FBI Documents: Walter Cronkite Offered to Help Vietnam Protesters

By Alex Weprin Comment

One of the most memorable lines ever uttered by a network news anchor was Walter Cronkite’s Feb. 27, 1968 editorial on the “CBS Evening News”:

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.

Now, 42 years later, FBI documents appear to shed new light on Cronkite’s role in the anti-war movement.

Yahoo! News’ John Cook acquired a number of documents related to Cronkite through the Freedom of Information Act. Among the findings is that CBS allegedly offered to rent a helicopter to fly U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie to and from an anti-war protest near Cape Canaveral.

Writes Cook:

Just nine months before, Cronkite had delivered his famous on-air judgment that the “bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” Even so, such tight collaboration between a news organization and the anti-war movement, particularly the offer of CBS News resources to help ferry a sitting senator and future presidential candidate around in opposition to the war-was highly unusual and would presumably have been explosive if known widely at the time. It’s unclear whether Muskie ever actually attended the event.

The FBI had previously responded to FOIA requests by saying that all the files relating to Cronkite had been destroyed in 2007.

Update: Note that Walter’s son Chip Cronkite disagrees with the FBI’s assessment:

Chip Cronkite, Walter Cronkite’s son, told Yahoo! News it’s highly unlikely that his father would ever have made such an offer. “It doesn’t have the ring of a reliable story to me,” he said. “Particularly at a time when FBI informants often told the FBI what they wanted to hear. I think it would be outside of what we know about Walter Cronkite and CBS News’ practices.”