Thirty years ago today, on March 6, 1981, Walter Cronkite signed off for the last time. He hosted the CBS Evening News for 19 years, shaping a generation. He was there for the first nationally televised political convention coverage covering Republicans and Democrats alike. He brought the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the women's movement into our living rooms. He saw us through more assassinations than we would have thought we could bear: JFK and Robert, and Martin Luther King. He took us to the moon.
When he removed his glasses to wipe a tear, we did too.
Cronkite didn't rocket to the top through celebrity, or theatrics, or blatant attention-getting, by taking sides to play to an audience. He started as a newspaper reporter, then moved to radio, where he was "Walter Wilcox," the sports reporter on Kansas City radio. He joined the United Press and earned his reputation the hardest way there is: covering war. He flew with the troops in bombing raids over Germany one of only eight journalists who did so. He knew what the fear of war was when he stepped for the first time beyond the bounds of neutral reporting to question whether we ought to be fighting in Vietnam. When he admitted that "To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion," we knew it was not the rant of some politically-driven talking head, but the very sad truth.
"The most trusted man in America." He was quietly thoughtful, and open-minded, and fair. Surely there are reporters and newscasters following in his footsteps today. Why aren't we flipping the channel away from the talking heads to listen to them?
"...And that's the way it is." March 6, 2011.
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