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Walter Cronkite Dead at 92

Legendary newsman took America through everything from the assassination of President Kennedy to the Vietnam War and the Apollo space missions.

Legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, once voted the “most trusted man in America,” died Friday. He was 92.

The anchor of the CBS Evening News for 19 years, Cronkite had been suffering from a cerebrovascular disease, which affects the blood vessels in the brain.

 

Affectionately known as “Uncle Walter,” he was best known for his trusted reporting and his sign-off catchphrase, “And that’s the way it is,” which he followed with the date. He reported on most of the world’s major events, including Watergate, the Vietnam War and the Apollo space missions.

 

Most memorably, the usually stoic news anchor cried on the air while reporting the death of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963.

 

Though not the first network news anchor, the term was coined after his coverage of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1952 — the first time conventions were nationally televised.

"For decades, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted voice in America," President Obama said in a statementThursday night. "His rich baritone reached millions of living rooms every night, and in an industry of icons, Walter set the standard by which all others have been judged. He was there through wars and riots, marches and milestones, calmly telling us what we needed to know. And through it all, he never lost the integrity he gained growing up in the heartland."

Cronkite ascended to the role of evening news anchor in 1963. He initially trailed the NBC team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in the ratings, but CBS began to invest more in its evening news and Cronkite came to dominate the profession.

When he reported that the Vietnam War was unwinnable after witnessing the Tet Offensive, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Similarly, former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee credited Cronkite with keeping the “Watergate” story alive. “Somehow many other editors felt when Cronkite — the great white father of the American people — said that the Washington Post was right, the story suddenly was worth their attention and coverage,” Bradlee said in a forum published in his old paper.

 

While Cronkite did not become a titan in the industry until his ’50s, he was drawn to journalism from an early age. He was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, on Nov. 5 1916 and after moving to Texas for middle school and high school, he attended the University of Texas at Austin. While at school, he worked for the Daily Texan; he dropped out of college in 1935 to begin working as a radio announcer.

He went on to work for KCMO in Kansas City,where he met his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, known by her nickname “Betsy.” The two married in 1940 and remained together until Maxwell’s death on March 16, 2005, just two weeks short of their 65th anniversary.

While still in Kansas City, Cronkite joined United Press, for whom he covered World War II, the Nuremberg trials and Soviet Russia. Edward R. Murrow, then a predecessor of Cronkite’s behind the evening news desk, recruited Cronkite to join CBS News.

After almost a decade reporting overseas, Cronkite gave in to Murrow’s entreaties in 1950 and began to work at CBS’ Washington affiliate, where he anchored coverage of the 1952 election.

With the election raising his professional profile, Cronkite went on to host a variety of shows for the network such as “You Are There,” which reenacted historical events in the form of a news report, “The Twentieth Century,” a documentary series chronicling the century’s most famous events and “It’s News to Me,” a news-related game show.

CBS gave Cronkite the job that would make him a national icon a decade after his first convention coverage, introducing him as Douglas Edwards’ successor as news anchor April 16, 1962.

Within his first year, Cronkite covered the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year later, he was faced with a generation-altering incident — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was the first of many occasions in which the American public would come to associate an event with Cronkite, as he covered the Vietnam War, the Apollo space landings and the Watergate scandal.

 

Though it took him six years to give CBS the top-rated evening news program, his reporting on those events kept him at the top until he was forced to retire in 1981.
 

When he uttered those words for the final time, he had garnered a number of accolades, including a “Freedom of the Press” Geroge Polk Award, and after he stepped down Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Having promised his viewers he would continue to work as a journalist, Cronkite occasionally worked as a correspondent for CBS, anchoring John Glenn’s second space flight. He also leant his voice to movies, amusement parks and even Broadway shows.

Cronkite is survived by his three children, four grandchildren and opera singer Joanna Simon, who he began dating after Maxwell died.