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Walter Cronkite

Anchor, CBS

Walter Cronkite did not believe in covering the world’s news by sitting in the CBS Television Network anchor chair and having it fed to him through the filter of teletype machines and the news writers in the back room. Instead he traveled to the world’s most important stories whenever possible, often appearing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

He was particularly interested in the Apollo program. Although he had earned the nickname “iron pants” for his unflappability under pressure, he is fondly remembered by many space workers for shouting “Go, Baby, Go” as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lifted off on their historic journey to the moon.

It was also during the first lunar landing mission that he spent 27 out of 30 hours on the air during the most critical periods of the lunar landing, excursion on the surface and lift-off and docking with the Command Module.

Perhaps the most famous story about his adventures at Kennedy involves the first launch of the Saturn V rocket. CBS had built a plywood building to house the television operation. However, the shock wave from the Saturn V was so powerful that Cronkite had to stand up in mid-broadcast to hold up the picture window that was falling on his head.

Cronkite was born in 1916 in St. Joseph’s, Mo. After attending the University of Texas he worked for a public relations firm, newspapers and small radio station before being hired by United Press in 1939. He spent World War II in the European theater. He went ashore on “D-Day”, parachuted with the 101st Airborne, flew bombing missions over Germany, covered the Nuremburg trials and opened UP’s first post-war Moscow Bureau.

Cronkite joined CBS in 1950 at its Washington affiliate. After moving to New York and working on a number of entertainment programs and the documentary series “Twentieth Century,” he took over the as news anchor from Douglas Edwards in 1962. At the time, the evening news was only 15 minutes long but a year later it was expanded to the now standard half hour.

Cronkite’s closing line for every news broadcast was “And that’s the way it is.” The line was significant because it emphasized his philosophy on objective reporting and may well have helped him stay number one in the ratings over most of his career. He was sometimes criticized for his refusal to take more risks in TV news coverage but his reluctance to editorialize only added impact when he did a controversial story. His 22-minute, two part overview of “Watergate” revelations on the CBS evening News is generally credited with keeping the issue alive and making it intelligible to most Americans. His stories were also credited with helping President Johnson determine not to run again for president during the Vietnam War.

In 1981, in accord with CBS policy, Cronkite retired. However, that didn’t mean he stopped working. After many special programs, he signed an agreement with the Discovery Channel in 1993 to do 36 documentaries in three years.

He remains one of the countries most honored newsmen receiving numerous awards over the years, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981. Cronkite died in 2009.