July 19th, 2009
03:10 PM ET
13 years ago

Reliable Sources: Journalists remember Cronkite

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former colleagues of legendary CBS anchor Walter Cronkite paid tribute Sunday to the personable traits and journalistic smarts of the man often hailed as the “most trusted man in America.”

Cronkite died Friday at the age of 92.

Related video: An anchorman's legacy

Howard Kurtz sat down with some of Cronkite's former colleagues on Reliable Sources Sunday to discuss what Cronkite meant to journalism.

Don Hewitt, creator of CBS's 60 Minutes and former executive producer of CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, has dealt with many of the biggest stars in journalism. He said he never had to massage Cronkite's ego. "He never got full of himself. America was full of Walter Cronkite. Walter was very modest about himself and maybe the best news guy I ever worked with."

Susan Zirinsky, currently the executive producer of CBS's 48 Hours, was 19 when she joined CBS News.

"I was in college and obviously most people are dating. I was going to garages around Washington thinking we could find 'Deep Throat.' I was staking out the attorney general of the United States. Quite frankly I didn't care about dating because I was on 'team Walter' somewhere. How great was that?"

By 1974, Zirinsky had worked her way up to a researcher, and when President Nixon retired on August 8th of that year, Zirinsky picked Cronkite's script out of the trash can in order to "have history in my hands."

"I felt like Walter took us through moments of history and this was part of history."

CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer joined in the discussion before heading off to host his own CBS show Face the Nation.

He spoke about what set his CBS colleague apart: "Number one, he just loved the news. Number two, he let nothing get in the way of the news. With Walter, the news always came first. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was about news. It was not about Walter Cronkite. People understood that. He came through to people. The other part, Howie, and the part that I think was most important, Walter was just the same off camera as he was on camera," Schieffer said.

Schieffer said Cronkite was as competitive as anyone in terms of getting the story first.

“He loved a scoop and loved no scoop better than when it was his scoop. He thought broadcasting was about getting the news...With him it was just finding out what happened. That was what drove Walter Cronkite. It wasn't ideology or some sort of an agenda. He just wanted to find out and find out before other people. He was the most curious person I have ever known. If Walter saw a car wreck, it would be the first car wreck he had ever seen in his life, he'd want to know all about it. He'd want to check it out. He was amazing."

Bernard Shaw worked for and with Cronkite as a CBS Correspondent in the early to mid 1970s before becoming a CNN anchor, but their relationship dates back to the early 1960s.

"He was very, very tough, but that was part of the CBS culture. Reporters coming into the bureau, rookies, we had a responsibility and we had standards to live up to and to uphold. Cronkite and I go back to when I was in the Marine Corps, 1961 in Hawaii, and I called his hotel 34 times and he returned my call. We had a lobby meeting. He could only spare 20 minutes because he and Betsy [Cronkite's wife] had a formal [event] that night. Twenty minutes elapsed to 40 minutes. We were friends ever since."

Kurtz asked the panel of Cronkite's former colleagues if they were ever intimidated working for him.

Connie Chung, former co-anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1993-1995, said intimidation was sometimes a factor when filing reports for Cronkite.

"When he had the title of managing editor of the CBS Evening News, and he took that very seriously and we took it seriously because he literally looked at our reports and edited them, and he would call us and, you know, find - ask us questions about our report to make sure that they - that the reports were accurate...Afterwards there was one key thing that Walter always did. If he liked your report, he called you up and said 'that was a great report, you did a good job.' No matter where you were in the world, he would find the time, pick up the phone, and give you an 'atta boy.'"

Kurtz, who interviewed Cronkite in 2003, offered his own insight into the difference between the Cronkite era and the current media culture.

"One of the reason Cronkite loomed so large is most people don't trust the media these days. A lot of self-inflicted wounds in the news business, and Cronkite reigned in an era when journalists could be trusted, still that sense of journalists got it right, tried to get it right. Things are different today."

Filed under: State of the Union
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Lynne

    The best things journalists could do to remember Walter Cronkite is to get back to factual, objective journalism instead of the tabloid infotainment that is based on speculation, anonymous sources, rush to judgment to try to be "first" and not questioning anything that comes out of a politician or a pundit's mouth.

    It is both amusing and pathetic to hear the modern "celebrities" hail the lessons of Walter Cronkite as they break almost every value he stood for.

    July 19, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. Marc

    Did he had political ideas?
    Did he let them dictate his work and thus make him a biased journalist?
    Man, you're missed!

    July 19, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  3. Ancient Texan

    I always enjoyed listening to Walter Cronkite and always felt what he said was true. We never knew he was liberal in his personal views until many years after he retired. Today, you know within seconds, the personal convictions of the news anchor. Real news, not commentary is almost impossible to get on the MSM.

    July 19, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  4. Chipster

    This weekend, I watched as much of the Sotomayor hearings as I could on C-SPAN. Sen. Franken asked some thorough and relevant questions about equal protection and discrimination. Sotomayor's answers were complex but Franken's follow-up questions revealed just how prepared he was and how fully he understands the issues.

    CNN, other cable networks, and even the major networks all reported thoroughly the funny exchange between the candidate and Franken about an old Perry Mason episode.

    I'm certain that Cronkite would have made the better choice, aren't you?

    But then, I'm old enough to recall when news was about information and not entertainment.

    July 19, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  5. mike in VA

    too bad there is no journalists today that are remotely like Walter Cronkite. Absolutly NONE!!

    July 19, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. GI Joe

    I hope we don't get Kronkite shoved down our throats 24/7 for 15 days like you all did with Michael Jackson. Too much is too much. No matter who it is.

    But then, we do bury ours within a few days, not two or three weeks later.

    July 19, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  7. susie

    They don't make good and honest journalist anymore. Cronkite, Tim Russett; they didn't do bias reporting like these yahoos do now. They looked until they found the truth instead of not reporting because it might not make their candidate look good. They were honest and didn't get tingles up their legs. Good honest reporting that is what we miss these days.

    July 19, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  8. Denna

    I was a high school student when President Kennedy was killed and I remember Mr. Cronkite's reporting like it was yesterday. It was the first time I had ever seen a news person show emotion and it was amazing. God bless Mr. Cronkite's family. He was a journalist to be imitated. but never duplicated.

    July 19, 2009 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  9. democrat no mas

    Denna and Ancient Texan: You said exactly what I wanted to say. I was in high school too, and it seems like yesterday. If only news reporters would take a lesson from Walter, we could better understand the world around us and be more informed, and less led astray. Walter Cronkite can't come back, but maybe those better times can.

    July 19, 2009 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  10. yuri

    Cronkite was one handsome hunk of a man, and a mega-icon. His demise has left a huge crater in the crazy center and corner of corporate journalism and reporting. This is the opinion of us-the dark horses.

    July 19, 2009 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |

    The way to honor Walter Cronkite is to report the truth. Something you media guys seem to think is an item to glamourize istead of telling it, "this is the way it is on, date, Year"

    July 19, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  12. Hugo

    They honor Cronkite for his ability to report and break a political story unbiased! Now if the news media could just get off the stump for the Usurper in Chief and start doing some investigative reporting on some of the fraud and corruption surrounding our Nations highest offices, that would be a true tribute to Walter and the American people! Clue: FANNIE & FREDDIE, BARNEY FRANK, ACORN, OBAMA, GEITHNER, MERRILL LYNCH, GOLDMAN-SACHS.....Follow the money!

    Vote every career politician out of office in 2010! Break the network of corruption!

    July 19, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  13. ib

    Oh how I wish we had more like Cronkite today. People don't report news anymore they editorialize it from their point of view. Rest in peace sir; you deserve it; my how you will be missed.

    July 19, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  14. Carnell

    I Will Simply Miss Walter Cronkite Because He Is The Higherarchy Of The Original, Old School Journalists Who We Are Lacking Now. Journalism Was The Greatest I Imagine During The Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, And Chancelor Eras. You Can Even Add Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Tim Russert And Jim Lehrer As Greats Too. I Shudder To Think Where Journalism Is Heading, With Exceptions Of Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson, Bob Scheiffer, Keith Olbermann And Rachel Maddow. Honest And Trustworthy Jounalism Is Headed Down The Premrose Path.

    July 19, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  15. The Shrooming Liberal

    Walter was a truly great man but Headline News is still stuck on Micheal Jackson! He was a truly great american and meant more to this country than some freak entertainer ever did! Americans are losing focus on who and what is important to them. Its sad.

    July 19, 2009 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |