Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the US networks’ golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called “the most trusted man in America”, has died at the age of 92.
Cronkite’s longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler, said the veteran journalist died at his Manhattan home surrounded by family. She said the cause of death was cerebral vascular disease.
Cronkite was the face of the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr to racial and anti-war riots, the moon landings, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.
It was Cronkite who read the bulletins coming from Dallas when Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963, interrupting a live CBS-TV broadcast of the soap opera As the World Turns.
Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title “anchorman” was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; in Holland, they are Cronkiters).
“He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator,” CBS Corp chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
His 1968 editorial declaring the United States was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in US opinion of the war.
He also helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
He followed the 1960s space race with open fascination, anchoring marathon broadcasts of major flights from the first suborbital shot to the first moon landing, exclaiming, “look at those pictures, wow!” as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon’s surface in 1969.
In 1998, for CNN, he went back to Cape Canaveral to cover John Glenn’s return to space after 36 years.
“It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite,” CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement.
“More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments.”
A former wire service reporter and war correspondent, he valued accuracy, objectivity and understated compassion. He expressed liberal views in more recent writings but said he had always aimed to be fair and professional in his judgments on the air.
Off camera, his stamina and admittedly demanding ways brought him the nickname Old Ironpants.
But to viewers, he was Uncle Walter, with his jowls and grainy baritone, his warm, direct expression and his trim moustache.
He summed up the news each evening by stating: “And THAT’s the way it is.”
His reputation survived accusations of bias by Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew.
Two polls pronounced Cronkite the “most trusted man in America”: a 1972 “trust index” survey in which he finished number one, about 15 points higher than leading politicians, and a 1974 survey in which people chose him as the most trusted television newscaster.
Cronkite broke down as he announced Kennedy’s death, removing his glasses and fighting back tears.
And when Cronkite took sides, he helped shape the times. After the 1968 Tet offensive, he visited Vietnam and wrote and narrated a “speculative, personal” report advocating negotiations leading to the withdrawal of American troops.
“We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds,” he said, and concluded: “We are mired in stalemate.”
After the broadcast, President Johnson reportedly said: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”
In the autumn of 1972, responding to reports in The Washington Post, Cronkite aired a two-part series on Watergate that helped ensure national attention to the then-emerging scandal.
Cronkite joined CBS in 1950, after a decade with United Press, during which he covered World War II and the Nuremberg trials, and a brief stint with a regional radio group.
Cronkite joined United Press in 1937. Dispatched to London early in World War II, Cronkite covered the battle of the North Atlantic, flew on a bombing mission over Germany and glided into Holland with the 101st Airborne Division.
He was a chief correspondent at the postwar Nuremberg trials and spent his final two years with the news service managing its Moscow bureau.
Cronkite returned to the United States in 1948 and covered Washington for a group of Midwest radio stations. He then accepted Edward R. Murrow’s invitation to join CBS in 1950.
In 1940, Cronkite married Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Maxwell, whom he had met when they both worked at KCMO. They had three children, Nancy, Mary Kathleen and Walter Leland III. Betsy Cronkite died in 2005.