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Walter Cronkite (1916)

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  Summary  

Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009) was an American broadcast journalist, best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years (1962–81). During the heyday of CBS News in the 1960s and 1970s, he was often cited as "the most trusted man in America" after being so named in an opinion poll. Although he reported many events from 1937 to 1981, including bombing in World War II, the Nuremberg trials, combat in the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and the murders of President John F. Kennedy, civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King, Jr., and The Beatles musician John Lennon, he was known for extensive TV coverage of the U.S. space program, from Project Mercury to the Moon landings to the Space Shuttle. He was the only non-NASA recipient of a Moon-rock award. Cronkite is well known for his departing catchphrase "And that's the way it is," followed by the date on which the appearance is aired.

  Biography  

 early life
Cronkite was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, the son of Helen Lena (née Fritsche, August 1892 - November 1993) and Dr. Walter Leland Cronkite (September 1893 - May 1973), a dentist. He had remote Dutch ancestry on his father's side, the family surname originally being Krankheyt.

Cronkite lived in Kansas City, Missouri, until he was ten, when his family moved to Houston, Texas. He attended junior high school at Lanier Junior High School and high school at San Jacinto High School, where he edited the high school newspaper. He was a member of the Boy Scouts. He attended college at the University of Texas at Austin , entering in the Fall term of 1933, where he worked on the Daily Texan and became a member of the Nu chapter of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He also was a member of the Houston chapter of DeMolay, a Masonic fraternal organization for boys. While attending UT, Cronkite had his first taste of performance, appearing in a play with fellow students Eli Wallach and Ann Sheridan.

 career
He dropped out of college in his junior year, in the Fall term of 1935, after starting a series of newspaper reporting jobs covering news and sports. He entered broadcasting as a radio announcer for WKY in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 1936, he met his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Maxwell (known by her nickname "Betsy"), while working as the sports announcer for KCMO in Kansas City, Missouri. His broadcast name was "Walter Wilcox". He would explain later that radio stations at the time did not want people to use their real names for fear of taking their listeners with them if they left. In Kansas City, he joined the United Press in 1937. He became one of the top American reporters in World War II, covering battles in North Africa and Europe. He was one of eight journalists selected by the United States Army Air Forces to fly bombing raids over Germany in a B-17 Flying Fortress part of group called the Writing 69th. He also landed in a glider with the 101st Airborne in Operation Market-Garden and covered the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he covered the Nuremberg trials and served as the United Press main reporter in Moscow for two years.

 Early years at CBS
In 1950, Cronkite joined CBS News in its young and growing television division, recruited by Edward R. Murrow, who had previously tried to hire Cronkite from UP during the war. Cronkite began working at WTOP-TV, the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.. He originally served as anchor of the network's 15-minute late-Sunday-evening newscast Up To the Minute, which followed What's My Line? at 11:00pm ET from 1951 through 1962.

Although it is widely reported that the term "anchor" was coined to describe Cronkite's role at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, marking the first nationally televised convention coverage, other news presenters bore the title before him. Cronkite anchored the network's coverage of the 1952 presidential election as well as later conventions. In 1964 he was temporarily replaced by the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd; this proved to be a mistake, and Cronkite returned to the anchor chair for future political conventions.

From 1953 to 1957, Cronkite hosted the CBS program You Are There, which reenacted historical events, using the format of a news report. His famous last line for these programs was: "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there." In 1971, the show was revived and redesigned to attract an audience of teenagers and young adults on Saturday mornings. He also hosted The Twentieth Century, a documentary series about important historical events of the century comprised almost exclusively of newsreel footage and interviews. It became a long-running hit . Cronkite also hosted It's News to Me, a game show based on news events.

Another of his network assignments was The Morning Show, CBS' short-lived challenge to NBC's Today in 1954. His on-air duties included interviewing guests and chatting with a lion puppet named Charlemane about the news. He considered this discourse with a puppet as "one of the highlights" of the show. He added, "A puppet can render opinions on people and things that a human commentator would not feel free to utter. I was and I am proud of it." Cronkite also angered the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the show's sponsor, by grammatically correcting its advertising slogan. Instead of saying "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" verbatim, he substituted "as" for "like."

He was the lead broadcaster of the network's coverage of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the first-ever time such an event was televised in the United States. He replaced Jim McKay, who had suffered a mental breakdown.

 The CBS Evening News
On April 16, 1962, Cronkite succeeded Douglas Edwards as anchorman of the CBS Evening News , a job in which he became an American icon. The program expanded from 15 to 30 minutes on September 2, 1963, making Cronkite the anchor of American network television's first nightly half-hour news program.

During the early part of his tenure anchoring the CBS Evening News, Cronkite competed against NBC's anchor team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who anchored the Huntley-Brinkley Report. For most of the 1960s, the Huntley-Brinkley Report had more viewers than Cronkite's broadcast. This began to change in the late 1960s, as RCA made a corporate decision not to fund NBC News at the levels CBS funded CBS News. Consequently, CBS News acquired a reputation for greater accuracy and depth in its broadcast journalism. This reputation meshed nicely with Cronkite's wire service experience, and in 1967 the CBS Evening News began to surpass The Huntley-Brinkley Report in viewership during the summer months.

In 1969, during the Apollo 11 (with co-host and former astronaut Wally Schirra) and Apollo 13 moon missions, Cronkite received the best ratings and made CBS the most-watched television network for the missions. In 1970, when Huntley retired, the CBS Evening News finally dominated the American TV news viewing audience. Although NBC finally settled on the skilled and well-respected broadcast journalist John Chancellor, Cronkite proved to be more popular and continued to be top-rated until his retirement in 1981.

One of Cronkite's trademarks was ending the CBS Evening News with the phrase "...And that's the way it is," followed by the date. Keeping to standards of objective journalism, he omitted this phrase on nights when he ended the newscast with opinion or commentary. Beginning with 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.

 personal life
Cronkite was married for nearly sixty-five years to Mary Elizabeth 'Betsy' Maxwell Cronkite (January 25, 1916 - March 15, 2005), from March 30, 1940 until her death from cancer. They had three children: Nancy Cronkite, Mary Kathleen Cronkite, and Walter Leland Cronkite III ; and four grandchildren: Will Ikard, John Ikard, Peter Cronkite, and Walter Cronkite IV. Peter and Walter are alumni of St. Bernard's School. Peter Cronkite is currently attending Horace Mann School. Walter attends Hamilton College, having graduated from the same school.

In late 2005 Cronkite began dating opera singer Joanna Simon, Carly Simon's older sister. Of their relationship Cronkite stated in an interview for the New York Post in January 2006: "We are keeping company, as the old phrase used to be."

Cronkite was an avid sailor and a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, with the honorary rank of commodore. Throughout the 1950s, he was an aspiring sports car racer, even racing in the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring.

Cronkite was reported to be a fan of the game Diplomacy, which was John F. Kennedy's and Henry Kissinger's favorite game.

 Death
In late June 2009, Cronkite was reported to be terminally ill. He died on July 17, 2009, at his home in New York City, at the age of 92. He is believed to have died from cerebrovascular disease.
Cronkite's funeral took place on July 23, 2009 at St. Bartholomew's Church in midtown Manhattan, New York City. At his funeral, his friends noted his love of music, including, recently, drumming. He was cremated and his remains buried next to his wife, Betsy, in the family plot at a cemetery in Kansas City.

 legacy
 Public credibility and trustfulness
For many years, until a decade after he left his post as anchor, Cronkite was considered one of the most trusted figures in the United States. For most of his 20 years as anchor, he was the "predominant news voice in America." Affectionately known as "Uncle Walter," he covered many of the important news events of the era so effectively that his image and voice are closely associated with the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and the Watergate scandal. USA Today wrote that "few TV figures have ever had as much power as Cronkite did at his height." Enjoying the cult of personality surrounding Cronkite in those years, CBS allowed some good-natured fun-poking at its star anchorman in some episodes of the network's popular situation comedy All in the Family, during which the lead character Archie Bunker would sometimes complain about the newsman, calling him "Pinko Cronkite."

Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult-to-understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute.

 Awards and honors
In 1968, the faculty of the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University voted to award Cronkite the Carr Van Anda Award "for enduring contributions to journalism." In 1970, Cronkite received a "Freedom of the Press" George Polk Award.

In 1981, the year he retired, Jimmy Carter awarded Cronkite the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1985, Cronkite was honoured with the induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. In 1995, he received the Ischia International Journalism Award. In 1999, Cronkite received the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement's Corona Award in recognition of a lifetime of achievement in space exploration. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. On March 1, 2006, Cronkite became the first non-astronaut to receive NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award. Among Cronkite's numerous awards were four Peabody awards for excellence in broadcasting.

 Cronkite School at Arizona State University

A few years after Cronkite retired, Tom Chauncey, an owner of KTSP-TV, the then-CBS affiliate in Phoenix, contacted Cronkite, an old friend, and asked him if he would be willing to have the journalism school at Arizona State University named after him. Cronkite immediately agreed. The ASU program acquired status and respect from its namesake.

Cronkite was not just a namesake, but he also took the time to interact with the students and staff of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Cronkite made the trip to Arizona annually to present the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism to a leader in the field of media.

"The values that Mr. Cronkite embodies – excellence, integrity, accuracy, fairness, objectivity – we try to instill in our students each and every day. There is no better role model for our faculty or our students." said Dean Christopher Callahan.

The school, with approximately 1,200 majors, is widely regarded as one of the top journalism schools in the country. It is housed in a new facility in downtown Phoenix that is equipped with 14 digital newsrooms and computer labs, two TV studios, 280 digital student work stations, the Cronkite Theater, the First Amendment Forum, and new technology. The school's students regularly finish at the top of national collegiate journalism competitions, such as the Hearst Journalism Awards program and the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards. In 2009, students won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for college print reporting.

In 2008, The state-of-the-art journalism education complex in the heart of ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus was also built in his honor. The Walter Cronkite Regents Chair in Communication seats the Texas College of Communications dean.

 Walter Cronkite Papers
The Walter Cronkite papers are preserved at the curatorial Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Occupying 293 linear feet of shelf space, the papers document Cronkite's journalism career. Amongst the collected material are Cronkite's early beginnings while he still lived in Houston. They encompass his coverage of World War II as a United Press International correspondent, where he cemented his reputation by taking on hazardous overseas assignments. During this time he also covered the Nuremberg war crimes trial serving as the chief of the United Press bureau in Moscow. The main content of the papers documents Cronkite's career with CBS News between 1950 and 1981.

The Cronkite Papers assemble a variety of interviews with U.S. presidents from Herbert Hoover to Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. President Lyndon Johnson requested a special interview with Cronkite while he was broadcasting live on CBS.

Between 1990 and 1993 Don Carleton, executive director for the Center for American History, assisted Cronkite as he compiled an oral history to write his autobiography, A Reporter's Life, which was published in 1996. The taped memoirs became an integral part of an eight-part television series Cronkite Remembers, which was shown on the Discovery Channel.

As a newsman, Cronkite devoted his attention to the early days of the space program, and the "space race" between the United States and the Soviet Union. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration honoured Cronkite on February 28, 2006. Michael Coats, director of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, presented Cronkite with the Ambassador of Exploration Award. Cronkite was the first non-astronaut thus honoured.

NASA presented Cronkite with a moon rock sample from the early Apollo expeditions spanning 1969 to 1972. Cronkite passed on the Moon rock to Bill Powers, president of the University of Texas at Austin, and it became part of the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Carleton said at this occasion, "We are deeply honored by Walter Cronkite’s decision to entrust this prestigious award to the Center for American History. The Center already serves as the proud steward of his professional and personal papers, which include his coverage of the space program for CBS News. It is especially fitting that the archive documenting Walter's distinguished career should also include one of the Moon rocks that the heroic astronauts of the Apollo program brought to Earth."

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Walter Cronkite", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.