CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite (1962-1981)
CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite
Among his many accomplishments as a news reporter and broadcaster Walter Cronkite the events he will most likely be best remembered for throughout history will be...
On April 16, 1962, Cronkite succeeded Douglas Edwards as anchorman of the CBS Evening News, a job in which he became an American icon. The program expanded from 15 to 30 minutes on September 2, 1963, making Cronkite the anchor of American network television's first nightly half-hour news program.
Cronkite is vividly remembered by many Americans for breaking the news of the death of President John F. Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963.
At 1:40 pm EST. Walter Cronkite began reading what was the first of three audio-only bulletins that were filed in the next twenty minutes:
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas , Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas . The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."
A second bulletin arrived as Cronkite was reading the first one, which detailed the severity of President Kennedy's wounds:
"More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously... President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas . Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called "Oh no!," the motorcade sped on. United Press International says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News: President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas , Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details."
The next bulletin saw Cronkite report in greater detail about the assassination attempt on the President, while also breaking the news of Governor Connally's shooting.
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. Further details on an assassination attempt against President Kennedy in Dallas , Texas. President Kennedy was shot as he drove from Dallas Airport to downtown Dallas ; Governor Connally of Texas, in the car with him, was also shot. It is reported that three bullets rang out. A Secret Service man has been...was heard to shout from the car , "He's dead." Whether he referred to President Kennedy or not is not yet known. The President, cradled in the arms of his wife Mrs. Kennedy, was carried to an ambulance and the car rushed to Parkland Hospital outside Dallas , the President was taken to an emergency room in the hospital. Other White House officials were in doubt in the corridors of the hospital as to the condition of President Kennedy. Repeating this bulletin: President Kennedy shot while driving in an open car from the airport in Dallas , Texas, to downtown Dallas ."
Cronkite then recapped the events as they had happened: that the President and Governor Connally had been shot and were in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital, and no one knew their condition as yet. He then reminded the viewers that CBS News would continue to provide updates as more information came in.
At 2:00 pm EST. Cronkite appeared on-air in shirt and tie but without his suit coat, given the urgent nature of the story, and opened with this:
"This is Walter Cronkite in our newsroom... There has been an attempt, as perhaps you know now, on the life of President Kennedy. He was wounded in an automobile driving from Dallas Airport into downtown Dallas , along with Governor Connally of Texas. They have been taken to Parkland Hospital there, where their condition is as yet unknown. We have not been told of their condition at Dallas . In a downtown hotel room, a group [a Dallas Trade Mart meeting] had been gathered to hear President Kennedy and was awaiting his arrival. Let's switch down there now where Eddie Barker of KRLD is on the air."
At 2:22 pm EST. Cronkite relayed the following information to the viewing audience:
"We just have a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas , that he has confirmed President Kennedy is dead."
At 2:38 pm EST. Walter Cronkite stated From Dallas , Texas, the flash, apparently official: (reading AP flash) "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time." (glancing up at clock) 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
Cronkite then says Vice President Johnson (clears throat) has left the hospital in Dallas , but we do not know to where he has proceeded; presumably he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.
Two days later, at 2:33 PM EST on November 24, Cronkite broke into CBS's coverage of the memorial services in Washington to inform the viewers of the death of Oswald, who had been shot earlier that day (the news that Reasoner had broken into the funeral coverage to report only seconds after the incident):
"From our CBS newsroom in New York, a bulletin: Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who Dallas police say killed President Kennedy, himself is dead. He was cut down by a single bullet an hour and fifteen minutes before he died in Parkland Hospital in a room just ten feet from that room where President Kennedy died. He was being taken from the Dallas City Jail to the Dallas County Jail but in the basement of the Dallas City Jail, before he left that building, he was shot. The man Dallas police seized at the scene and are holding has been identified as Jack Rubenstein, known in Dallas as Jack Ruby, a man who years ago moved to Dallas from Chicago and was operating two nightclubs, and well-known nightclubs, in Dallas . He is fifty-two years old, balding, with black hair. He is being held by the Dallas police, who say they will charge him with the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Now back to Washington."
The following day, on the day of President Kennedy's funeral, as he was concluding the CBS Evening News, Cronkite provided the following commentary about the events of the last four dark days:
"It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant. But today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can lead only to violent deeds? This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world’s doubts must be put to rest. Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed. If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain. That’s the way it is, Monday, November 25, 1963. This is Walter Cronkite, good night."
On February 14, 1980, Cronkite announced that he intended to retire from the CBS Evening News; at the time, CBS had a policy of mandatory retirement by age 65. Although sometimes compared to a father figure or an uncle figure, in an interview about his retirement he described himself as being more like a "comfortable old shoe" to his audience. His last day in the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News was on March 6, 1981; he was succeeded the following Monday by Dan Rather.
Cronkite's farewell statement:
"This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it's a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we've been meeting like this in the evenings, and I'll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I'm afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow. And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I'm not even going away! I'll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I'll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night."
During the heyday of CBS News in the 1960's and 1970's, he was often cited as "the most trusted man in America" after being so named in an opinion poll.
Walter Cronkite is well known for his departing catchphrase "And that's the way it is," followed by the date on which the appearance is aired. And there are no more...