UPDATE: CBS will change it's prime-time schedule this evening to include a tribute to Cronkite. "Walter Cronkite: That's the Way It Was" will air at 7:00 pm instead of "60 minutes"
I know it's not Las Vegas related but he was such a part of my life growing up in Las Vegas:
"From Dallas Texas, a flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 pm central standard time." Walter Cronkite
He made the news and he made history. Back when there were only three networks broadcasting on television, he was the go-to guy for breaking and up-to the minute news.
In today's atmosphere of tabloid journalism, the internet, TMZ, Twitter, Facebook and the HuffPost as well as a cynical, jaded public that doesn't trust their government or the national press, he is a reminder of an era when it was all different.
He reported the news and occasionally, broke the rules, by making it personal. From JFK's death to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, he was the most trusted man in America when it came to delivering the news. Even when that news was devastating, whether it be the death of a beloved president, the loss of three astronaunts on the launch pad or an unwillable war in the far off-jungles of Vietnam.
We trusted Walter Cronkite to deliver the news, both good and bad.
His passing caught me off-guard though I knew he had been sick for some time and he was such an important figure in my life that I suspect I am not alone tonight in mourning.
I am truly saddened.
"Uncle Walter" passed away today, just shy of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing that he relished so much.
The historic moments I remember of my childhood and teen years revolve around him.
Taking off those thick rim black glasses to tell us that JFK had passed away, the moment when John Glenn went into orbit and returned safely, when he reported that the Vietnam War was a lost cause, his exuberance at seeing man walk on the moon, Watergate and every historic moment in between.
It wasn't real until you heard "Uncle Walter" report it.
My only solace on this sad, but envitable night, is that he out-lived Robert MacNamara.
We shall not know another like him again in our lifetime.
"God speed" indeed.
Well, if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
-- President Lyndon B. Johnson
This is how Bill Moyers, who had served as a key aide in the Johnson administration, likes to describe LBJ's reaction to a Walter Cronkite editorial about the Tet Offensive, in which Cronkite claimed that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable.
Whether LBJ phrased it as concisely as Moyers has always claimed, the sentiment reflects the amazing stature Cronkite, who died tonight at the age of 92, held in the late '60s and throughout the '70s, and the incredible transformation of TV news in the three decades since Cronkite retired from the anchor desk of "The CBS Evening News."
What newsman today could have that level of influence on a sitting president? Who could cross as many demographic lines, or be known affectionately by so many with a nickname like Uncle Walter?
In fairness, even at his peak, Cronkite had his detractors, as symbolized by "All in the Family" anti-hero Archie Bunker referring to him as "Pinko Cronkite." But for the most part, Cronkite represented a far more unified era in popular culture, one when viewers didn't choose their news based on whether they agreed with the channel's politics, and when the anchorman was often treated as the voice of a god coming down from the mountaintop.
And no holy voice resonated more deeply than Cronkite's.
CBS has long held that Cronkite created the position -- and name -- of anchorman with the way he led the network's coverage of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1952. And even if the role and term pre-dated Cronkite, he came to so embody the concept that in several European countries like Sweden, the position has been referred to as "Cronkiter."
Though he finished in second place in the ratings to NBC's team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley for much of the '60s, it's Cronkite we think of when looking back on landmark moments from the era: the brief pause as he composed himself after confirming the death of President Kennedy, or the childlike grin as the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the surface of the moon.
The emotion of those two moments -- and the grace with which he tucked his feelings away to get back to work -- sums up why Cronkite was so beloved by so many.
He was shaken by JFK's death, as the whole country was, and you could hear a catch in his throat as he tried to explain that LBJ would be sworn in as the new president, but after that, he kept things as professional as any human could under the circumstances. Intentionally or not, he let his audience know that he felt their pain, and then tried to keep them calm by reporting the facts of the situation as he knew them.
(Compared to the non-stop, better-to-be-first-than-right approach that cable news takes to covering so many of today's top stories, it can be startling to watch archival video of CBS News that day. Not only did Cronkite wait until Kennedy had been officially declared dead to do the same on air, but CBS cut away from his reports -- not once, but twice -- to return to a regularly-scheduled telecast of "As the World Turns.")
Cronkite also worked in radio, where he was far more forthright with his opinion than he was on television. In his 1979 book about the news media, David Halberstam wrote that President Johnson, a radio fan, once said, "If Walter Cronkite would say on television what he says on radio, he would be the most powerful man in America."
But it was Cronkite's usual restraint from inserting himself into the story that made so powerful those rare occasions when he did, as Johnson learned after the Tet Offensive. When Cronkite went on air and declared, "It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam will end in a stalemate," this wasn't Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann delivering yet another rant against their political enemies. This was Uncle Walter, and people listened.
Five years later, he would be named the most trusted man in America in a national poll, finishing 15 points ahead of President Nixon.
CBS' mandatory retirement age took Cronkite away from the anchor desk before he and we were ready, But by stepping down in March of 1981 -- while the three major broadcast networks were still our culture's dominant news source, before his audience splintered along different demographic and ideological lines, before viewers tired of the omniscient voice from the mountaintop and began demanding a voice very much like their own -- Cronkite's peak, and his legacy, were forever preserved.