Walter Cronkite, the premier TV anchorman of the networks’ golden age who reported a tumultuous time with reassuring authority and came to be called “the most trusted man in America,” died Friday. He was 92.
Cronkite’s longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler, said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. at his Manhattan home surrounded by family. She said the cause of death was cerebral vascular disease.
Adler said, “I have to go now” before breaking down into what sounded like a sob. She said she had no further comment.
Cronkite was the face of the “CBS Evening News” from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to racial and anti-war riots, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.
It was Cronkite who read the bulletins coming from Dallas when Kennedy was shot Nov. 22, 1963, interrupting a live CBS-TV broadcast of the soap opera “As the World Turns.”
Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title “anchorman” was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages. (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.)
“He was a great broadcaster and a gentleman whose experience, honesty, professionalism and style defined the role of anchor and commentator,” CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement.
His 1968 editorial declaring the United States was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in U.S. opinion of the war. He also helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
He followed the 1960s space race with open fascination, anchoring marathon broadcasts of major flights from the first suborbital shot to the first moon landing, exclaiming, “Look at those pictures, wow!” as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon’s surface in 1969. In 1998, for CNN, he went back to Cape Canaveral to cover John Glenn’s return to space after 36 years.
“It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite,” CBS News president Sean McManus said in a statement. “More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments.”
He had been scheduled to speak last January for the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., but ill health prevented his appearance.
A former wire service reporter and war correspondent, he valued accuracy, objectivity and understated compassion. He expressed liberal views in more recent writings but said he had always aimed to be fair and professional in his judgments on the air.
Off camera, his stamina and admittedly demanding ways brought him the nickname “Old Ironpants.” But to viewers, he was “Uncle Walter,” with his jowls and grainy baritone, his warm, direct expression and his trim mustache.
When he summed up the news each evening by stating, “And THAT’s the way it is,” millions agreed. His reputation survived accusations of bias by Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, and being labeled a “pinko” in the tirades of a fictional icon, Archie Bunker of CBS’s “All in the Family.”
Two polls pronounced Cronkite the “most trusted man in America”: a 1972 “trust index” survey in which he finished No. 1, about 15 points higher than leading politicians, and a 1974 survey in which people chose him as the most trusted television newscaster.
Like fellow Midwesterner Johnny Carson, Cronkite seemed to embody the nation’s mainstream. When he broke down as he announced Kennedy’s death, removing his glasses and fighting back tears, the times seemed to break down with him.
And when Cronkite took sides, he helped shape the times. After the 1968 Tet offensive, he visited Vietnam and wrote and narrated a “speculative, personal” report advocating negotiations leading to the withdrawal of American troops.
“We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds,” he said, and concluded, “We are mired in stalemate.”
After the broadcast, President Johnson reportedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”