Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And That's The Way It Was

Walter Cronkite was born was born November 14, 1916, in Saint Joseph, Missouri. On July 17, 2009, the "most trusted man in America" died at his home in New York City at the age of 92. Watching the wonderful tribute on "60 Minutes" recently moved me to tears. (Then again, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm a bit of a sap when it comes to stuff like that.)

In 1996, Alfred A. Knopf published his memoir, A Reporter's Life, which became a main selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club and a New York Times Notable Book. In the review, the NYT called the book "Entertaining...The story of a modest man who succeeded extravagantly by remaining mostly himself....His memoir is a short course on the flow of events in the second half of this century -- events the world knows more about because of Walter Cronkite's work." We just got the book back in stock -- and what a great time to read it.

Here's a taste of what the memoir offers: Throughout his life, Mr. Cronkite was fond of music. "My fondness for band music never abated, nor did the desire to lead a band. To this day I can be lured to almost any charity function by the promise that I can lead the orchestra in the role of a 'celebrity conductor.' I'm pretty good at it, the key to success being the least number of milliseconds after the band hits a note that you can pretend you directed them to do it."

One of the landmark endeavors that Mr. Cronkite is most associated with is the US Space Program: "A spirit of high adventure permeated the place [Cape Canaveral, Florida]. While the eyes of the rest of our population might have been downcast as the nation dealt with a succession of problems -- civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam -- it seemed that everyone at the Cape was looking up, up into the skies that invited their conquering touch."

He was also known for his coverage of the Vietnam war, and his growing disillusionment with it: "I was not yet prepared to grasp the fact that Vietnam was no ordinary war as some of us senior correspondents had known it in World War II. This was no routine meeting of press and authority. I was not prepared for the ultimate truth: These hapless spokesmen were charged with explaining a war that had no explanation, and both they and the press knew this to be the awful truth. The press named the evening news briefing 'the five o'clock follies.' It could have been the name for the war."

In one of his most memorable broadcasts, he closed with his now well-known editorial commentary on the war: "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds....But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."

He was also known for his reporting of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And of course he was known for his role in the birth of television news, having been recruited to CBS News in its infancy by Edward R. Morrow himself.

This book is full of history and opinions and personality. A real treat. A lovely read for a hot summer day, say one that is about 100 degrees or so.....

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