Speaker When I joined the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1968, I had come over from sports and working at CBS Sports and I was asked by an associate producer there, I would like to try working for Walter. And I thought, why not? I was a newspaper man just talking on the phone to CBS Evening News of Walter Cronkite in 1968. I came over from CBS Sports where I'd been working, and an associate producer just asked me if I'd like to take a shot at. They have an opening on the show. And so I thought why there should be Walter Cronkite was Walter Cronkite. And so I came in for the ride of my life. And at that time, there were three writers and a news editor. There was the national writer wrote about the president, Congress, things in Washington, the foreign writer whose job was obvious. And I was they called all else. I used to say I wrote about the economy and other natural disasters. It was the most varied of the beats. I mean, I wrote about feature stories. I wrote about calamities that I say. And what was interesting in those days was we were all former newspaper that we had all had backgrounds in print, as, of course did Walter. And I think that's one of the reasons they gave this rather small studio a real sense of the city room. It was small. It was much it was not a television studio at all. It was just a bunch of guests clumped together and kind of a U shape in the center, which Walter sat. And we were all within arm's reach. We could hand paper to Walter Wall or I could hand it back to us. We could scribble notes and pass it around. It was very it had very much a city room sensibility. After Walter left, they moved that that operation into a sort of a space age newsroom and its chief advantage of which is there was much more inconvenient. The anchor sits far away from the writers. There's no real way to communicate except for microphones. Never seemed to work where it was. Walter, it gave the imprint on that. I mean, somebody once said to Walter that in spite of his star status and his six figure salary, that shows how long ago this was, he still had about him the ambience of the small Midwestern city room. And that's really what that's really what he did. That was that that atmosphere sort of pervaded the studio. And I think the fact that we had all come from came from print and we thought of the words, let other people worry about the pictures, said something about the way the broadcast was done.

Speaker Now. I'm interested in a little bit. The fact that you all were newspaper reporters first. Do you feel that because of that background, that the kind of reporting that you did was different then than the kind of reporting one sees now in terms of anchor people? Tell me a little bit about.

Speaker I don't know, I really I hate to make comparisons because I just don't. I haven't worked, you know, with these with a new people. And by the time I left, most of the people that I was working, many of the younger people who were just coming in, of course, and started writing in television. It was the possibility didn't exist when those of us were on the broadcast at that time. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1950. And I mean, I didn't see any television or television just wasn't part of the equation. They didn't teach it. They didn't look at it. You didn't. It was all it was a brand new fangled device.

Speaker So if you were interested in reporting by Apprentice, where you went into what you went into daily, the fact that you came out of print and when television started, did you feel somehow did you how did you look at this new medium? Did you look down?

Speaker I looked yes, I absolutely I was a terrible snob. And I looked down on it and I thought I was playing things to be snapshot. But they're out of this state. But yes, I was a terrible snob. But I still remember the shock I had. I was working as a newspaper man in Binghamton, New York, and there was an older reporter there. I mean, he was probably about 30 whom I greatly respected and the conventions were on. And it was I I think at that time was maybe Ed Murrow, Eric Sevareid, some people were talking about. And I said something disparaging about television and he pointed up his television set at the end of the bar and he said those guys are as good as anybody on The New York Times. And I felt as though I had been like a vampire confronted with a crucifix. You know, I was in a state of shock, but I started to pay attention to it. And, you know, he was right.

Speaker Did you ever expect that you would end up?

Speaker Never. I had absolutely no idea. I don't even dream of it. I came to New York. I was we were married. We had one child, another child on the way, had a wonderful job. I was the editor of a supplementary news agency called the North American Newspaper Alliance. Its chief perk was that I had opening night or second night tickets and everything on Broadway. Its chief disadvantage was he didn't pay any money. And so with the second child on the way, I was kind of looking around and somebody had worked with Nana told me that he had just heard that local television was looking for someone to write a show called I Am New York, starring Bill Leonard, who later became president of CBS News. And I applied for that job and got it. And I can remember the first day going in and saying, tell me, what's the script? You know, how do I write a script? Is there a book I can find out while writing a script? And surely he said, Will you write words on one side and pictures on the other? And that was the extent of the of the other discussion. But I was very fortunate because I was a very lively time at local CBS. We did lots of programming. We did the spur of the moment for I wrote things like, you know, the Mardi Gras on New Year's Eve brought me the Mardi Gras ball ball. Guy Lombardo on New Year's Eve. I wrote stories about the mayoralty I wrote. There was just a lot of you had a lot of experience. And one of the substitute anchors one summer after Bill left the broadcast was a fellow named Harry Reasoner, newly arrived in New York. And I worked with him and we struck up a friendship and we went and we know he went over to the network to do a program called Calendar. There were three writers in that program and he brought me over to be one of them. And the head writer was Andy Rooney. And I got to know Andy then. And it was, you know, a friendship which I was fond as any other ever had. So I was, you know, I was fortunate.

Speaker He'll let me go back to the newsroom with Walter. Walter said in our interview that in a sense, the use was never over until the cameras.

Speaker Can you tell me? Yeah.

Speaker It was it was simply extraordinary. There were, as there are today, two feeds, two network feeds. There was one in those days, I think it was seven the seven thirty and seven thirty eight. Now six thirty to seven. And so OK, you do it from six thirty seven. And if there are no mistakes that's fine. If Walter flubbed a line which is rare or if there was a mistake in the copy which you really hoped that it was not your copy that had a mistake in it, then did another feed at seven o'clock. You just redid the whole broadcast over again. If while you were on the air, a piece of news broke, an airplane crashed, the country was invaded, something like that. You father you wrote while you were on air and that was wedged into the program and that meant that everything else in the program had to change. Things had to disappear in order to make room for other things that had appeared. It was extremely nerve making. I can tell you it was just because you were you were never sure. And it was there was never there's never any way in news to know what kind of day it's going to be, what the stories are you're going to wind up writing. A.J. Liebling once said there's something about news that appeals to the eternal adolescent because there's a new story every day and you never get to the bottom of anything. And that's sort of fun because when you walk out of there at night, you're done with it. You don't have it doesn't hang over you. I've done some work in documentary units that drives you crazy because you don't get to think about it for six weeks or however long it is it takes for you to do the show. But Walter was very big. We had the CBS Evening News. Those days had a reputation as the the news broadcast of record, which was laughable because now no television program to the news broadcast of record in my youth in Milwaukee, I used to listen to the radio and they would do radio news, they would say at the end of the broadcast. Consult your local newspaper for further details. And that really a school was good advice. I know Walter felt that way himself. He said, you know, we were headline service and it was something more than that because, you know, I think particularly in the case of Vietnam, we were coming into people's rooms every night with that war. What was became called the living room war, I think had an enormous effect on the way people felt about it. And so television did it had really, really played a central role. I think, by the way, if the two big stories during my time with the evening news or Watergate and Vietnam and, you know, you can't think of any I don't think you can think of anything which television had a greater influence, television news at a greater influence before or since then, those two events. But we would change. We would we would open it up for I don't know if Walter explained this or not or used to come out of any increment as a half of time ahead of time and read over the copy and he would time the copy. So you would know if you had I was going to work when you did the actual broadcast and Walter would write in with very lightly with his pen, with a pencil. He put parentheses around phrases or sentences that could be removed to make up for the time. And so on. Do it during the of the commercial breaks. Why the stage manager would call take the five second cut in item twelve or the seven second cut of the item 14 or. And this is true. The one second cut, an item eight. You know, it was K was fine tuned. It was that to that extent it was F and two to write it to work under those circumstances. As I say, a friend of mine once said, I hate walking out of that building every night with wet palms, but I think all of us did. Part of it was because CBS in those days really did have what was in a commanding position in the ratings. And and I think people felt that the news was sort of symbolized that the CBS Evening News had this. We were number one. We were the station to which people turned. If something happened during the day, people turned to CBS to find out about it. And very often, if you were on the air and you were doing a broadcast, I know this because it fell into the all else realm. If somebody famous died, you knew you were not going to get home until midnight because you would do a special that night at eleven thirty. Choose to broadcast what off the air would prepare a special.

Speaker This is terrific. Have a lot of little pieces to pick up on. Did you can you remember?

Speaker Tell me a story about the moment where Walter was reporting and you had to hand him something happened and just give us a little, you know, one of the charms of writing all else a copy in the late 60s was that it was the time of the campus revolts, most mainly fueled by protests about the Vietnam War and particularly in 1970, over the incursion into Cambodia. It was the incursion into Cambodia, indeed, that led to the demonstrations at Kent State University in Ohio, which led to the National Guard firing and killing four students. There was a lot of rage. Now most of the demonstrations and they were common were nonviolent. I think something was in single digits for the ones, but there were enough violent ones. So it seems to me in retrospect that I was writing every week or so I was when, in other words, the fight over pictures of the of the of the of the demonstrations, of the violence. And it seemed to me that it was going on from Columbia University in New York to Berkeley and in California to California, Berkeley in California. And one night I put together I was right. I'd written this package. You were just going on the air. When I got a call from the producer and he said, add 10 seconds to your package. And I said, OK, where are we and what do we see? And he said, We're your old school. We need the University of Wisconsin. And what we see is the police force coming through these barricades. And I said the police force, the police force was one man named Joel Hamer's. And he said, not anymore, it isn't. And so I started writing this copy. And as I did, I heard familiar words. And it was Walter reading the beginning of that story on camera, on air. We were alive. The story to which I was writing the end. And I had about 30 seconds to write those 10 seconds and get the copy to the editor and to get their copy or from the editor over to Walter and I. I mean, my heart stopped. I've never been that terrified in my life. And I I've got it written. I handed it to the other, didn't even look at it. He handed it to Walter, who picked it up and read it without a flaw. And it looked as though he had read rehearsed. We had rehearsed it all day. It could not have worked out better. But it's a terrifying moment.

Speaker So those happen. Was that unusual or did that have that was a particularly unusual case.

Speaker No, we were always writing on air. People used. It's funny because when you read people that evening news programs have been written about so widely and magazine and newspaper articles and they would always talk about the sound effects of typewriters during the broadcast and they weren't sound effects. There were some poor wretch frequently me writing a story. That was it. Meanwhile, the fishbowl they were going through and the producers were going crazy trying to figure out what to take out so that that could get you.

Speaker Now, I want to take now just two things that you mentioned and stop talking specifically about the last time I get to air conditioning plant and you came back from the Tet Offensive.

Speaker I was not, you know, went home. And then when you do the famous walk, OK.

Speaker But you did you see it when he was on the shore somewhere? OK, my question is, when Walter was on the air after the Tet Offensive came on air to say usually maybe we can start by saying how he's always very tries to be as objective as he possibly can in telling his story. But this is the one time you sort of cross that line. Were you surprised? Yes. OK. So if you could take my question and sort of put it in context.

Speaker One of the things you hear talked about, I'm sure people are talking about news, is the question of objectivity. And it's obviously you can't be objective if you ask five people to describe a phone phone booth. You're gonna get five different descriptions. What you can be is fair. And I think that in all my life, when you're on the evening news, that we really worked at doing that, maintaining being as fair as we could, reporting it as factually as we were able to under extremely difficult circumstances. And I remember my shock when I was sitting at home. I wasn't at the evening news at the time when Walter Cronkite returned from saying that the Tet Offensive and got up out of his chair and walked over. I can't remember who was to a map or what. And announced that he didn't think this was a winnable war, that he thought it was a mistake because that was as close to editorializing as I'd ever do. It was an editorial. It was his close electronics. I was just I was shocked. And I also thought it was commendable.

Speaker And now.

Speaker Your your wife just said something about a little bit. Right. We want to add that. OK.

Speaker One of the problems with the idea that we were the newspaper of record was Walter's insistence is that we get as many news stories in as we could and we would have. I mean, there would be nice for me to have 25 or 30 items. We'd have just two lines. You know, as long Walter felt it, as long as you said there's an earthquake in Chile today and they think a lot of people were dead. You would reported that. And you let the people responsible for look at the newspapers the next day to see what the story was. But of course, every time he did that, we were doing it on air and he'd say, let's give me a line on that. That meant a line somewhere had to go out. And that was one of the things that kept things so lively.

Speaker Now, I know that there were times that the standards that Walter expected from everybody was pretty high, including himself. Yes. And I know that there were times we heard stories where he sometimes threw pencils there. Did you ever see him sort of lose his cool after reports that he was unhappy with something?

Speaker I never saw him. I never saw him throw a pencil. I saw him put a foot of paedophilic fist on the desk after a broadcast and calling somebody, one of the producers to come out. And on a couple of occasions, I made a mistake. He came over after the broadcast and spoke to me very quietly. But he let it be known that he was not. Was not going to be a happy night. And you just didn't want that to happen. You don't want to happen. The funny thing is, it wasn't so much your fear. It was just over the sense that this was you done something to screw up the broadcast. It was a sense of letting the team down. It wasn't you know, I wasn't afraid that Walter was going to tell me to get lost. But you just didn't want that to happen. I should also point out there were nights when he came over and said very complimentary things. And of course, that's what made up for it.

Speaker When I left, I left the evening news in 71 or 72. And when I went back over to sports and worked there for a while, that came back in 70, 77. And when I came back, I heard there was an opening. So I called and the producer said, well, you have to see if Walter wants it. So I came back in and made my case and Walter said, Oh, John, we welcome you with open arms. And so I was very pleased about that. And I stood on the sidelines and watched the broadcast that night. And I remember thinking, this is what I've missed all these years, is the sense that you have that you had that you had embarked on and not not very big ship on very, very rough sea. And when you came through, you could feel the palpable easing of temp of tension. And people would start chattering and talking to each other. And you're thinking all of this would, you know, twenty two or twenty three minutes worth of news. And yet it was an and a daily adrenaline shot that you do miss. If you don't, then that does it simply did not exist anywhere else. I mean, live television is live television, and there's always a certain sense of that. But there was a feeling on the Cronkite evening news that I did not find duplicated elsewhere.

Speaker Now, what I'm not clear on is.

Speaker Did you take Walter before you went on the air with you all the copy and make changes? So it was sort of his words do a lot of editing.

Speaker He did lots of editing. He also did a fair amount of writing. If he felt he got interested in the story, he turned to the typewriter. This artillery barrage of of of keys flying. And he he was he would he would toss things back and ask for a rewrite or to take the last line and make up the first or whatever. And that's, of course, one of the many things that made life so exciting, is because as you got to deadline, you still have things to do. You still had stories to write. And suddenly you were being asked to rewrite something when you hadn't finished the day's chore. And that was that was that was an exciting time. A producer once said to me, we were talking about it. He said, name another line of work when we're when it's five o'clock Friday afternoon. You wish you were earlier. And that was a double edge.

Speaker That was absolutely true. It was also double edged. I mean, you always wish you were an hour or two earlier. You looked up at the terrible hands of the clock and, you know, the unforgiving clock.

Speaker Now, just to go back, if if Walter was reviewing the copy and all that. Where would there be things that he'd be disappointed in? I mean, how did that kind of thing happen if he had a chance to review the materials? Why would he get upset with the producer or something like that? I mean, could there be errors if if he was reviewing everything?

Speaker Well, this is for one thing, some of the copy was written that he didn't have a chance to read because we're on air. It would be handed to him for the first time or sometimes the be copy would be written for a lead in. And the source of the story, the substance of the story would not bear out with the lead. It was. That was when he would be really upset with the producers because he felt he didn't have a chance to look at all of it if he had an opportunity. He would look at the film before I would do it. But very often what on earth he didn't have that chance.

Speaker Great. I wanted to ask you, you were there for the last day of his reporting on air, and I think you're in the shot.

Speaker Yes, I did. Yes. I mean, look, there should be a little bit about that, right?

Speaker Well, the last day of Walter's being on the broadcast. Let me start over again.

Speaker For about six weeks before Walter retired, it seemed to be that every day for about six weeks for Walter retired, it seemed to us that every newspaper in the United States wanted an opportunity to talk with him. And finally, the executive producer came out and said, I just want you to know we're not going to do any more interviews because everybody wants to talk with him. Now, one major figure at anchor retires. Usually the wire services services will do a story on it. Newspapers like The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, they may do a story on it. When Walter retired, I mean, everybody wanted to read newspapers of all sizes were putting in requests. And of course, they had to be turned down or we wouldn't be able to get on the air. People wrote astonishing things. Kurt Vonnegut, I believe, wrote an article for The Nation in which he said Walter retiring was like Shein. A couple of university professors wrote for an article, I think for The New Republic, in which they said Walter Cronkite leaving heirs like George Washington's face, leaving the dollar bill. People were really busted up about this. And, of course, you know, the night of the final night of the broadcast, it was I think everybody was tense about it except Walter. And I got to remember that the next day there was a story with a picture of Walter putting his glasses away and the caption was saying, and that's the way it is. And I'm in the background of them on the telephone and on the telephone, because Walter just asked me to check up something for the second half of the last broadcast that he made. So it was a typical departure.

Speaker So there was nothing.

Speaker He just he just continued doing it as if that's something that everyone seems to have talked about. If you since you want to tell me a little bit about why you think he was so why so many people listen to him and he was so I think I think part of it is just his presence.

Speaker It's one of those things you can't define. You know, you have to a beautiful woman, one of them becomes a star and the other one doesn't. It's like having an extra gland or something. And Walter has it. Some years after I retired, I went back and I wrote some some pieces, some films for the CBS News productions. And essentially you would take a topic, say, the fall of Saigon, and you'd go back and you would look at old copy and pull up old broadcasts and pull from the footage that you wanted. And I remember looking at that and seeing Walter coming up on the screen, you know, in 1970, he just filled the screen in a way that to me, nobody else has. There was just something about his presence. It's the people say avuncular. You know, he was Uncle Walter was his nickname in the trade press. And there was a certain amount of that. I think that was just natural. I think also the fact that he announced the death of President Kennedy and was on the air for the better part of three days afterwards, there were people who felt that he got the country through a very difficult time. There were all sorts of wild conjectures about what was behind the assassination. And I think that that was where Walter established himself as a sort of a comforting presence. He also was interested in the space program right from the beginning. He was very interested in it himself. And he was down there for all the space shots. I know I was down there for three of them. And CBS, it was a big deal in those days. Nobody understands today. Nobody knows what's taking off or the name of it is or when it's due. Back in those days, people had an idea. They knew the name of the vehicle. They knew the name of the members of the crew. They knew when it was taking off. And I think Walter having an enormous amount to do with that. He also was the we had a segment on the on the broadcasts in the 60s, 60s, 70s called Can the World Be Saved? It was very early on that he was doing stories on the environment, on the dangers to the environment. In 1970, he was talking about the effects of greenhouse gases. I think that it was it was this wide variety of of of topics that he was interested in that people were also interested in. And I think he just had a sense of what people wanted to hear about and what they had to hear about, which is probably more important. And then you add to all of that that he fact that he anchored all those political conventions. You know, actually starting I started in 1968 and the first convention was in Miami Beach, which gave the world Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. The second one was the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, which in terms of news, had to be the greatest political convention in history. I think both parties looked at that convention and said this will never happen again. And they didn't let things get out of control. They way, they way they did during those days of rage and the so-called police riot in Chicago and which then wound up with the trial of the seven so-called Chicago seven, including Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Sherl, who dramatically was a Black Panther who was bound and gagged and bound to the courtroom for an appearance.

Speaker And that in that way and that thing, it was just her was Walter is the center of all these things at the center of all these these are these huge news events at a time when. We're much more dependent on television news. They seem to be now.

Speaker So you feel that in a certain sense that you feel that Walter's presence in a way helped us get through the whole all this turbulence to get help?

Speaker It isn't what I it isn't what I felt personally, myself. All his presence getting us through those turbulent times is what I've read again and again in books and articles and stories of the time, and particularly in the stories that were written that were sort of re-evaluating his career when he retired. People always talked about those years of the killer's awful days with the Kennedy assassination after the Kennedy assassination.

Speaker Now, I know that Walter and his presence as an anchor is always very serious. But I understand that he has another side to his personality, that he is very funny. He loves lots of different kinds of things, you know, sort of the Walter Mitty type. Tell me a little.

Speaker Did you have any of that? Did you see that side of him in the working situation? Did he ever cut off? Did he ever.

Speaker He was in the studio. Walter tended, tended to be all business, although he also didn't like to laugh. There were stories, unfortunately, every day in the news which make you want to laugh and watch at the same time. You can't report. And we were very, very big on that kind of laughter. Also, at the end of the political kind of political conventions, there was always a party, a big CBS party in a bar. They'd always be a bar. There would always be a piano there. And Walter would always get up and sing. Bill Bailey, won't you please come home? We love that kind of piano, that kind of jazz. And if there were a boater and a cane around by, so much the better.

Speaker Now, regarding the eye on the world, Cronkite was an anchor during the extremely tumultuous times. Do you think his calm, composed manner made him a particularly trustworthy center in changing the times and the changing times?

Speaker It seemed to me the fact that Walter was so calm and so composed by temperament was had an enormously the kind of influence he had or the way people felt about him.

Speaker Do you at the height of his career? He he seemed to have enormous amount of power. Do you think he was ever aware, for example, like when he was when he gave his opinion on Vietnam? Did did you or did you have any sense of how powerful he was?

Speaker I had a sense of how powerful Walter was, again, because of the sort of things you read in the press, the sort of things I would hear from friends of mine who were outside the business, including particularly outside New York, people in the Midwest. But he and I go back to Minnesota every year. And the way you'd hear the way people would talk about Walter. Walter had to say about this. They would remember the stories that Walter had reported that I'd forgotten and ask me, you know, why did you do that? What? And I think he must have had I don't know this necessary. I think he would have had to have had some sense of the of the enormous power that he had. For one thing, he kept getting I believe he kept getting a feeling from political parties winning over, choose to run for office. And he wisely decided not to do that.

Speaker OK. Can we take a little pause? I need to go, OK? I want to pick up in your wonderful sort of explanation a little bit more about Watergate and. And the fact of the Watergate reports.

Speaker I wasn't there at that time. I wanted to know where you were from. Yes, I'm sure being sure. Tell me about that.

Speaker I think, you know, Watergate was essentially a story in the Washington Post story was broken, issued by Corris, by Woodward and Bernstein. And there seems to be a law and journalism story that it was the people who break the story own it. And nobody ever really caught up with Woodin. Bernstein The Times couldn't do this enormous bureau. The Times did wonderful reporting on Watergate and but they never caught up. The Washington Post had that story. I think in television terms, though, CBS News had had the story. And I think that it was, I think the CBS News, the fact that it was on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Night after night after night was sort of like a Chinese water torture. I mean, it was just it just dripped and dripped. And I think that's what put it center stage would make people conscious of it. I think every development reported that night reported on the evening news, in effect, doomed the Nixon presidency. I don't think was any way he could. That presidency could have withstood the sort of daily examination that was done on television. After all, The Washington Post, as powerful as it is, is seen by relatively few people compared to a television audience.

Speaker I'm sorry to cut you off. Excuse me.

Speaker Water and water.

Speaker Nothing worse than just get a bottle, because these particular.

Speaker I will tell me one story over there. Let me tell you this, this is about a.

Speaker When the CBS Evening News with Walter frequently go down to Washington when events warrant and broadcast from from Washington. And when that happened, one writer would always stay in New York. I think because the event of late breaking foreign story for some reason would be better to hear better with the handling of the film if there was somebody in New York and we rotated it. And one December, the show had gone down to Washington and I was in New York City. And I had heard that night, as did everybody living in the city, that John Lennon had been assassinated in front of his apartment building. When I went to the office the next day, I was the only person all the rest of the news people were down in Washington and were walking in and some executive walking over to meet me and said, well, I guess we know what the lead tonight is going to be. And so we spent the day and I wrote, I must I can't imagine how many lead ins I'd written to, how many different stories count, how much copy I went to, how much reporting there was done. But it was a lot. And I just occurred to me as I was doing that, I saw this enormous pile of copy coming off the wire machines. And then over here on the right hand was like the rest of the world. And so I wrote a Lelia on that night that said something to the effect of Walter said Good evening. The death of a man who sang and played the guitar stay over tonight overshadows all the news from all of the rest of the world, from Poland and China, whatever. And that Lilja not because it wasn't because of my words, but because of Walter Cronkite saying it and because of the way he said it then turned up. I can't tell you how often I see it in print. It turns up in every retrospective. There was a big TV guide story when 10 years later called The Night John Lennon died. And those were the.

Speaker Just pick up where you were saying that. You know, since then, newspaper you've seen.

Speaker It wasn't so much what I wrote. I don't think it was the fact that Walter Cronkite said it. That it led the broadcast in the way in which he said it. And I cannot tell you how many times I've seen that referred. That those phrases used in stories looking at the back of the Beatles or the Lennon murder of John Lennon. And there was a book, I remember an anniversary piece in the TV Guide, and they ended the article with the fact that that was the night Walter Cronkite said it. Also, by the way, seemed to have inflamed conservative columnists. I mean, they wrote these furious columns about how dare Walter Cronkite say that this overshadow the news the rest of the world with the plain fact that is, is that it did.

Speaker Now, the other thing is, does it seem that during Walter's tenure at the CBS was that he really did cover international?

Speaker You seem to hear I've heard a lot more international news than you do today.

Speaker You upset? Can you tell me? Was that something that he just felt very strongly there?

Speaker Walter, of course, before he ever got into the television, was a distinguished foreign correspondent in covering World War Two for the United Press. I believe he opened the reopened deal. The other presses, Moscow bureau after the war. So he was keenly attuned to the foreign news. And we had it was it was a big emphasis on that broadcast, much more so I believe them it is today.

Speaker Great, now, Walter was a real winner, as you said. He's a yuppie wire service deadline lover. Did you see that old deadline pounder in him? Did you see that?

Speaker Oh, yes. Oh, I think that Walter enjoyed that. The more the closer we got the air and the later the more things there were to do, I think sort of the more fully had one just before even the years before he retired. He tend to contented to come out later and later to read to do their pre broadcast reading, which made it Phrae added to the pressure and a group of US writers took him out for dinner not long before he retired. And our news editor Lee Townson finally said to him, You know, Walter, you keep coming out later and later and it makes it harder and harder for the rest of us. Why are you doing it? And Walter looked at him and said, because I think it makes for a better broadcast.

Speaker Yes. That's great.

Speaker You've sort of addressed some of these, but maybe you have some other thoughts. Are there any particular broadcasts of his that you remember vividly? May not even be important events, but nights that were memorable because of the way that you put the news together on that occasion?

Speaker Is there anything else that you haven't? That's pretty tough.

Speaker Oh. What about. Very sad story.

Speaker Walter was famous for asking last minute questions that nobody had ever heard of. And some years after he retired. I'm sorry, Walter was famous for asking last minute questions that nobody had ever heard of any reason to hear of. And at one point, I ran into a former news editor who left years earlier and gone on to a distinguished career teaching journalism in Washington. And you were having cocktails and he was sort of stirring in scotch meditatively with a forefinger. And he said to me, does Walter still ask those questions? And I said, yes, he does. And he said, you know, you'd think you'd have everything covered. And then and I was reminded of that when a good friend of mine, Gary Gates, was filling in as the foreign news writer during the period of the Polish food riots was an early sign that communism was in trouble. The Gomulka government was in trouble and occurred right around Christmas time. They're having these riots. And he was leading the broadcast period written to lead. And just before going on air, Walter turned to him and said, say, Gary to the polls, still believe in honor, Father Christmas. And Gary said, well, I don't know. And Walter said, once you call the Polish embassy and find out.

Speaker So as we were going on air, as they were announcing, this is the CBS Evening News, there was Gary huddled under the desk whispering to some fellow in the Polish embassy. Do you believe in Father Christmas?

Speaker And there was he said it was a sort of the typical last minute Walter question. Once I remember, my wife used to come down and watch the broadcast, the first feed, because we were going out that night and we would take off at seven o'clock. And she used to go back and watch with Toby Wertheimer. It was the Reise Wertheim who was our researcher, and she said to him one night that if Walter had a question night, Walter. And he said, yes, but one minute area wanted to know how many people are alive today who were alive when the atom bomb landed at Hiroshima.

Speaker That's great. Great.

Speaker One of his writers once said of people know that Walter would never lie to them. Walter has an almost messianic turn of mind. He feels so much responsibility. He feels that if he doesn't get it right, nobody else will. Do you think that was true?

Speaker Yes, I do. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Speaker I think, Walter, I think all of us and I think came down from Walter. But I think it also came down from the producers of the broadcast. I think it involves all of us. We felt an enormous sense of responsibility because we know that CBS News just had an importance that day, a national importance that was revealed to us. And contrary to the public opinion, I don't think anybody I think that we all learned early on to check our opinions at the door. And we all had opinions. And that I think. I think if we had allowed that to leach into the broadcast, we would have heard about it. Walter, I remember one night in a moment of error, most of been under deadline and excitement. I used the word miracle to the lead in.

Speaker And suddenly I heard this famous voice say, John whoas jail. What is this? What have we done here?

Speaker What do we have here? And I said, Walter, Walter, what is it? What is it? Did you see a miracle in this pickup? So I took it out. And I think it every time you hear a miracle, all the time, somebody wins a baseball game late, late innings. It was a miracle that Walter would say to you.

Speaker That's great. Oh, I want to ask you the Huntley Brinkley competition. Was that was that was that a concern? Sorry.

John Mosedale
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"John Mosedale, Walter Cronkite: Witness to History." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 03 Mar. 2006,
(2006, March 03). John Mosedale, Walter Cronkite: Witness to History. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"John Mosedale, Walter Cronkite: Witness to History." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 03, 2006. Accessed June 27, 2022


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