And That's the Way It Is: Walter Cronkite, an Anchor of Truth

Article excerpt

Most child-rearing experts tell you that families should eat dinner together every night. Now, my mother and father were great role models in every way, but did fail that dinner test (at least on weekdays). But it was my fault. As a young teenager, I insisted that I had to eat dinner on a TV tray in the living room, embedded in front of the 15-minute CBS evening news broadcast to watch Walter Cronkite.

I admired Cronkite from the start. Like many Americans, I stayed with his broadcast over the years, through the tumultuous '60s and '70s until his retirement in March of 1981. During my professional career, I've had the opportunity to meet many broadcast journalists, but Cronkite wasn't one of them.

That changed recently. It took about five decades, but I finally got to meet Walter Cronkite in February.

It came about like this: Since leaving the anchor chair, Cronkite hasn't hesitated to speak out on the issues of the day that concern him. He's a strong advocate for church-state separation and was an early endorser of "First Freedom First," the joint religious freedom project sponsored by Americans United and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation.

When the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, told me that Cronkite had agreed to take part in a First Freedom First event in San Jose, Calif., sponsored by the Commonwealth Club, I was delighted.

Younger folks might have a hard time grasping the iconic status accorded to Cronkite and his famous "And that's the way it is" sign-off. Folks closer my age don't. Every night he was with us, reporting on the struggle for racial justice, the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, the Cuban missile crisis and so much more. These events were utterly fascinating, even if they sometimes seemed far removed from my normal life growing up in the steel town of Bethlehem, Pa. For years, Americans routinely told pollsters that they considered Cronkite the "most trusted man in America."

Welton, Walter and I had a chance to chat for about a half hour in an anteroom before the event began. Cronkite talked about his love of sailing and developments in the news business. However, he seemed even more interested in asking questions than in answering them.

As one example, he quizzed Welton and me on the role Mitt Romney's Mormonism could play in voter interest in the upcoming presidential campaign; he wondered whether there were parallels with America's struggle with electing John F. Kennedy as our first Roman Catholic head of state. …