Cronkite Remembered as 'Gold Standard' for News

Walter Cronkite's journalism career spanned more than four decades.

July 18, 2009— -- One day after legendary reporter and anchorman Walter Cronkite died, colleagues and admirers are mourning the loss of "the most trusted" voice that led America through 40 years of war and peace.

President Obama reflected on Cronkite's work saying he set the standard for all other news anchors that followed.

But Morley Safer of "60 Minutes," Cronkite's colleague at CBS News, remembered Cronkite for his curiosity.

"He loved people. Walter was a remarkable guy. … That wasn't an act, believe me," Safer told ABC News' "Good Morning America." "He really was the just about the most curious man I've ever known: He wanted to know everything -- people's backgrounds, their education what they did for a living."

"It was real interest; it was genuine engagement," Safer said.

A private funeral service was scheduled for Thursday at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan, according to Marlene Adler, his longtime chief of staff told the Associated Press.

Adler said the Rev. William Tully will preside over the Episcopal service at the Park Avenue church, which the Cronkites attended for many years.

A memorial is to be held within the next month in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Adler said.

"It will be a fitting tribute to Mr. Cronkite and the life he lived, the people he knew, the people who loved him and the people he admired," said Adler, who headed Cronkite's staff for the past 20 years.

Cronkite, who anchored the "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, died of cerebral vascular disease at 7:42 p.m. ET Friday in his New York City home surrounded by his family.

She said he would be buried next to his late wife in Missouri, where the two first met.

Cronkite, who was once voted the "most trusted man in America," was 92. At the end of his career in 1985, 84 percent in a Roper Poll said he'd done an excellent or good job as CBS' longstanding anchor.

"Walter was always more than just an anchor," President Obama said Friday in a prepared statement. "He was someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day; a voice of certainty in an uncertain world. He was family. He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down."

Cronkite became best known on CBS News during the 1960s when he established the prominent role of the television news anchorman for the network's newly expanded evening news program.

In fact, as ABC's "World News'" Charles Gibson remembers, Cronkite was an anchor before television news had really defined the role. "They had to come up with some word for it, and so they called him the anchor and that term has stuck ever since," said Gibson.

Cronkite was held in such esteem in broadcast journalism that his name became synonymous with "news anchor" around the world. In Sweden, anchors are known as Kronkiters, and in Holland they are Cronkiters.

ABC News' own "Cronkiters" mourned the their fellow news anchor.

"Walter Cronkite set an example for all broadcast journalism by simply doing his best to tell us the truth about things that matter, with courage and without partisanship," ABC News president David Westin said. "We will miss him, but will seek to keep his spirit alive by following his example."

Cronkite's clout at his peak was illustrated by President Lyndon Johnson's dismay when Cronkite returned from a trip to Vietnam in 1968 and reported that the U.S. was losing the war.

"If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America," a rattled LBJ was reported to have said.

Fellow CBS newsman Bob Schieffer said Cronkite was so reluctant to express an opinion that when he did, "it had enormous impact." "Walter thought the news came first. He didn't like anchorman antics. And he didn't like bells and whistles," said Schieffer. "He thought if you just presented news and did the best job you could do to get the story right that people would figure out what to do about it."

Cronkite's legacy of being the authoritative voice of news is still heard each night when CBS News uses a recording of Cronkite to introduce CBS "Evening News With Katie Couric."

Cronkite Becoming a Legend

Born Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Mo., Walter Leland Cronkite was the son of a dentist who moved the family to Houston.

He got an early start in journalism. After graduating from Houston's San Jacinto High School, he enrolled at the University of Texas. The natural newsman, however, was soon spending more time filing stories for his college and local newspapers and area radio stations than attending classes.

After two years in college, Cronkite left school in 1935 to become a full-time reporter for the Houston Post. Within a year, the young Cronkite began working as a correspondent for United Press International (UPI).

During World War II, Cronkite traveled to Europe to cover fighting from the front lines. As a war correspondent, Cronkite earned a reputation as a courageous and tireless reporter, parachuting into Holland with the 101st Airborne Division and talking to soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge.

Cronkite's Move to TV

After the war, Cronkite stayed with UPI, reporting from Europe, the Soviet Union and Washington, D.C. Starting in 1950, Cronkite began work in television journalism at CBS News.

He became one of the original creators of "CBS Evening News" and anchored the show's first 30-minute broadcast, featuring an interview with President John F. Kennedy. Cronkite's levelheaded and assuring delivery carried American viewers through the tumultuous events of the 1960s, including the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as coverage of the Vietnam War.

ABC's Barbara Walters says Cronkite marks the end of a time when Americans had more trust in the news. "We are a lot more suspicious these days, perhaps we're more cynical, perhaps we're more sophisticated," said Walters. "But we don't have that same total trust that we did in Walter Cronkite."

Not Always and Easy Road

Cronkite had his share of controversy. In 1976, another TV newsman reported that he saw Cronkite's name on the alleged White House list of journalists who had worked for the CIA. He did not. An angry Cronkite demanded then-CIA director George H.W. Bush disclose which journalists actually had been CIA agents, essentially learning that two former CBS correspondents worked for the CIA.

Cronkite also cited lack of accountability and corporate ownership as a problem in modern-day journalism.

"I think the concern today is that the ownership of the networks, it does not have the background of clear-cut responsibility in broadcasting that the pioneers had. It's not the fault of anybody in particular, except they've come along in the second and third generation when that responsibility has not been pounded into them as it was with the pioneers," Cronkite said on PBS' "Frontline" in 1999. "[T]heir thinking is, 'How do you maximize profit.' You do it by entertainment, primarily. News is hanging in there still but, unfortunately, as a profit center."

Cronkite wrote a total of seven books, and won numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 and Library of Congress Living Legend award in 2000. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1984, Arizona State University named its journalism school after the former anchor.

Cronkite's wife of 65 years, Betsy, died in 2005. He is survived by their three children and several grandchildren.

ABC News' Gary Langer contributed to this report.