Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

By Bradlee, Ben | Newsweek, July 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009


Bradlee, Ben, Newsweek


Byline: Ben Bradlee

I first encountered Cronkite on the telly. He was the father figure of television journalists; he had no rival except for maybe Brinkley. But Cronkite had a kind of paternal quality that made him different from David, and that is what set him apart. He was a great-white-father type--not quite that, because that connotes doddering, which he never was, but he was the dean. He was the big cheese.

In October 1972, Cronkite devoted two segments, back to back, to the Watergate story. The first was 14 minutes, the second eight. I think that second night was curtailed by CBS chairman William S. Paley because Paley was scared of it. The fact that Cronkite did Watergate at all (let alone at that length) gave the story a kind of blessing, which is exactly what we needed--and exactly what The Washington Post lacked. It was a political year, and everyone was saying, "Well, it's just politics, and here's the Post trying to screw Nixon." We were the second-biggest newspaper in the country trying to scramble for a good story--whereas Cronkite was the reigning dean of television journalists. When he did the Watergate story, everyone said, "My God, Cronkite's with them."

It was a hard story to do on television. There were no documents. …

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