Despite his having been out of the public eye for so long, it’s sad to know that Walter Cronkite, who died yesterday at the age of 92, is no longer there, in the background, keeping alive that last vestige of the true TV journalist. I’m old enough to remember Cronkite, and all the memorable events he reported. In fact, I was planning on writing a recollection of the Apollo 11 landing this weekend.
I know Cronkite would never think of himself as a celebrity, and somehow I think we managed to avoid thinking of him that way. We all certainly held him in the highest regard, and I know I had great respect for the man. I think I would like to have known him personally. Despite all that, I think we thought of him as a hardworking journalist, not an over-paid blow hard pundit with a seat behind a news desk.
I do remember clearly his reporting on the space program. You seemed to know that, while reporting as dispassionately as possible, that he shared the enthusiasm we all felt. And when he had to report the tragedies of the assanation of Kennedy and Dr. King, he portrayed the grief of the entire nation with great dignity and compassion.
Cronkite rarely interjected his own feelings into news reporting, so on those rare times when he presented his opinion in a commentary, the whole country listened, and we listened with deference. Cronkite also knew that “fair” didn’t mean you presented two sides of an issue, when one side was simply wrong. He reported on science, but would have never argued that creationists should get equal time, just because they disagreed with every other scientist. Today’s 24 hour news pundits can’t seem to offer anything other than their own opinions, and we are much worse for no longer having TV journalists of the Cronkite type.
I especially remember his last broadcast. It was on March 6, 1981 and was in my last year at ASU. I happened to be heading home weekend, and my friend Michael Lackey was hitching a ride with me. We stopped off at a bar in Blowing Rock (the only place to get beer at the time), and watched that last broadcast over a few beers and a sandwich. All the way, we could only talk about what a class act he was.
I also remember a Johnny Carson shortly after that when Carson portrayed Cronkite saying all the things he really wanted to say on that last broadcast. I was rolling in the floor laughing. Thank heavens for YouTube because I can share that with you.