Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Walter Leland Cronkite Jr., the American journalist whose objectivity and credibility prompted Time magazine to name him the most trusted man in America, greatly influenced the development of national television news reporting while serving as anchor and managing editor at CBS News from 1962 to 1981.

Cronkite was born November 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Missouri. When his dentist father received a World War I army commission in 1917, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. In 1928 the family relocated to Houston, Texas. Cronkite graduated from high school in 1933 and enrolled as a political science major at the University of Texas at Austin. Uncertain about his future vocation, he dropped out of college in 1935 and worked at a wide variety of jobs over much of the Midwest. After his 1940 marriage to Betsy Maxwell, Cronkite and his wife moved to New York City, where he had been assigned to the United Press foreign office.

In 1942 Cronkite accepted a position as a war correspondent based in London, where he distinguished himself for bravery and professionalism. Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, he was named chief United Press correspondent at the Nuremberg war trials. In 1946 he was sent to Moscow for two years, accompanied by his wife. At Edward R. Murrow's invitation, Cronkite left United Press in 1948 to work at radio station kmbd in Washington DC. In 1951 after joining cbsowned television station WTOP, his Man of the Week program attracted the attention of CBS executives. He was chosen to cover the first televised national political convention in 1952 in Chicago as well as every ensuing convention while he was with CBS News. Cronkite was transferred by CBS to New York City in 1953 to host The Twentieth Century, Eyewitness to History, and You Are There.

In 1961 America was introduced to the space age with Cronkite's televised live launch of Alan B. Shepard, the first American in space. Cronkite covered every manned NASA flight until his retirement. After a 1968 fact-finding trip to Southeast Asia, Cronkite declared his opposition to the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War on a special news program and challenged the misleading optimism expressed by governmental officials. His pronouncement had a powerful impact on American politics, influencing Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run for reelection as president.

Cronkite, an outspoken defender of First Amendment rights, received most of the credit–or blame–for exposing the multifarious criminal activities of members of Richard Nixon's White House staff as they attempted to cover up the Watergate break-in. Intense pressure from the public and news media eventually brought down the entire Nixon administration.

Cronkite was also responsible for opening the dialogue between Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, giving President Jimmy Carter the opportunity to secure an agreement of cooperation between the two nations in a historic 1979 White House ceremony.

By the time Cronkite retired from cbs in 1981, he had received every major broadcasting honor as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to him by President Jimmy Carter.

Doug James Spring Hill College

James, Doug. Walter Cronkite: His Life and Times. Nashville: JMP Press, 1991.

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