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Walter Cronkite is probably one of the most recognizable names in television journalism of the past. His coverage of various events such as the death of President Kennedy, the Watergate scandal, the first US Moonwalk, and his commentary throughout the Apollo 13 mission that nearly ended in disaster, are iconic in American television. He was at one time labeled “the most trusted man in America,” because of his upright stance, his comprehensive coverage and because he’s been associated with the reporting of many of the defining events of the latter half of the 20th century in his capacity of special reporter and anchor for the nightly CBS news.
Cronkite is Missourian by birth, the child of Dr. Leland Walter Cronkite. He was born in 1916, and resided in Missouri until he was ten, when the family then moved to Houston, Texas. In Texas, he attended junior high and high school and then briefly attended the University of Texas, Austin. Walter Cronkite left college before graduating, pulled by his desire to pursue a career in journalism.
After working for the several newspapers, Cronkite got his first “broadcast” position on the WKY radio station in Oklahoma City. By 1936 he was working in Kansas City, Missouri at KCMO, where he met his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Maxwell. The pair would marry in 1940, and their marriage, unlike so many other celebrity marriages of today, lasted just shy of 65 years, until Mary’s death in 2005.
In 1937, Walter Cronkite became a journalist for the United Press, and began to cover World War II efforts on location. This daring coverage brought him considerable notice, and he was tapped in 1950 by Edward R. Murrow to join the fledgling television network CBS. The term television anchor was first used to describe Cronkite’s coverage of the first televised Conventions of Democrats and Republicans in 1952. In 1953, Cronkite hosted the popular news based history show You Are There , which aired through 1957, and was revived and run again for teens in the 1970s.
Cronkite earned the position of head anchor in 1962, in some ways a career defining position as he become host of the CBS Evening News. In the early stages of this job, CBS was soundly beat in the ratings by the NBC news. CBS began a slow crawl to the top, and eventually trumped NBC’s program consistently in the ratings by 1970.
As a television journalist, Walter Cronkite is not only remembered for covering some of the most important events in US history, including inserting his occasional opinion about the lack of viability of the war in Vietnam, but he also had a distinct speaking voice to which many could relate. He specifically trained himself to speak at a slower pace, about 120 words per minute. Other reporters tended to speak at 150-160 words per minute.
Cronkite was forced by CBS to retire in 1980, since at the time the network had a mandatory “retire at 65” policy. He’s continued to be active in the world of journalism, contributes to charities, and voices his opinion about American politics, including most recently his feelings about the failure of the American/Iraq war, which he compares to Vietnam. He still make personal appearances, does voice over and narration work, and remains an important voice in America. Furthermore Walter Cronkite has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He’s shown his ability to change with the times by blogging for the Huffington Post. He’s often known to Americans by his sign off statement on the CBS Evening News: “and that’s the way it is.”
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