Cronkite on Rather: 'It's OK to Cry'

Sept. 24, 2001 -- -- Veteran CBS newsman Walter Cronkite has come to the defense of CBS anchor Dan Rather, who twice broke down in sobs on The Late Show With David Letterman last week when talking about visiting "Ground Zero" in New York.

Cronkite, who himself was visibly shaken when he reported the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963, remarked at a news conference in San Jose, Calif., "It was not until I had to say that the president was dead that it hit me the enormity of what I was reporting. … I don't blame anybody for showing emotion on the air. I don't think I would trust a reporter, male or female, who didn't show any emotion."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Cronkite also came to Rather's defense by pointing out the enormous pressures of the previous week.

"Not until it's all over and you can sit down do you realize the horror of what you have just witnessed. I think this is probably what is happening to Dan," he said.

Newscasters have also come under criticism for "draping themselves in the flag" during this time of patriotic resurgence.

On "The Late Show," Rather pledged support for President Bush, saying "Wherever he wants me to line up, tell me where."

On "Time" magazine's Web site, deputy Washington Bureau chief Matthew Cooper opted for neutrality, saying, "There's plenty of flag waving going on, but our job isn't to join it. Our job is to report what's happened and to ask questions. It's to explore the war effort, not to be a cheerleader for it."

However, Cooper confesses, "I'm a hypocrite on this issue. Journalist or not, I'd probably put an American flag in front of my house if I could find one."

Several stores reported selling out of American flags in the first days after the terrorist attacks.

The Washington Post reported today that ABC has now forbidden its reporters from wearing lapel flags.

Network spokesman Jeffrey Schneider told the Post, "Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible. … That does not mean journalists are not patriots. All of us are at a time like this. But we cannot signal how we feel about a cause, even a justified and just cause, through some sort of outward symbol."