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Obituary: Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite
Cronkite was a distinguished news reporter and anchorman

He became known as America's most trusted voice - the man who brought so many big news stories into millions of homes across the United States.

His no-holds-barred reports on the Vietnam war were said to have been instrumental in persuading President Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election.

Walter Leland Cronkite was born in St Joseph, Missouri on 4 November 1916, the son of a dentist.

His family moved to Houston when he was 10 where he attended a local high school before going on to the University of Texas where he worked on a student newspaper, The Daily Texan.

He failed to complete his studies, dropping out in 1935 to start a series of reporting jobs with local newspapers before beginning his broadcasting career at the radio station WKY in Oklahoma City.

In 1937, he joined the agency, United Press, and, with the outbreak of World War II, found himself reporting from battle zones across the world.

Accredited to the US forces, he flew on the first Flying Fortress bombing raids on Germany, covered the D-Day landings, and parachuted into the Netherlands with the invasion forces.

When the war ended, Cronkite stayed in Europe, reported on the Nuremberg trials, and served as UP bureau chief in Moscow where he covered the start of the Cold War and the increasing tensions between East and West.

Unflappable

After returning to the US in 1948, he worked as a radio reporter in Washington before being recruited by the distinguished journalist Edward R Murrow, who was setting up the first TV news operation for the broadcaster CBS.

Cronkite broadcasting Kennedy's death
He broke down on air after announcing Kennedy's assassination

In 1952, Cronkite fronted the first television coverage of both the Republican and Democratic party conventions, with the term "TV anchor" being used to describe his role.

He went on to cover the party conventions and presidential elections until 1964 when CBS decided to replace him with two other anchors.

The move backfired badly and Cronkite soon returned to the chair as the face of major political events in America.

In 1962, Cronkite took over as the host of the CBS Evening News - a job that made him the best known face on American television.

He quickly became a celebrity with his easy, unflappable style of presenting carefully-written, objective news reports.

In September 1963, he had an exclusive interview with President John F Kennedy, and two months later broke the news of his assassination - an occasion on which Cronkite came close to breaking down on air.

Influenced the president

Over the following two decades his authority stamped itself on every major news story around the world - presidential elections, the moon landings and the Vietnam war.

When he broadcast his belief that America could not win that war, President Johnson was heard to say: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle-America." He decided then not to seek re-election.

Cronkite's experience as a war correspondent helped CBS news gain a reputation for accurate and impartial journalism and, by the end of the 1960s, Cronkite's evening programme finally gained more viewers than rival NBC's offering.

"Our job is only to hold up the mirror - to tell and show the public what has happened."

Cronkite in Vietnam
His reports from Vietnam persuaded Johnson not to seek re-election

His coverage of the Apollo 11 landing in 1969 made CBS the favourite among Americans watching the drama unfold on the surface of the moon.

He also trained himself to speak at a slower rate than was traditional among American news journalists so that no-one would be in any doubt about what was actually being reported.

In 1981, he retired from the evening news programme handing over his chair to Dan Rather, but it was not the end of his broadcasting career.

Cronkite continued to produce special reports for the network and, in 1983, worked for ITV on the coverage of the general election, including an interview with a victorious Margaret Thatcher.

He was also vocal in demanding free airtime on American TV for political parties, pointing out that the US was one of just seven countries in the world which did not offer this facility - to the detriment of minority candidates.

But he badly missed his prime time news slot. "I want to say that probably 24 hours after I told CBS that I was stepping down at my 65th birthday, I was already regretting it. And I regretted it every day since."

Walter Cronkite was consistently voted "the most trusted man in America" in opinion polls. Every broadcast ended with his words: "That's the way it is."



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US TV news legend Cronkite dies
18 Jul 09 |  Americas

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