After a long bout with illness, Walter Cronkite has passed away at the age of 92.
As any one who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I am passionate about journalism. I owe a lot of it to Mr. Cronkite. I can remember watching him in the 1970’s, when I was in the single digit age range, and being mesmerized by his voice and delivery of the news. Did that make him a quintessentially good newsman? Not necessarily, but it planted in my mind that was what a newsman should sound and look like. Mr. Cronkite wasn’t so much a newsman as he was the news. For decades people thought of one name when you said you had been watching the news, and that name was always “Cronkite”.
I wasn’t alone in my thoughts about him as he regularly was named in opinion polls in the 1960’s and 1970’s as “the most trusted man in America”.
One of his most famous moments came on November 22nd, 1963 during the coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Newsman had always been assumed to be unemotional, delivering their reports without any hint of how they felt about a story personally, but all of that changed during his coverage of that tragic day.
After making the announcement that the President was officially dead, he paused for a moment, started his next sentence, and about half way through he coughed. It was slight and brief, but it was obviously the cough of someone trying to hold back their emotions. He said of that moment in a 2006 interview:
I choked up, I really had a little trouble…my eyes got a little wet…[what Kennedy had represented] was just all lost to us. Fortunately, I grabbed hold before I was actually [crying].
That little moment changed a lot of things for newsmen: they became humans. They had emotions, they could feel their stories and it was a moment that shall live on in the history of journalism.
Goodbye, Mr. Cronkite, you shall truly be missed.
Listen for the infamous cough around the 34-second mark in the video below.