Friends, Colleagues, Presidents Remember Walter Cronkite

By kevin 

This morning TVNewser attended the public memorial service for Walter Cronkite at Lincoln Center in New York City. The service included remarks from close friends including Andy Rooney and Bob Schieffer as well as major public figures including President Barack Obama who did not know Cronkite, and former President Bill Clinton, who struck up a friendship with Cronkite during what Clinton called a “tumultuous time” during his presidency.

The event was as much a history lesson as it was a remembrance and tribute. As Sony Chairman and former CBS News researcher-turned producer-turned president Sir Howard Stringer put it, “The history of broadcast journalism is the history of Walter Cronkite.” But while Cronkite may represent a bygone era, the service also provided an opportunity for journalists to reflect on how Cronkite’s standards will survive the changing media landscape

• Full story and more photos after the jump.

CBS News President Sean McManus was the first of 16 speakers, saying Cronkite “stood for a world and century that no longer exists.” He was followed by CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves who recalled how Cronkite was on of the reasons he first wanted to work at CBS.

President Clinton described Cronkite as a “great citizen and a profound human being,” and said, “I thought he was an astonishing man. I liked his inquiring mind and caring heart.” He recounted how during what Clinton described as a “tumultuous summer in our personal lives,” Cronkite asked him to go sailing. A gesture he never forgot.

NBC News man Tom Brokaw admitted that, for his generation of journalists, “Walter Cronkite was also our dad. He was the godfather who showed us the way to be good journalists.” Beyond what he meant to the journalism community, Cronkite and his strong friendships were an inspiration for Brokaw who joked, “Bob Schieffer and I have been friends for 35 years and for the rest of our lives, we’d like to have the kind of friendship that Walter and Andy had. We just can’t decide who gets to play Andy Rooney.” (Video)

Katie Couric said of Cronkite, “He was an old man but he was never part of the old boys club,” adding he was “an uncommon man who never lost touch with the common man.”

Perhaps two of the most touching remembrances were delivered by Rooney and Schieffer, who told wonderful stories of their relationship with Cronkite. Rooney, whose remarks had been taped at his desk seen weekly on “60 Minutes”, said of Cronkite’s career, “If it can be said that any one in our business was a force for good in the world, that person was Walter Cronkite.”

Schieffer reiterated what many had said earlier, that “Walter Cronkite off-camera was the same as Walter Cronkite on-camera. He was exactly the way we all saw him on television.” Schieffer also recounted a hilarious story of the two of them trying to out-scoop Barbara Walters on a President Ford interview. (Video)

Musical interludes were performed by Jimmy Buffett, Wynton Marsalis, the U.S. Marine Band, and Micky Hart. And remembrances were also given by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, CBS producer Harry Radliffe, CBS News SVP Linda Mason, and “Evening News” EP Rick Kaplan.

The service concluded with remarks from President Obama who, not having had the opportunity to forge a relationship with Cronkite the way Clinton had, spoke from the perspective of the millions of Americans who didn’t know Cronkite personally, but had been affected by him: “I [did not] know him any better than the tens of millions who turned to him each night in search of the answer to a simple question — what happened today. But like them and like all of you, I have benefited as a citizen from his dogged pursuit of the truth, his passionate defense of objective reporting, and his view that journalism is more than just a profession. It is a public good, vital to our democracy.”

Earlier, Nick Clooney had said, “Walter did not seem concerned about all these delivery systems. He just wanted to know if someone was minding the store on the content.” It was a sentiment Obama echoed as he addressed the news industry leaders who had gathered there: “We find ourselves wondering how he would have covered the monumental stories of our time. Would he have been able to cut through the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites to shine the bright light on substance? Could he still offer the perspective that we value? Would he have been able to remain a singular figure in an age of dwindling attention spans and omnipresent media? And somehow we know that the answer is yes. The simple values Walter Cronkite set out in pursuit of, to seek the truth, to keep us honest, to explore our world the best he could, they are as vital today as they ever were.”

While much of the ceremony provided a platform for newsers to honor their legendary colleague, the president’s appearance elevated the ceremony, a fact not lost on NBC’s Ann Curry whom we caught up with afterward. She said, “The president made this historic,” adding, “He had some strong comments about our industry.”

Here are some photos TVNewser took following the ceremony’s conclusion.

ABC News star power: Diane Sawyer, Charlie Gibson, and Barbara Walters depart the memorial service together for the short walk back to ABC News.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw mobbed after the service.

CBS’s Andy Rooney departs the memorial service for his friend of more than 60 years.