Brinkley, Douglas. Cronkite. New York: Harper Collins, 2012. 819 pp. $34.99.
Walter Cronkite would fit right in at any newsroom in any decade, and anyone who has worked in one will recognize him as one of their own. He worked long hours, and then he played with gusto. He flirted, he drank, and he liked ofF-color jokes. His on-air persona was only a fraction of the whole man. Douglas Brinkley's biography of Cronkite reveals as much about how much journalism has changed, and stayed the same, as it does about Cronkite.
Cronkite was called the most trusted man in America, a moniker he and his bosses were pleased to promote. He anchored the CBS television evening news broadcast for nearly two decades from April 1 962 until Dan Rather took over in March 1981.
A professor at Rice University, Brinkley is the author, co-author, or editor of nearly twenty books. During a car trip, David Halberstam told Brinkley that there needed to be a biography about Cronkite. At about the same time, Cronkite donated his papers to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Cronkite's life is presented in thirtyfive chapters divided among six parts, and Brinkley's structured narrative and clear prose leads the reader through more than 600 pages. Each chapter begins with a list of topics. For example, in part, one reads: growing family - TV news at WTOP - one-take Walter - face time rules. The first third of the book covers Cronkite's life through stints working for United Press, covering World War II, hosting election coverage, and his first years with CBS. His struggles with Edward R. Murrow reveal the complications and importance of the relationships among talent and managers. Cronkite was a curious adventure seeker who wanted to know what happened and be the first to tell people about it. He was ambitious and prescient about news trends, and he was sensitive to the winds in politics and the workplace.
The second third of Cronkite moves from space coverage through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon from the presidency of the United States. This is the fully public Cronkite who was welcomed into so many living rooms, and the back stories about his work on major news events are fascinating. The last third of the book describes his final years as the CBS anchor, the difficult transition to Rather, and Cronkite's life after the anchor desk. …