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September 19, 2014

TV Moment of 2009: Walter Cronkite's Death

by Jane Murphy, posted Dec 19th 2009 9:00AM
You may not remember where you were when you heard that Walter Cronkite died on July 17, 2009. But if you're old enough to remember Queen Elizabeth's coronation, the moon landing, JFK's assassination or Three Mile Island, you probably shared a moment with the anchorman.

Celebrated as the "rarest of men" by Pres. Obama in a memorial service at New York's Avery Fisher Hall, Cronkite was the model for such current anchors as Katie Couric and Brian Williams. A reporter first, he witnessed World War II , the Nuremberg trials, and NASA's early days with a press pass.You may not remember where you were when you heard that Walter Cronkite died on July 17, 2009. But if you're old enough to remember Queen Elizabeth's coronation, the moon landing, JFK's assassination or Three Mile Island, you probably shared a moment with the anchorman.

Celebrated as the "rarest of men" by Pres. Obama in a memorial service at New York's Avery Fisher Hall, Cronkite was the model for such current anchors as Katie Couric and Brian Williams. A reporter first, he witnessed World War II , the Nuremberg trials, and NASA's early days with a press pass.

He began his evening broadcast in 1962, and his sign-off -- "... and that's the way it is" -- reflected his commitment to integrity. "Delivering the news straight and unvarnished," as Couric would state in CBS's obituary, one of Cronkite's most memorable moments on the air was a venture into commentary. In 1968, after extensive on-the-ground reporting, he advocated the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. The Johnson White House reeled. "It is increasingly clear to this reporter," Cronkite said, "that the only rational way out then, would be to negotiate not as victims but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could." Facing CBS's then-policy of mandatory retirement at age 65, Cronkite left the 'Evening News' to Dan Rather in 1981.

There are adults with children of their own who have no memory of Walter Cronkite as CBS's anchor. So what accounts for his enduring impact? Simple: He never really retired. He was a stimulating witness to history for countless documentaries, on network, public TV and even ESPN. He hosted several New Year's episodes of 'Great Performances', and was the longtime Master of Ceremonies for the Kennedy Center Honors. David Letterman brought Cronkite onto the 'Late Show' to offer his perspective following the Sept. 11 attacks. Long before Brian Williams gave 'SNL' a try, Cronkite appeared on CBS's newsroom comedy 'Murphy Brown' (and on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show', back in 1974). If you were watching Longhorns football, that was Cronkite's voice in advertising for University of Texas ("What starts here changes the world..."). Cronkite left his papers to UT-Austin, the school he attended -- but did not graduate from – some 70 years ago.

If your idea of information-gathering involves a news ticker or hyperlinks, you got some idea of what it was like when the planet revolved around Walter Cronkite on this season's 'Mad Men.' Sterling-Cooper employees gathered around Harry's black & white TV set (the only TV in the office) to hear Cronkite's bulletins on the events in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

The great voice has been silenced. But when you reflect on Cronkite's near-century on Earth, give a thought to his famous cheer when the Eagle had landed and man reached the moon: "Oh boy!"



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