Multiple news sources are reporting that legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite, the man once named ‘The Most Trusted Man in America,” is gravely ill.
He’s 92, and said to have been in declining health for some time, though no specifics are being given. Some speculate that it’s more his memory that’s failing than his health in general.
I worked with an anchor years ago who interviewed him at some appearance in Columbia. I was told then — and this was easily 15 years ago — that Cronkite wasn’t a fan of being interviewed because his hearing was poor and he didn’t want to have to struggle to hear questions on camera. But he was a trooper when my anchor friend asked for an on-camera interview during a live shot. It probably helped that this particular anchor had been in the business for decades himself.
It was Cronkite who was there for the birth of television “breaking news,” being the first to tell the TV audience of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963, just months after becoming the first anchor of a thirty-minute network evening newscast. It was Cronkite whose editorial against the Vietnam war prompted then-President Lyndon Johnson to remark, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” It was Cronkite who grinned from ear to ear, unable to contain his excitement in the summer of 1969 when man landed on the moon for the first time.
And it was Cronkite who, upon reaching the now-defunct mandatory retirement age at CBS News in 1981, signed off his final broadcast of The CBS Evening News with these eloquent words:
“This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings, and I’ll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I’m afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow. And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I’m not even going away! I’ll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.
CBS is said to have updated its obituary package. But that’s not really a sign of anything, either: most major celebrities and most notable folks of significant age have already had obit pieces produced so that they can air quickly. So that’s nothing new.
I just hope the man who used to give us a picture of “the way it is,” isn’t ready to fade away just yet.