Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite, the son of Walter Leland Cronkite Sr., a dentist, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on 4th November 1916. After studying political science and economics at University of Texas (1933-35) he joined The Houston Post.

In 1936 he became a news and sports reporter at KCMO radio in Kansas City. During this period he met an advertising writer named Mary Elizabeth Maxwell. They married in 1941 and over the next few years she gave birth to Walter Leland III, Nancy Elizabeth and Mary Kathleen.

During the Second World War he worked for the United Press. Cronkite was one of the eight war correspondents selected to fly with the United States Air Force on bombing missions over Germany. After a week's high-altitude aircrew training in England he flew his first mission in a B-17 Flying Fortress on 26th February 1943. One of the aircraft, carrying the journalist Robert Post, was shot down and the USAF scheme was abandoned.

Cronkite covered the Nuremberg War Trials and in 1946 moved to the Soviet Union where he worked as the United Press bureau chief in Moscow. Harold Jackson argued: "It was a tough period for western journalists, faced with a Stalinist paranoia which regarded anything not reported by the government-controlled media as a state secret. The physical conditions were also trying and it was with some relief that Cronkite returned to America in 1948." Cronkite then became Washington correspondent for a dozen Midwestern radio stations.

In 1950, Edward Murrow successfully recruited him for CBS. He was assigned to develop the news department of a new CBS station in Washington. He later commented: "We literally figured it out as we went along. For an old newspaperman it was like carrying a printing press around." Cronkite worked on several shows programmes including You Are There. In 1961, Cronkite replaced Murrow as CBS’s senior correspondent, and on 16th April, 1962, he joined CBS Evening News. He later commented: "We literally figured it out as we went along. For an old newspaperman it was like carrying a printing press around."

Cronkite was on air when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. According to the New York Times "Cronkite briefly lost his composure in announcing that the president had been pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Taking off his black-framed glasses and blinking back tears, he registered the emotions of millions."

Walter Cronkite (1983)
Walter Cronkite (1983)

In 1968, Cronkite visited Vietnam and returned to do a special program on the war. He called the conflict a stalemate and advocated a negotiated peace. President Lyndon B. Johnson watched the broadcast, and according to Bill Moyers: “The president flipped off the set and said, If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Douglas Martin claimed that Cronkite "pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America."

Cronkite retired in 1981 at 64 and was replaced with Dan Rather. Later that year Cronkite was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and four years later was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. CBS named him a special correspondent; the position turned out to be largely honorary, though some reports suggested it paid $1 million a year. Cronkite later argued that this was because it was likely he would overshadow his successor: ""It's not the way I wanted it. I'd love them to make better use of me, but that's internal politics."

Cronkite has written several books including Eve of the World (1971), South by Southeast (1993), North by Northeast (1986), Westwind (1990), Cronkite Remembers (1996), A Reporters Life (1998) and Sailing America's Coast (2008).

Walter Cronkite died of complications of dementia on 17th July, 2009.

Primary Sources

(1) The German newspaper, Voelkischer Beobachter, reported on the Allied mission on 26th February 1943 when Robert Post was killed.

An air battle of exceptional ferocity took place on the 26th of February in which fighters and marine flak artillery emerged victorious with seventeen enemy airplanes shot down.

Wilhelmshaven was the target of the attacking formation of U.S. bombers. The city on the Jade Bay, which has had to withstand several night attacks in the past two weeks, was now targeted for a daylight bombing attack in good visibility. But fighters and marine flak artillery destroyed the enemy's plan, knocked the opponent back, and gave the Americans an idea of the striking power of our aerial defense. The air battle that was fought here ranks as one of the biggest days in the German bay, where once thirty-six enemy bombers were shot down by the Schumacher squadron. This time it was seventeen "four-motors" that found their end in the course of less than an hour. Outside in the Watt Sea, in the swamps, in the meadows, and in the marshes - everywhere lay the rubble of destroyed enemy machines. Already they are covered by the incoming tide or buried deep in the swamp. A flyer reported that the sky at the time was so speckled with white parachutes that one might have assumed that the enemy was dropping paratroopers if it had not been for the firebrand of crashing machines which left no doubt as to their origin. Trucks with prisoners drove quickly through the streets. Out of all regions, captured Americans were rounded up by the police, civil authorities, and military installations.

While enemy planes were hunted and shot down outside the approach to the city, on the coast, and above the Watt Sea and the Ems River, a few of them managed to reach the city of Wilhelmshaven. Encircled by the exploding shells of the marine flak artillery, the bombers indiscriminately unloaded their bombs. Again apartment houses here collapsed, again people were left homeless, and again, almost without exception, civil and public establishments were hit. Above the residential areas bombers were again severely attacked by the marine flak artillery.

As the last enemy bombers reached the wide sea and our fighters flew back to their air bases, we drove to the city of Wilhelmshaven. The population has gone through a lot in recent days. Many times they have been named in armed forces reports as a target of British bombers. But the people have held "their front." They are standing firm on ground made dear by battle and pain. Most of all, they are happy about the success of our fighter pilots and flak artillery gunners and are grateful to them for the battering of the enemy air forces.

(2) Walter Cronkite, The Warren Report: Part 1, CBS Television (25th June, 1967)

It seemed evident that we should try to establish the ease or difficulty of that rapid-fire performance. Hence, our next question: How fast could that rifle be fired? Oswald's rifle was test-fired for the Warren Commission by FBI and military marksmen. The rate of fire for this bolt-action rifle and its accuracy against a moving target were critical to the Commission's case against Oswald. And yet, incredibly, all tests for the Commission were fired at stationary targets. The FBI won't comment on why.

Based more on testimony than on firing tests, the Commission concluded it was an easy shot for Oswald to hit the President at that range. From its tests the main conclusion drawn was that this Mannlicher-Carcano could not be fired three times in a span of less than 4.6 seconds, because it took about 2.3 seconds to operate the bolt mechanism between shots...

Did Oswald own a rifle? He did.

Did Oswald take a rifle to the Book Depository building? He did.

Where was Oswald when the shots were fired? In the building, on the sixth floor.

Was Oswald's rifle fired from the building? It was.

How many shots were fired? Three.

How fast could Oswald's rifle be fired? Fast enough.

What was the time span of the shots? Seven or eight seconds.

Did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot President Kennedy? CBS News concludes that he did.

(3) Walter Cronkite, The Warren Report: Part 2, CBS Television (26th June, 1967)

In answer to our major question as to whether shots came from a direction other than the Book Depository Building, indicating other gunmen and a conspiracy, we have eye - or ear witnesses inside the building saying the shots came from there. Now, Mr. Holland who was on the railroad overpass, here, insists that he heard a shot from here. And in Mark Lane's book. Rush to Judgment, he writes that fifty-eight out of ninety people who were asked about the shots thought they came from the grassy knoll.

Now, expert opinions differ. All the experts agree that the shots could have come from the rear. But where some experts, such as Dr. Humes, say bluntly that they did, others - such as Dr. Wecht - find it highly unlikely.

CBS News concludes that the most reasonable answer is that the shots came from the Book Depository building, behind the President and Governor Connally. But if the shots came from the rear, and if there were only three of them, can all the wounds be accounted for? The President was struck at least twice. Governor Connally was wounded in the chest, the wrist, and the thigh. One bullet was recovered intact, as well as two large fragments. The Warren Commission concluded that of the three bullets fired, one missed entirely, one struck the President's skull and fragmented, and the third - this one - passed through the President's neck and went on to inflict all the governor's wounds. This is the single-bullet theory. And so we must ask: Could a single bullet have wounded both President Kennedy and Governor Connally?

We asked Arlen Specter, assistant counsel to the Commission, and now district attorney of Philadelphia, and the author of the single-bullet theory.

Arlen Specter: The possibility of one bullet having inflicted the wounds on both the President's neck and the Governor's body came in a very gradual way. For example, the first insight was given when Dr. Humes testified, based on his autopsy findings. And at that time it was made clear for the first time that the bullet that went through the President's neck hit no bone, hit no solid muscle. And, according to Dr. Humes, came out with great velocity.

Now, it was at that juncture that we wondered for the first time what happened to the bullet. Where did the bullet go? The probability is that it went into Governor Connally, because it struck nothing else in the car. That is the single most convincing piece of evidence that the one bullet hit both men, because looking down the trajectory, as I did through Oswald's own rifle, and others did too, the trajectory was such that it was almost certain that the bullet which came out of the President's neck with great velocity would have had to have hit either the car or someone in the car.

(4) Walter Cronkite,The Warren Report: Part 2, CBS Television (26th June, 1967)

It is claimed that the bullet was planted on the governor's stretcher as part of a plot to link Oswald to the assassination. And that claim can never be disproved. The bullet is almost intact, only slightly flattened, with a little cone of lead missing from the rear end. Could such a bullet have penetrated successively, a human neck, a human torso, a wrist, and a thigh, and emerged in this condition? The Commission used animal carcasses and blocks of gelatin to test the bullet's penetrating power, firing repeated shots from Oswald's rifle. Now, this is standard technique. But, because of the difficulty of lining up such a shot, the Commission experts fired their bullets separately through the various simulators. Each time they measured how much speed the bullet had lost from its initial two thousand feet per second, and in the end, concluded that the bullet would have retained enough velocity to penetrate the Governor's thigh.

(5) Walter Cronkite,The Warren Report: Part 2, CBS Television (26th June, 1967)

The Warren Report's contention that there was only one assassin rests on the conviction that all the wounds suffered by both men were inflicted by no more than three shots, fired from behind and above them. We have heard Captain Humes, as well as other doctors and experts. We have looked hard at the single-bullet theory. The case is a strong one.

There is not a single item of hard evidence for a second assassin. No wound that can be attributed to him. No one who saw him, although he would have been in full view of a crowded plaza. No bullets. No cartridge cases. Nothing tangible.

(6) Walter Cronkite,The Warren Report: Part 3, CBS Television (27th June, 1967)

Jack Ruby was convicted of the murder of Oswald, but the conviction was reversed by an Appeals Court which held that an alleged confession should not have been admitted.

Ruby died six months ago of cancer, maintaining to the last that he was no conspirator, that he had killed Oswald out of anger and a desire to shield Jacqueline Kennedy from the ordeal of a trial at which she would have had to appear as a witness.

(7) Walter Cronkite, The Warren Report: Part 3, CBS Television (27th June, 1967)

Tonight we've asked if there was a conspiracy involving perhaps Officer Tippit, Jack Ruby, or others... On the basis of the evidence now at hand at least, we still can find no convincing indication of such a conspiracy. If we put those three conclusion together, they seem to CBS News to tell Just one story - Lee Harvey Oswald, alone, and for reasons all his own, shot and killed President Kennedy. It is too much to expect that the critics of the Warren Report will be satisfied with the conclusions CBS News has reached, any more than they were satisfied with the conclusions the Commission reached.

Concerning the events of November 22nd, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, the report of the Warren Commission is probably as close as we can ever come now to the truth.

(8) Walter Cronkite, The Warren Report: Part 4, CBS Television (28th June, 1967)

Almost from the day the Warren Commission published its report, its decision to omit those vital X-rays and photographs has been under attack. Only that physical evidence, say the critics, can finally resolve the debate over how many bullets struck the President, where they came from, and where they went - the central questions in the argument over how many assassins opened fire in Dealey Plaza.

More than one critic has charged that the autopsy record in the Warren Report is not the original autopsy, but has been changed to conform with the Commission's theories...

It seems to CBS News that one of the most serious errors made by the Warren Commission was its decision not to

look at those photographs and X-rays, an error now compounded. For the Kennedy family, which had possession of the autopsy pictures, agreed last year to donate them to the National Archives, but only with the stipulation that the pictures be locked away for five years - with only certain authorized government personnel allowed to see them.

Now, no one would propose that those grim and tragic relics be made generally available, to be flashed across television screens and newspaper pages. But in view of their crucial bearing on the entire assassination we believe that those films should now be made available for independent examination by expert pathologists, with the high qualifications of Captain Humes - but without his status as a principal in the case.

There is one further piece of evidence which we feel must now be made available to the entire public: Abraham's Zapruder's film of the actual assassination. The original is now the private property of Life magazine. A Life executive refused CBS News permission to show you that film at any price, on the grounds that it is "an invaluable asset of Time, Inc." although these broadcasts have demonstrated that the film may contain vital undiscovered clues to the assassination.

Life's decision means you cannot see the Zapruder film in its proper form, as motion picture film. We believe that the Zapruder film is an invaluable asset, not of Time, Inc. - but of the people of the United States.

(9) Douglas Martin, The New York Times (17th July, 2009)

Walter Cronkite, who pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America, died Friday at his home in New York. He was 92. The cause was complications of dementia, said Chip Cronkite, his son.

From 1962 to 1981, Mr. Cronkite was a nightly presence in American homes and always a reassuring one, guiding viewers through national triumphs and tragedies alike, from moonwalks to war, in an era when network news was central to many people’s lives.

He became something of a national institution, with an unflappable delivery, a distinctively avuncular voice and a daily benediction: “And that’s the way it is.” He was Uncle Walter to many: respected, liked and listened to. With his trimmed mustache and calm manner, he even bore a resemblance to another trusted American fixture, another Walter - Walt Disney.

Along with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, Mr. Cronkite was among the first celebrity anchormen. In 1995, 14 years after he retired from the “CBS Evening News,” a TV Guide poll ranked him No. 1 in seven of eight categories for measuring television journalists. (He professed incomprehension that Maria Shriver beat him out in the eighth category, attractiveness.)

Yet he was a reluctant star. He was genuinely perplexed when people rushed to see him rather than the politicians he was covering, and even more astonished by the repeated suggestions that he run for office himself. He saw himself as an old-fashioned newsman - his title was managing editor of the “CBS Evening News” - and so did his audience.