The LuLac Edition #880, July 18th, 2009
THAT’S THE WAY HE WAS
Just days before the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing, Walter Cronkite, an American icon passed away at age 92. He was in ill health for a time. His career spanned much of the 20th century, as well as the first decade of the 21st. The native of St. Joseph, Missouri, broke in as a newspaper journalist while in college, switched over to radio announcing in 1935, joined the United Press wire service by the end of the decade and jumped to CBS and its nascent television news division in 1950.
Former Wilkes Barre City Councilman Jim McCarthy knew Cronkite well. McCarthy worked at CBS from 1957 to 1981 and held various titles within its news organization. In his capacity as the Bureau Manager for the Owned and Operated Stations as well as the Chief Correspondent in the radio division McCarthy got a glimpse into the personality of the veteran broadcaster. “He came from WTOP in Washington, D.C. making his way to New York as the anchor. Walter would come to Washington about twice a month and he loved the city. They say New York is the news capitol of the world but really, it’s Washington and Walter knew that. One time he needed a broadcast booth to do his 2 minute radio commentary and because the studios were under repair, space was limited. So he asked me if he could use my radio booth to do his piece. I of course said sure and when he was finished, he nodded to me and said, “Thanks boss”, noted McCarthy. “Boss?” I responded, “Walter the only guy that’s your boss is God!!!” McCarthy said that at least for 10 seconds I was Walter’s boss. Cronkite covered World War II's Battle of the Bulge. “He was a war correspondent and was sometimes too brave for his own good” added McCarthy. Cronkite also covered the Nuremberg trials, several presidential elections, moon landings, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon's administration.
At times he even made news: A 1977 question to then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat about Sadat's intent to go to Israel -- at the time considered a nonstarter because of the lack of a treaty between the two countries -- received a surprising "yes" from the Egyptian leader. Soon after, Sadat traveled to Jerusalem, a trip that eventually led to the Camp David Accords, which included a peace deal between Israel and Egypt. At his height of influence as CBS anchorman, Cronkite's judgment was believed so important it could affect even presidents. In early 1968, after the Tet Offensive, Cronkite traveled to Vietnam and gave a critical editorial calling the Vietnam War "mired in stalemate." Noting Cronkite's commentary, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Johnson announced he would not seek re-election less than two months later. “That Vietnam trip was a real turning point in the war, Walter was only there for a day or two but what he saw convinced him that America was not going to win that war” said McCarthy. While Cronkite was regarded as a celebrity by most folks, McCarthy said Cronkite was a guy who would just as soon share a cup of coffee with you than attend a state dinner. Even though sailing was his first love, Cronkite took his job seriously. “He was in awe of the history happening around him. One time at a dinner in Washington, he asked me to introduce him to Judge Sirica who was the original district D.C. Judge in Watergate. He was genuinely excited, not at the man but the history that man was making. And he was part of it,” said McCarthy. The former Wilkes Barre politico had in common with Cronkite their roles as war reporters. Cronkite in WWII and McCarthy in Korea. “We used to swap stories about covering news from a war front, he was a very modest, even handed man” noted McCarthy. He was voted “the most trusted man in America” in numerous polls over the years. Even in 1995, he was voted “the most trusted man in television news” even though he had been off the CBS anchor desk for 14 years. Unlike the broadcast world of today where departures are fast and furious, Cronkite’s mark was indelible. At a reunion for Cronkite’s 90th birthday, McCarthy said the memories were pouring out from fellow CBS travelers like the Kalb Brothers (Bernard and Marvin) and George Herman. McCarthy added, “Cronkite was the type of reporter who was down to earth and grounded. He had this ritual of never eating anything until after his broadcast was over. He felt he was too nervous to eat before he hit the airwaves. Sometimes he wouldn’t eat until after the west coast feed. He was a regular call who was telling you what was going on in his world as well as yours. If I had to sum him up, I’d say he was a humane human being. Everything he did in terms of journalism touched him. He felt the high and the lows like his reactions to both the Moon landing and the JFK assassination. He felt everything he said. It was an honor to know him and work with him” concluded McCarthy.
As a youngster I became aware of Cronkite during the space launches of the early 60s. We were a CBS house and it was a daily ritual watching the evening news at 630PM. Cronkite gave me the news on the biggest stories of my young life, the NASA program, the Bay of Pigs, the killings of the Kennedy Brothers and Martin Luther King, Vietnam, Watergate and that glorious moon landing. Like many newsmen, Cronkite’s career traversed one of the richest and most tumultuous stretches of our history. He not only presided over it, he was a part of it. Cronkite by extension, made all of us part of his window on the world to history as it unfolded before us.
For that, we are all thankful.
1. THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION:
2.THE MOON LANDING.
3.THE KING KILLING.
5.THREE MILE ISLAND.