For my generation, Walter Cronkite the anchorman has always been something from the archives. I never saw him anchor the CBS Evening News. After all, I was just three when he stepped aside for Dan Rather. Instead, for us he's been a great voice. He was the narration of a documentary or TV special. He was the voice (until replaced by actor Jeremy Irons) of the ride Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. While I did not experience his news career firsthand, I have always and will always view him as something to strive for in my profession.
You see, Cronkite was once named "The Most Trusted Man in American." Think about that. What journalist now could ever own that title? Cronkite did his job with an air of dignity and professionalism that you just don't see any more. Cronkite's humanism, like the hard swallow he made after announcing President Kennedy's death or the speechlessness he experienced Neil Armstrong made that giant step for mankind 40 years ago Monday, have long since been replaced by finger-pointing and constant bickering that highlights the 24-hour news cycle. News anchors are not revered now like they were. Still I've always used Cronkite's trusted title as a motivator in my work, as a level of excellence all of us in the news business should hope to one day attain, though I'm sure I come up short of that gold standard.
I did come in contact with the legend a couple of times in my life. During a high school trip to New York City year ago, a teacher pointed out to me that "Uncle Walter" was waiting with us for the same elevator. By the time I composed myself enough to consider saying something to him, I turned around to see he'd disappeared, perhaps deciding it was quicker to take the stairs down. A few years later while working at the Peabody Awards in college, I had to lean over the great broadcaster to get the attention of award winner Robert Halmi, Sr., and guide Halmi to the stage. A literal brush with greatness, and one I will always treasure.
Cronkite was perhaps best known for his nightly sign off, "That's the way it is." Sadly, it will likely never the way it was when he was behind the desk, and that's a shame. Always concerned about the quality of news, Cronkite once said "Professional journalism should tell people what they need to know, not what they want to know." If only we could return to that ideal. Instead, we fill the airwaves with Anna Nicole Smith and Jon and Kate. I can't imagine Walter Cronkite ever doing those stories. Thank God he never had to. And thank Walter for giving us a level of distinction that will hold up for all time. That's the way it is, indeed.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo