“And that’s the way it is: Friday, July 17, 2009” Walter Cronkite – American Icon Voice of Middle America DiesPosted by Rose in Rose Speaks
From 1961 to 1981 Walter Cronkite came into my home every night and my parents trusted him totally. If Cronkite said it, then it was true. We, like many American homes, believed he was “the most trusted man in America”.
There has been much said about his passing and what he stood for. For my family, he was the voice for middle America and he was the most trusted man in America. We had a black and white television and when he came on, homework stopped, dishes were left to be washed later, my dad’s newspaper was laid to the side and as many families, we stopped for thirty minutes as a family and got the news of the day.
Cronkite came from a line of journalists in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow, who in the 50’s, produced a series of TV news reports that helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy and thus the end of a time of terror where all of Hollywood feared being labeled a communist and put on a “black list” if they failed to report on others as communists following WWII. McCarthyism became it’s own term in the 1950’s because McCarthy cashed in on American’s fear thus he was able to lead his own reign of terror in the U. S. Senate. Does this sound familiar with the fear tapped into by political leaders following September 11, 2001?
On July 7, 1952, the term “anchor” was coined to describe Cronkite’s role at both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions, which marked the first nationally-televised convention coverage. He also expanded evening news from 15 to 30 minutes on September 2, 1963, making Cronkite the anchor of American network television’s first nightly half-hour news program.
Cronkite carried us from the heights of landing on the moon to the lows of multiple assassinations in the 1960’s. All of us remember exactly where we were when Cronkite, who showed emotion as he seldom did saying journalists were about reporting, but that day there was a tear in his eye and his voice broke as he told the nation that John F. Kennedy had been killed by an assassin in Dallas Texas, my home town. Cronkite carried us through those horrible days that followed… the burial of President Kennedy, watching a young widow with two small children… and even in that he taught us history; pointing out that the same funeral bier held Kennedy’s casket, which rested on the same catafalque that had supported Lincoln’s bier. So even in the public mourning of a nation Cronkite taught us history, explaining that Jacqueline Kennedy had President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral researched and based her own “blue print” on that, for her fallen husband, President Kennedy’s, public funeral. Cronkite taught us history from the East Room to the Capital Rotunda to the horseless rider with a boot turned backward to show a fallen hero. We cried as a nation and it was Cronkite that placed the historical events in perspective for us.
On June 6, 1964 Cronkite did a special report called “D-Day +20 and brought Retired General and former president Dwight D. Eisenhower out of retirement and to return to his former Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) headquarters for an interview with Cronkite.
Cronkite brought us many reports of the ever changing times from 1962 to 1981, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. He brought us the news of “Bloody Sunday” that started on March 7, 1965, where we saw 600 civil rights marchers attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. These were our fellow Americans and most of us thought about it, followed it via Cronkite and a few of us feared that could be us. On March 9, 1965 the civil rights marchers tried again and were attacked and again it was Walter Cronkite that brought it into our homes. Cronkite brought us the news from March 21, 1965 thru March 26, 1965 as the marchers made the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama with a civil rights leader named Martin Luther King Jr. at the front of the line of marchers. The Selma to Montgomery marches marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement and Walter Cronkite never failed us in his objective coverage, again all in black and white televisions with families like mine around the country gathered in front of the televisions with their parents telling, as mine told me, we were witnessing history. There was Governor George Wallace, who in 1962 marked the tone for what was to come in Alabama during his 1962 inauguration saying: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. We remember Wallace standing at the doors of the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963 to stop desegregation as two Afro-Americans, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were escorted to the doors by federal marshals in a confrontation we all feared would turn into more blood shed. Walter Cronkite brought us that, as he did Martin Luther King’s speech at the Washington D. C. mall to a crowd of over a million people. For the Civil Rights movement would not be stopped and like many times in our countries history we grew, we changed, and Cronkite was there every evening or on assignment telling us objectively what was happening but also reassuring us.
The democratic convention in 1968 was one of the other times he allowed emotions to take over for a few seconds and brought Americans to know of the riots at the convention and that the police even entered the convention and began to rough up newsmen. It was Cronkite who turned and had the cameras show us as he called the police “hoodlums”. We had lost another potential great leader in June 1968 when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles California. The late 50’s and 60’s were turbulent times and Cronkite was there, ending his newscasts with “And that’s the way it is…”
Beginning on January 16, 1980, “Day 50″ of the Iran hostage crisis, Cronkite added the length of the hostages’ captivity to the show’s closing to remind the audience of the unresolved situation, ending only on “Day 444″, January 20, 1981. Something that Keith Olbermann has started doing, is a similar technique with a closing Count Down, counting each day since May 1, 2003 when President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq.
Cronkite also brought us through the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, where, following a trip to Vietnam, Cronkite did in an editorial on the Vietnam War and that was the beginning of the end of the war as President Lyndon Johnson said, “If I have lost Cronkite, I have lost middle America.”
Cronkite brought us the Watergate scandal. When President Richard M. Nixon resigned it was Cronkite who said our Constitution works almost two hundred years after being drawn up by our founding fathers, it worked; and no man, not even a President was above the laws of the U. S. Constitution and we learned history again from Cronkite.
Cronkite brought us the Apollo 11 Moon landing on July 20, 1969, and when the rocket carrying our astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral Florida again in a seldom show of emotion, Cronkite led the nation with the phrase, “Go baby go”. When they landed Cronkite expressed what we all felt with a simple, “Wow”; and again we, [my family], knew he was coming into our home via a black and white television and extending our history lessons from the classrooms at school to our living rooms at home.
There is a Chinese Proverb of “May you live in interesting times”. I have only recently learned was a curse and not a blessing but for us, we have been blessed by living in both interesting times as well as historical times and like the sailing Cronkite so loved in his private life, he also held the helm of the ship of history of the 60’s and 70’s and we learned so much from him.
Go baby, Go, thank you for teaching my generation so much, we will not see the likes of you again Mr. Cronkite and as Mr Cronkite said every night in my home growing up, “That is the way it is; Tuesday, July 21, 2009”.
©An Editorial Opinion by Rose Turner
July 21, 2009
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