Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20: Cronkite Championed Quality Journalism

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Walter Cronkite, who died last Friday at age 92, earned the tributes he has received not just because of his longevity as a journalist - his career stretched back to the 1930s - but also because he was a champion of integrity and the First Amendment.

It is unlikely that a journalist will ever again have the influence and reach Cronkite had as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" from 1962-81. Cronkite did not abuse that power; quite the contrary. Whether the story was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, the space program, Watergate or the Middle East peace process, Cronkite kept asking questions, kept digging for information and made sure that he informed the public, as any good journalist should.

And if he showed how he felt from time to time, well, that humanized him - his voice breaking on the announcement of Kennedy's death; his enthusiasm 40 years ago today, when lunar module Eagle landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps there; and yes, the February, 1968 commentary that may have turned public opinion on the Vietnam War, and did end President Lyndon Johnson's thoughts about seeking re-election.

During his tenure as managing editor of the CBS Evening News, the network hired a diverse pool of taleneted correspondents, including Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl. Cronkite, whose wife, Betsy, was also a journalist, helped others break barriers.

Even after he stepped down from the anchor desk, he never really retired, hosting a science program for CBS during the 1980s, continuing to comment on news of the day until recently - and continuing as a champion for a free, ethical and independent American press.

CBS has announced that Cronkite's voice will continue as the nightly introduction for the network's current anchor, Katie Couric. However, Cronkite's most important recent words can be found at the home page of

"Professional journalists gather the news and report it accurately and fairly. They're not influenced by people or groups who have their own agendas. Professional journalists act independently. They seek the truth and report it. They are accountable for the stories they write."

Walter Cronkite did just that. And that's the way it is.

No comments: