBS News, Cronkite told tens of millions of Americans: That's the way it is. And in the most contentious of times, Americans believed in his fairness, even if a perfect objectivity was something he did not claim to possess.
Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Broadcast Journalist): No human being could possibly go through life totally impartial about everything that came along. But the mark of a journalist, if there's anything that makes us a profession instead of a trade or a craft, is that we do have an ethic.
SIEGEL: NPR's David Folkenflik has this appreciation of Walter Cronkite.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: It's been more than a generation since Walter Cronkite left the anchor's desk of the CBS Evening News. And at the time of his death, he was still known by many as Uncle Walter, the ultimate reliable source, the nation's narrator and the standard by which all other TV news anchors are judged.
Take the horrific news he confronted just 19 months into the job. Cronkite rushed to air and calmly led viewers through terrible tragedy with simple, declarative sentences.
Mr. CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
FOLKENFLIK: Cronkite choked up on camera ever so briefly as he took off his reading glasses to check the time.
Mr. ANDY ROONEY (Commentator, CBS News): It was a very effective moment and it's been rerun 1,000 times.
FOLKENFLIK: Long-time Cronkite friend Andy Rooney of CBS.
Mr. ROONEY: If Walter had had his choice, he would've suppressed those tears because he hated to reveal himself as an emotional person.
FOLKENFLIK: Yes, ultimately, Cronkite's composure and mastery throughout the day and those that followed, inspire no little awe even now. Retired CBS news correspondent Tom Fenton.
Mr. TOM FENTON (Former Correspondent, CBS News): The old joke - the secret in this business of broadcast news is credibility. If you can fake that, you've got it made. But Walter didn't have to fake it.
FOLKENFLIK: As a young reporter for the United Press Wire Service, Cronkite covered the combat of World War II up close and was later hired by Edward R. Murrow for CBS. He became anchor of the CBS Evening News in 1962. And it expanded to a half hour.
Cronkite loved perfecting what he called the magic - the six minutes a night that he was visible on the air delivering the news, endlessly polishing his copy and timing his delivery for what became the company's top-rated newscast.
Television was newly dominant and there were few competing distractions back then. Yet, Andy Rooney says, network executives often pushed for softer stories, as they brought entertainment values to their news divisions.
Mr. ROONEY: But Walter didn't care. He was absolutely in favor of giving the American people what they needed to know, not what they wanted to hear.
FOLKENFLIK: From the outset, Cronkite put his own editorial stamp on coverage. Tom Fenton says Cronkite had privately been a strong supporter of American involvement in Vietnam.
Mr. FENTON: It was only after that famous trip that he made to Vietnam and he saw the reality on the ground and heard what was really going on - that he came to, what, for him, was the inescapable conclusion.
Mr. CRONKITE: To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence the optimists who have been wrong in the past.
FOLKENFLIK: Unlike the punditry that dominates nighttime cable news shows, Cronkite's nightly newscasts were so measured that the contrast made this editorial in February 1968, after the Tet Offensive, all the more powerful.
Mr. CRONKITE: But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victims, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could.
FOLKENFLIK: President Lyndon Johnson instantly got it. When he saw that newscast, he turned to his press secretary, George Christian and said, quote, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country." But there was good news too. And Cronkite took great joy in delivering it.
Mr. CRONKITE: Armstrong is on the moon. Neil Armstrong. Thirty-eight-year-old American standing on the surface of the moon on this July 20th, 1969.
Mr. NEIL ARMSTRONG (Astronaut): That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
FOLKENFLIK: Cronkite devoted hours to the space program, but made news again when he devoted 14 minutes of his newscast in October 1972 to a single topic: Watergate - even though President Nixon would breeze to reelection a few weeks later.
Mr. CRONKITE: But the episode grew steadily more sinister, no longer a caper, but the Watergate affair escalating finally into charges of a high level campaign of political sabotage and espionage, apparently unparalled in American history.
FOLKENFLIK: CBS wasn't breaking news here. But Cronkite had assembled a team of reporters to explain the affair fully to a much larger public and to ensure the matter couldn't be dismissed. Cronkite once described his approach on NPR's Diane Rehm show.
Mr. CRONKITE: The ethic of a responsible journalist is to put his or her biases, his or her prejudices aside in an attempt to really be fair to all sides and all times. And my pride is if I think I did that fairly well during my years.
FOLKENFLIK: Cronkite retired in 1981, but he expected to hold a senior role at the network during the Dan Rather era and was hurt to learn there was no room. He did some work for Discovery, NPR and the History Channel, devoted more time to sailing and reemerged as the voice of CBS News, if only to introduce Katie Couric when she took over as anchor. More than a generation later, Walter Cronkite's rumbling voice still echoes.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
SIEGEL: A spokesman for CBS said that Cronkite died this evening at his home in New York with his family at his side.
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