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Cronkite, Walter

Walter Cronkite

Born: November 4, 1916
St. Joseph, Missouri

American broadcaster and journalist

Walter Cronkite is an American journalist and radio and television news broadcaster who became one of an outstanding group of correspondents and commentators that the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) News developed after World War II (193945; a war in which Germany, Italy, and Japan fought against Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States).

Early years

Walter Leland Cronkite was born on November 4, 1916. He was an only child. His father was a dentist and his mother, Helena Lena (Fritsch) managed the home. While he was still a youngster the family moved to Texas, where his father took a position at the University of Texas Dental School. During that time Walter read an article in American Boy magazine about the adventures of reporters working around the world. It inspired his interest in journalism and he decided when he was in junior high school that he wanted to be a reporter. His preparation for that career began with his work on his high school yearbook and newspaper. He was also active in student government and athletics, particularly track.

In 1933 Cronkite entered the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied political science, economics, and journalism. He took a part-time job with the Houston Post newspaper. This set him on a professional career which led him to leave college after two years to serve in several different journalism jobs, including general reporter for the Post, radio announcer in Kansas City, Missouri, and sportscaster in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. After Cronkite's time at the Post, his principal employer for several years was United Press International (UPI). He covered World War II in Europe. He also served as chief correspondent at the Nuremburg war crimes trials (194546), and as head of the Moscow (Russia) office from 1946 to 1948.

Years at CBS

In 1950 Cronkite joined CBS News. Up to this point he was largely unknown to the general public. Two years later he was narrator for You Are There, a television program in which major historical events were recreated as though they were current news events. In 1954 he became narrator of The Twentieth Century, an outstanding television documentary recounting the events of recent history. This job gave Cronkite recognition with the viewing public.

Starting in 1952 Cronkite also served as the anchor for the CBS coverage of the Democratic and Republican national presidential conventions. With the exception of the 1964 Democratic convention, he continued this role until his retirement in 1981.

Cronkite assumed the duties of anchor and editor for the CBS Evening News in 1962. At that time the National Broadcasting Company's (NBC) Huntley-Brinkley Report, hosted by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, led viewer ratings. Gradually, the CBS broadcasts gained ground on the team at NBC, which broke up in 1970. From that time until his retirement, Cronkite's program was consistently the most popular television news broadcast.

Although the evening news was Cronkite's main responsibility, he maintained his leading role as narrator and correspondent on network specials. These included space shots, major documentaries, and interviews with world figures such as presidents Harry Truman (18841972), Dwight Eisenhower (18901969), and Lyndon Johnson (19081973). After his retirement he continued this role in addition to the periodic series, Walter Cronkite's Universe.

For a society that emphasized youthfulness, it was a paradox (contradiction) that Cronkite's reputation increased as he grew older. His white hair and mustache gave him a distinguished look. Cronkite's reputation did not rest on appearance, however. He earned recognition and praise through hard work, a passion for accuracy, and an insistence on impartiality (being neutral). Underlying that was a lifelong competitive spirit, which was moderated in front of the microphone and camera but which came out in his leisure activities of sailing, tennis, and race car driving.

Strengths as a reporter

Cronkite was quite concerned with not becoming part of the story he was reporting. He stated, "I built my reputation on honest, straight-forward reporting. To do anything else would be phony. I'd be selling myself and not the news." Yet there were memorable instances when he failed to remain completely separated from a story, such as his obvious emotional reaction when announcing the death of President John F. Kennedy (19171963); his broadcast pronouncement in 1968, upon returning from Vietnam, that he doubted United States policy for that region could succeed; and his undeniable enthusiasm when Neil Armstrong (1930) became the first person on the moon in 1969.

Despite Cronkite's philosophy of detachment, he sometimes influenced the news, as in his 1977 televised interview with Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat (19181981), which led Sadat to visit Israel and led Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (19131992) to visit Egypt. Cronkite was an unintentional news topic in 1980, when John Anderson (1922), running as an independent presidential candidate, mentioned Cronkite as his likely running mate. (Former Wisconsin governor Patrick Lucey wound up as Anderson's choice.)

The depth of respect for Cronkite's work is reflected in the numerous awards he has received: the Peabody for Radio and Television, the William Allen White Award for Journalistic Merit, as well as the Emmy. In 1981, during his final three months on the CBS Evening News, Cronkite received eleven major awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1985 he became the second newsman, after Edward R. Murrow (19081965), to be selected for the Television Hall of Fame. At his retirement Cronkite was the most commonly mentioned person on the "dream list" for lecturers at conventions, clubs, and college campuses.

Post-CBS retirement

After retiring as anchor of the CBS Evening News, Cronkite served as CBS News special correspondent and on the network's board of directors from 1981 to 1991. He also anchored the CBS News science magazine series Walter Cronkite's Universe, (198082). From the late 1980s until 1992 he hosted Walter Cronkite's 20th Century, a daily, ninety-second account of same-day historical events.

In 1993 Cronkite formed his own production company and produced several award-winning documentaries for The Discovery Channel, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and other networks. One of those, Cronkite Remembers, aired in early 1997 in conjunction with the late 1996 publication of his autobiography, A Reporter's Life. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Cronkite headed efforts to convince networks to offer free television time for presidential candidates.

In 2001 Cronkite published Around America: A Tour of our Magnificent Coastline. He also signed on to do the voice of Ben Franklin in a new PBS animated series, Liberty Kids.

Cronkite raised television news broad casting to a level of professionalism that was praised around the world. His qualifications as a newspaperman and war correspondent, along with his unwillingness to stray from a hard news format that dealt only with impor tant events and their facts, demonstrated that acceptance and popularity in television news need not rest on covering trivial topics. Wal ter Cronkite continues to be admired by both his colleagues and by his audience. For many people he is the example of what a broadcast journalist should be.

For More Information

Aaseng, Nathan. Walter Cronkite. Minneapo lis: Lerner Publications, 1981.

Cronkite, Kathy. On the Edge of the Spotlight. New York: Morrow, 1981.

Cronkite, Walter. A Reporter's Life. New York: Random House, 1996.

Westman, Paul. Walter Cronkite: The Most Trusted Man in America. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1980.

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"Cronkite, Walter." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Aug. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Walter Leland Cronkite Jr

Walter Leland Cronkite Jr.

Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr., (born 1916) was an American journalist and radio and television news broadcaster who became pre-eminent among the outstanding group of correspondents and commentators developed by CBS News after World War II.

Walter Cronkite was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, the only son of his dentist father and the former Helena Lena Fritsch. While he was still a youngster the family moved to Texas. His reading about the exploits of foreign correspondents inspired his interest in journalism. Preparation for that vocation began with his work on his high school yearbook and newspaper.

In 1933 he entered the University of Texas at Austin and took a part-time job with the Houston Post. This set him on a professional career which led him to abandon college after two years to serve as a general reporter for the Post, a radio announcer in Kansas City, and a sportscaster in Oklahoma City. After that his principal employer for several years was United Press International (UPI), for whom he covered World War II in Europe (1941-1945) and served as chief correspondent at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials (1945-1946) and in Moscow (1946-1948).

Years at CBS

To this point Cronkite was largely unknown to the general public. In 1950 he joined CBS News where two years later he was narrator for "You Are There," a television program in which major historical events were re-created. In 1954 he became narrator of "The Twentieth Century," a monumental television documentary which established Cronkite's recognition with the viewing public. That was reinforced by his quadrennial service as anchor of the CBS coverage of the national political party conventions, which he first covered in 1952. With the exception of the 1964 Democratic convention, he continued this role until his retirement in 1981.

When Cronkite assumed the duties of anchor and editor for the "CBS Evening News" in 1962, NBC's "Huntley-Brinkley Report" dominated viewer ratings. Gradually the CBS broadcasts gained ground on the renowned team at NBC, which broke up in 1970. From then until his retirement, Cronkite's program was consistently the most popular television news broadcast.

Although the evening news was his main platform, Cronkite maintained his prominence as narrator and correspondent on network specials, including space shots, major documentaries, and extensive interviews with world figures such as Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson. After his retirement he continued this role in addition to the intermittent series, "Walter Cronkite's Universe."

For a society that emphasized youthfulness, it was a paradox that as Cronkite grew older his prestige increased. His white hair and moustache gave him a rather distinguished look, although Cronkite's reputation did not rest on appearance. He earned recognition and praise through hard work, a passion for accuracy, and an insistence on impartiality. Underlying that was a life-long competitive spirit that was sublimated before the microphone and camera but manifest in his leisure activities of sailing, tennis, and race car driving.

Among Cronkite's strengths were his believability, accuracy, and impartiality. He was also quite diligent about not becoming part of the story he was reporting. Yet there were memorable instances when he failed to remain completely detached from a story: his obvious emotional reaction when announcing the death of President John Kennedy in 1963; his characterization, on the eve of the 1968 Democratic convention, of the site as a concentration camp; his broadcast pronouncement in 1968, upon returning from Vietnam, that he doubted that U.S. policy for that region could prevail; and his undeniable enthusiasm when Neil Armstrong became the first person on the moon in 1969. Despite his philosophic disclaimer, Cronkite sometimes influenced the news, as in his televised interview with Anwar Sadat that led that Egyptian leader to visit Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to reciprocate. Inadvertently, Cronkite was a news topic in 1976 when John Anderson, running as an independent presidential candidate, mentioned Cronkite as his likely running mate.

The exceptions notwithstanding, Cronkite raised television news broadcasting to a level of professionalism that was lauded around the world. His credentials as a newspaperman and war correspondent, along with his unwillingness to deviate from a hard news format, demonstrated that acceptance and popularity in television news need not rest on superficiality.

The depth of respect for his work was reflected in the numerous awards he received: the Peabody for Radio and Television and the William Allen White Award for Journalistic Merit, as well as the Emmy. In 1981, during his final three months on the "CBS Evening News," Cronkite received 11 major awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1985 he became the second newsman, after Edward R. Murrow, to be selected for the Television Hall of Fame. At his retirement, Cronkite was the most commonly mentioned person on the "dream list" for lecturers at conventions, clubs, and college campuses.

Post CBS Retirement

After retiring as anchor of the "CBS Evening News," Cronkite served as CBS News special correpondent and on the network's board of directors from 1981 to 1991. He also anchored the CBS News science magazine series "Walter Cronkite's Universe," (1980-82), and from the late 1980s until 1992, hosted "Walter Cronkite's 20th Century", a daily 90-second account of same-day historical events. In 1993 he formed his own production company and produced several award-winning documentaries for The Discovery Channel, PBS, and other networks. One of those, "Cronkite Remembers", was sheduled to air in early 1997 in conjunction with the late 1996 publication of his autobiography, A Reporter's Life. During the 1996 presidential campaign, Cronkite headed efforts to convince networks to offer free television time for presidential candidates. When not making documentaries, Cronkite enjoyed sailing his 48-foot yacht, the "Wynje".

Further Reading

Cronkite tells the story of his years growing up in Kansas City and Houston; his early career working for newspapers, wire services, and radio stations; his time as a war correspondent for UPI; and his years at CBS in his autobiography A Reporter's Life (1997). An excellent overview of Cronkite's work habits, strengths and weaknesses, and rapport with his colleagues is "Uncle Walter," a chapter in Air Time (1978) by Gary Paul Gates. Briefer episodes of a similar vein about Cronkite are in The Powers That Be (1979) by David Halberstam. In Challenge of Change (1971), Cronkite set out his journalistic philosophy. The book is a collection of nine speeches he gave during 1967-1970. Eye on the World (1971) is useful mainly as an example of his editing skills. The volume is largely excerpts from interviews by other CBS newsmen on major topics of that period. Both philosophic and descriptive is his "What It's Like To Broadcast News," Saturday Review (December 12, 1970). South by Southeast (1983) with Ray Ellis and South by Southwest (1971) provide insight into Cronkite's leisure activities, especially sailing. One of Cronkite's daughters, Kathy, recorded her experiences as a child of a celebrity in On the Edge of the Spotlight (1981). □

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"Walter Leland Cronkite Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 29 Aug. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Cronkite, Walter

Walter Cronkite (Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr.) (krŏng´kīt, krŏn´–), 1916–2009, American news broadcaster, b. St. Joseph, Mo. He left (1935) the Univ. of Texas to write for the Houston Press and later for other Scripps-Howard newspapers and to work in radio. After joining the United Press wire service in 1939 he served as a World War II correspondent (1942–45) and was a reporter at the Nuremberg trials and in Moscow (1946–48). He then left print journalism to again work in radio broadcasting.

In 1950 he turned to the new medium of television, joining the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), where he covered (1952) the first televised presidential nominating conventions. A decade later he was named managing editor and anchor of the "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite," which became American television's dominant evening news program. Calm and authoritative, he became a national institution, and in 1973 was voted America's most trusted public figure. He was especially known for his coverage of such events as the 1968 Democratic convention; the Vietnam War; the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Watergate affair, and the accomplishments of the American space program. In 1981 he stepped down as news anchor and became a special correspondent for CBS News; he subsequently made several documentaries and also did programs for other networks. His books include Challenges of Change (1971) and a memoir (1996).

See his Conversations with Cronkite (with D. Carleton, 2010); biography by D. Brinkley (2012).

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