Walter Cronkite Reassessed

By Chris Ariens 

Nine months after his death, the life and work of Walter Cronkite was remembered at the RTDNA conference in Las Vegas this morning.

Eight men and women who either worked with, have written about, or are carrying on the legacy of the CBS newsman spoke to a diverse group of past, current and future news managers and reporters — those old enough to have watched him every night and too young to have ever watched him at all, at least not live.

Marcy McGinnis, who worked with Cronkite from the ages of 20 to 31, and who would later become London bureau chief for CBS News, talked about having annual meetings with Cronkite, who was as much a teacher as he was a newsman.

She talked about how, as a 21-year-old news assistant working at the Kennedy Space Center, she unwittingly gave Cronkite’s hotel room number to someone who’d called asking for it. “I never did fess up, but I learned never to give out Walter’s number to a viewer.”

As for his departure from the anchor chair, McGinnis tried to correct the record of an audience questioner about the Cronkite-to-Rather transition: “My recollection wasn’t that the brass tried to push him out, it’s that he reached this mandatory retirement age. Then it came down to Dan Rather and Roger Mudd,” she said, adding: “Dan eventually won the toss-up or however they decided it. Thankfully I wasn’t in management then.”

Don Godfrey, a professor at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism told the crowd, “Walter gave us the news we needed to know, not necessarily what the audience wanted to know.” A concept which almost seems quaint in this day and age of personalized information through a variety of online and social media sources.

Bill Silcock, also an associate professor at the Cronkite School says, “Walter would have embraced all of it — Facebook and Twitter. He would have had a great Twitter name.”

The panel simultaneously agreed: “Uncle Walter.” (By the way, it’s taken.)

A photo of former CBS News executive Marcy McGinnis with Walter
Cronkite as part of the Cronkite Reassessed panel at RTDNA.

After the jump: What Walter Cronkite called a “mistake” on his part…

Loren Ghiglione, the former dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism talked about the red scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when CBS became known as the “Communist Broadcasting System,” to critics. Ghiglione read from government documents about the “employment of communist fronters by CBS.” CBS and NBC would cave to pressure and administer so-called “loyalty tests” of their employees. ABC refused.

Walter Cronkite signed the loyalty test in 1950. Later he would call it a “mistake.”