The USC Annenberg School for Communication remembers the life and legacy of former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who died on July 17, leaving an extraordinary mark on journalism. He is the namesake of USC Annenberg’s Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Walter Cronkite, who helped guide the United States through wars, tragedy and everyday life,” USC Annenberg dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. “Although his name is synonymous with the best there is in journalism, Walter Cronkite was much more than a television anchorman. He was a member of every family in this country.”
Martin Kaplan, director of the school’s Norman Lear Center, which has administered the Cronkite Awards since 2000, said Cronkite was arguably the most trusted man in America at a time when network anchors had enormous viewerships.
“His commitment to quality journalism and his opposition to the consolidation of media power were inspirational to the media reform movement,” Kaplan said. “We were honored that he lent his name to the USC Annenberg School’s biennial awards for excellence in television political journalism and that our students had opportunities to meet and to learn from him. He was a legend who more than lived up to his reputation and all of us who were fortunate to have had the chance to work with him will miss him.”
School of Journalism director Geneva Overholser said Cronkite is the quintessential American anchorman.
“He set the mold: wise, courageous, principled, thoughtful, as decent a human being as he was a journalist” Overholser said. “His gentle authoritativeness reassured us, his clear-eyed commitment to tell the whole story as he saw it enriched our democracy. I had the pleasure of speaking with him a time or two. I’ll never forget his grace, his charm, his generous wit. We’ll miss him.”
Journalism professor Judy Muller said Cronkite will always represent the time when Americans gathered around their TV sets at the same time each evening to watch the news, a time when the anchorman was a respected and trusted authority figure.
“Cronkite deserved that respect and trust, through years of paying his dues as a reporter, then through years of covering major historical events as an anchor for CBS News,” Muller said. “He was there when the first men walked on the moon, when President Kennedy was assassinated, when the country was coming apart during the Vietnam War. So powerful was his position that, when he departed from his usual objective stance to criticize the U.S. war effort in Vietnam, President Johnson reportedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.’
“I joined CBS News as a correspondent the same summer that Cronkite turned over the anchor desk to Dan Rather,” Muller noted. “While Rather, Brokaw and Jennings would have substantial influence as anchors of the next generation, never again would we see a time when one man was so clearly trusted by so many people. The last time I saw Cronkite, he was at USC for the presentation of the Cronkite Awards in Journalism. I had the honor of ‘co-anchoring’ his appearance before a crowd of students, which essentially meant repeating their questions to a man who had lost much of his hearing, but none of his sharp perspective on events or his sense of humor. While the world of journalism has gone through revolutionary changes since Cronkite’s day, there are certain values he embodied that will always hold true: fairness, accuracy and compassion.”