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Five Things You Didn't Hear About Walter Cronkite

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Two stories before Cronkite was Cronkite:

Sometime before the US entered WWII, Helen Silver (the mother of the notorious Joel Silver) worked on the night desk at The New York Times. Part of her job was to assign a stringer in Kansas if a story broke there. Cronkite's name was on the list, but he was either third or fourth. Helen was to call him only if the guys above him were busy.

My first boss at United Press was Bill Higginbotham, who during World War II ran the London desk. UP had dozens of reporters with US troops and copy was coming in from everywhere. It was a killer job. Cronkite was sending his copy in, and according to Bill, Cronkite sent in the cleanest copy of any of his reporters. In the days when our company, UPI/Movietone, was in deep trouble, and Walter was riding high at CBS, Walter always took the phone for a call from Bill.

Three stories that didn't make the cut yesterday:

Don Hewitt, whose face was all over the networks, was neither a Cronkite favorite nor a Cronkite expert. A few years after Cronkite began anchoring the CBS Evening News, he replaced Hewitt with Ernie Leiser as Executive Producer of the program. Les Midgley later assumed the same duty at the same time, but in a different week. Working everyday for Walter was a very tough job, Both Leiser and Midgley were great newsmen, great writers, who, like Walter, had reported on WWII from Europe. He treated them as peers, something rarely accorded to "television guys."

I deeply regretted not seeing Sandy Socolow and Bill Small on any of the CBS programs. They knew Walter, the newsman, as well as better than anyone on the CBS air. Socolow succeeded the Leiser/Midgely team and worked with Walter for years after his retirement from CBS. Small was head of the Washington bureau during Cronkite's tenure, and he helped put together the best team of Washington reporters any network has every had. If they hadn't measured up, they'd never have seen the air on Walter's show. Bill and Sandy were certainly more relevant to Walter than Robin Williams and George Clooney. In 2009, celebrity is everything. In 1979, when Three Mile Island almost blew up, Socolow wanted Walter to refer to "The China Syndrome." And despite the coincidence in plot and timing, and the presence of Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, Cronkite shouted at Socolow, "'I'm not in the goddamn business of selling movie tickets.'"

In full disclosure, my wife, Pat O'Gorman, edited four documentaries at CBS for Ernie Leiser, one of them the twenty-four hour "Bicentennial" on July 4, 1976. Cronkite was the lead anchor on the program, and would be voicing over several of the pieces Pat had edited. Walter sent John Lane into the editing room to review the stories. He identified himself as "Walter's caddy." He told Pat that everything in the piece had to be worthy of Walter's time, that is to say, very well put together, and exactly correct. If it isn't, Lane said, I won't be carrying Walter's bag anymore.