Born in 1916 in St. Joseph
, Missouri, Walter Cronkite was destined to become one of America’s most famous reporters. Living through the tragedy of two chaotic
wars, Cronkite pursued his journalistic career by reporting on the wartime devastation
so eloquently that he remains vivid
in the mind of many who lived in that era. Cronkite’s role
as a Vietnam
reporter was so effective that he became a broadcasting icon whose voice is recognizable throughout the United States.
Cronkite began his journalism career at the early age of six, when he worked as a paperboy for his hometown. In his teens he reported for the Houston Press, and at 20 he took his first broadcasting job at a Kansas City radio station reporting the news. On March 30, 1940 Cronkite married Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, a Kansas City newspaper columnist.
But shortly after this, Cronkite would be forced to leave his wife’s side for long stretches of time due to reporting jobs overseas for World War II, the war Cronkite dubs in his biography, “A Reporter’s Life, The Great Conflagration.” He was eager at the time to offer coverage, and in 1942 he reported on the Battle of the North Atlantic. The following year he invaded Africa with Allied troops, and he was there in 1944 when they invaded Normandy. Cronkite witnessed some terrifically atrocious events during World War II, but the believed that a correspondent must see the action first hand in order to fully understand what he was writing about. During the Vietnam War, he would also follow this belief.
Once WWII ended, Walter Cronkite signed with Edward R. Murrow at CBS to report news nightly to the nation, and the American public soon became familiar with the stout, mustache-sporting pipe smoker with the gravelly voice and unmistakably unique word delivery. As a television news “anchor,” a relatively new term at the time, Cronkite covered numerous political conventions as well as other news, each night ending his broadcast with his signature farewell: “And that’s the way it is.”
It would be in Nov. 22, 1963 when Walter Cronkite would poignantly breathe out one of his most memorable lines, “From Dallas, Texas- the flash- apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time…a half hour ago.” These words are still vivid for many individuals. Cronkite by then had practically become a member of every American household.
When the Vietnam War first began in the mid 1960’s, Cronkite was a strong supporter for United States involvement. But as the war rampaged on, and the death toll continued to rise, Cronkite began to change his mind about the situation. In the beginning, even though his eye-witness accounts were disturbing and confusing, he felt that the U.S. was making progress in the fight. But as it wore on, and Lyndon Johnson’s “personal vendetta against the enemy,” as Cronkite called it, appeared so vigorous in the President’s speeches, the reporter grew more and more unsure about America’s part in the war. And once Communist Tet Offensive occurred, and the American Embassy was assaulted in Saigon, Cronkite knew they needed to back out. At the time he stumbled over the feelings that as news spokesman, they “were charged with explaining a war that had no explanation,” and he was concerned with how important it was to keep newscasts free of bias. But because of Cronkite’s undeniable feelings about the unnecessary fighting, he could not deny his emotions on the air. And when he gave his editorial-like broadcast concerning the Tet Offensive in 1968, he stated that “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.” With visions of Cronkite walking through war-torn fields, telling the nation the truth about the “bloody experience” of Vietnam, most of the American people found it hard to disagree. After the beloved reporter took such a journalistic leap- to go against the beliefs held in Washington- Lyndon Johnson could only respond with, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”
These words proved undeniably true. A large majority of Americans at that time were completely against the war, and urgently wanting the United States to pull out. Johnson did not run for re-election. It had been a startling war to cover since television had hardly any barriers yet, and the transport of body bags was considered airable at the time. Of course, the effect of these visions greatly influenced American minds, and it would be after this war that reporters and cameras would have to obey strict boundaries and would be kept out of the fields.
A poll given in 1973 to the American public asked who they felt they could trust more- Walter Cronkite or the President. 73 % trusted Cronkite. Cronkite retired from the CBS news in 1981 at the age of 65. He wrote his bestselling biography and underwent triple bypass surgery in 1997, which he came out of successfully. He still occasionally appears on the news, and takes pleasure in sports cars and sailing.
Walter Cronkite’s effect in the world of broadcast journalism was abundant- he is determined in his beliefs about what it means to be a reporter. He is concerned about the role of reporters and intensely feels that they should not simply accept what the government feeds them. He once stated in a 1967 lecture at Johns Hopkins University, “The reporters who exercise proper skepticism over the news from Washington are rendering a valuable public service and are in the long run helping Washington, not hindering.”
Journalism class essay- sources:
"A Reporter's Life" by Walter Cronkite
"The Challenges of Change" by Walter Cronkite
"Mightier than the Sword" by Rodger Streitmatter
"And that's the way it is" by Nancy Lloyd (article)
"He was there" by Anne C. Webb. (article)
In June 2009, Cronkite was reported to be terminally ill. He died on July 17, 2009, at his home in New York City, at the age of 92.