EDITORIAL

Journalist first—a final sign-off for Uncle Walter

Peter C. Newman February 23 1981
EDITORIAL

Journalist first—a final sign-off for Uncle Walter

Peter C. Newman February 23 1981

Journalist first—a final sign-off for Uncle Walter

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

It’s only a matter of weeks now before Walter Cronkite bids his final farewell on the CBS news. His departure marks something of a watershed because he is one of the last of the television anchormen who actually served an authentic apprenticeship as a journalist. It’s this quality that has created an audience of 18.5 million for his daily broadcast, including a quarter of a million Canadians attracted by his authority and wit. His viewers have learned to trust him because his comments carry the conviction of his craft.

Most newsreaders are little more than glorified disc jockeys spinning the Top 20 news stories a night, their hair sprayed into place, their molars polished to perfection. It was the twinkle in Uncle Walter’s eyes (and not his teeth) that gave his reports their credibility.

Cronkite became a junior reporter on the Houston Post at 16, eventually joined the United Press and spent the Second World War as a frontline correspondent, parachuting into combat at Arnhem. During one assignment to describe Allied air raids, he ended up manning a machine-gun in the nose of a B-17 over Wilhelmshaven. After stints covering the Nuremberg war crimes trials and as UP’s Moscow bureau chief, he was sent by CBS news to the Korean War. His ability to ad lib intelligently and the avuncular appeal of his TV

manner brought him the choice assignment of covering the 1952 presidential nominating conventions. (By the time he signed off the Carter nomination last summer, he had anchored some 450 hours of convention coverage, which deserves a prize of some kind.)

But it was for his comforting presence during moments of high tension that we will best remember him—sitting there in his shirt sleeves for most of four days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, weeping as he read out the death bulletin . . . shouting “Go, baby, go!” as Apollo XI was launched on its historic trajectory to the moon in 1969. (We knew it was really Cronkite who brought the boys safely back to earth.) He guided us through the nightmare of the Vietnam War, the race riots that followed, the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the count of days for the hostages in Iran—the many large and small incidents that have made news in the 19 years he was on the CBS Evening News. He made us all sharers in the history of our times.

Walter Cronkite’s decision to weigh anchor is understandable. He is 64 and has many miles to slip under the bowsprit of Wyntje, his 13-metre yawl. Still, his departure will rob us of the nightly companionship of a genuinely good man. He was less important for the way he delivered the news than for becoming its curator. But that’s the way it is.