All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up

18 July 2009

The Anchor of our Lives-In Appreciation, Walter Cronkite

"Our job is only to hold up the mirror - to tell and show the public what has happened." Walter Cronkite

In an age before Twitter, Blogs, Blackberrys, texting, email and even cable news, there were three networks that televised the news, but there was one man behind a simple desk that "delivered" the news.

Each evening America had dinner with Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News as the man who would become the narrator of our lives reviewed the events of our communal day.

Walter Cronkite died yesterday at the age of 92. It is safe to say there will never be one of his kind one will unite this country each evening, collect all of us in one place at one time to review events, inform us and discuss "the way it is". The news media is too vast and fragmented, as perhaps we are as a country.

"Walter was always more than just an anchor,... He was someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world. He was family. He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly missed." President Obama on Walter Cronkite

Listening to all the reports on his life it is the voice that resonates. The voice that united a country through tumultuous days, the voice that quavered as he announced a young President had been assassinated, the voice that filled with the glee of a wondrous little boy as he declared that .".. Man on the Moon...oh boy", the voice that America had dinner with each evening as they waited to hear about their day. The cadence of that voice was a part of the soundtrack of our lives. He was the source, if he said so then it was so. A voice that informed without talking at his audience or down to his audience but rather with his audience, taking them through the facts. His was the voice that told us the way it was.

It was an era when one man could unite a nation, inform a nation, but not just any man. At one point his audience was so large, and his presence in American life so entrenched, that he was declared the Most Trusted Man in America out polling the President of the Untied States. In fact, there were many efforts to draft him to run for office. Walter Cronkite even looked the part-He was affectionately known to his viewers as "Uncle Walter" because he was such a part of their daily experience.

Walter Cronkite personified American journalism, in fact he defined it. He pioneered the role of Anchor so much so that in other countries news anchors are termed Cronkiters. Yet,Walter Cronkite was not a news reader. He believed that telling the story was everything, getting the facts right and digging for the truth, shoe leather journalism. He came from print and that was how he did his job as a journalist-it was about the news, direct, accurate, truth. No packaging, no glitz, no polished look, just the stories of the day.

He reported through some of the most tumultuous days in American history-the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King. The race riots through the Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, Watergate and the resignation of a President. Through all of those events it was Walter Cronkite the nation looked toward, Walter Cronkite that brought the country together in one place to learn, be informed and to try to understand.

Truly he found the greatest joy in reporting on the space program and the moon landing. His coverage defined our memories of those children gathered around fuzzy black and white TV sets in classrooms everywhere as Cronkite explained with a model in hand what the astronauts were doing. Cronkite anchored the launch of Apollo 11, shouting for all of us "go, baby, go" as it rocketed into space. Cronkite stayed on the air for 24 of the network’s 27 hours of coverage of the lunar walk special. His coverage of the space program is a part of NASA's history and in 2006 he was presented with NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award, the only "civilian" to receive it for his coverage from the Mercury program to the Space Shuttle. So sad to think he will not celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 this week.

"In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story"

He went to Vietnam to do just that and returned to tell the country what this most trusted man believed about that war:

“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. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion....It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could.”

By closing his broadcast with those words, by telling the public that believed so much in what he told them the truth about Vietnam, he changed the mood in this country about that war. President Lyndon Johnson declared that "...if I've lost Cronkite,I've lost Middle America..."

Walter Cronkite did not like the way news was packaged and presented and he didn't hold with a 24 hour news cycle. He was passionate about his profession, and a determined advocate of Freedom of the Press warning of the chilling repercussions of government intervention in news reporting. Though he was a pioneer of television journalism he never left his print roots always believing that print was where a story could really be told well.

"Everything is being compressed into tiny tablets. You take a little pill of news every day - 23 minutes - and that's supposed to be enough."

When he retired, not happily, in 1981 a reporter for the New Republic said it was like "...looking at the dollar bill without George Washington". He had become the Father of our Country. Walter Cronkite was an Anchor in our lives and each evening with integrity, compassion, exquisite fairness, humanity and dedicated purpose Walter Cronkite came into our homes, put his arm around us and told us the truth.

I can`t imagine a person becoming a success who doesn't give this game of life everything he`s got.