Transcript:

Speaker I met water in London in nineteen forty two. We're both covering the 8th Air Force during World War Two and there were a group of about eight correspondents from various news organizations who did it. And whenever there was going to be a major bombing raid, we would be told in advance, if you can believe me now, they don't. Our Air Force or army doesn't tell us after we've done the right. But they used to tell us before and we would go out to one of the bases and separate. We would each go to a different base. And then when the flyers came home after a raid, we would talk to them and get our stories and come back to London.

Speaker Now, it seems that both you and Walter, when you talk or write about World War Two, you mean one doesn't get the sense that you were very afraid.

Speaker But was it a frightening experience for you both?

Speaker Well, I have been.

Speaker I've had a strange feeling about that. I was given the Bronze Star and, you know, the the word bravery is used so loosely in war.

Speaker People do things and it's called brave. But the fact of the matter is, they were just proceeding with their lives, doing what came out normally to them. And bravery really is endangering your own life for. Someone else's to help someone else. And I have never thought that. I have always thought that a lot of what goes on at war is is overplayed as far as bravery goes, a lot of it is not bravery. I was did some things that pass for bravery, as did Walter.

Speaker And they were more foolhardy than brave, really. I mean, it was dumb in some cases to risk your life to get a story. Oh, we were doing we're not fighting the war. We're trying to get a story. And it really wasn't worth what we did. And I often think about that in relation to the reporters you read about. Now, I don't know for sure that it's worth they're risking their lives yet. What little information they get by doing it.

Speaker But in those days, you certainly got a lot more information. There was less censorship, wasn't there, then today?

Speaker Oh, no question. We were allowed to go anywhere. We wanted to get a story. We could go up. We could talk to anyone. We wanted to talk to any soldier. Now you have to get permission to talk to anybody. Yes, we would go out to the bases. And then afterwards, after the invasion, we would go up and talk to infantry men at the front with nobody else there. We didn't have to have a public relations officer next door. We could talk to anybody. We wanted to get our story, come back and write it.

Speaker We had Walter and I were we both objected to such censorship as most any journalist does.

Speaker And there were two censors in in London who read our material before it went out. And that was true after the invasion. There were two censors in the press camp, but they they all they did was make sure we didn't write anything that would be of advantage to the Germans. And we all know what what that was anyway. So we were very careful not to do that. But there was no censorship for for a fact it might have on the American public.

Speaker And you said, well, who are you?

Speaker That was I'm sorry.

Speaker I forgot that Walter did some great work over there at that time. And I was out of the news business. I writing for Godfrey and Walter and I had not seen each other much for several years. We never completely lost touch, but we had not been close.

Speaker And he was doing good work over there and for the United Press, I believe.

Speaker And so when he called me, Godfrey would take on any cause like that. And he did. And he was a big help.

Speaker Greg. Now, Walter's wife, Betsy, said that Walter was competitive, but not ambitious. Do you know what you meant by that? Why was she making that distinction?

Speaker Well, it's an interesting remark. I had not heard that he during the war. His greatest competitor was a very good newsman named Gladwin Hill, who was with the Associated Press. And Walter Gladwin, hell were real competitors. They both wanted to get the story first, working as they did for wire services, and they would race each other to the telephone booths or pay somebody to stand in the telephone booth for them so they couldn't get in it until they were ready.

Speaker So.

Speaker Walter, is that is it's an interesting thing I never heard that said about him. But he he never loses his basic gentlemanly she's a he is a gentleman. And I don't think that is so apparent to a lot of people.

Speaker Do you think that's a factor? Because he comes from the Midwest and was raised in Texas. Is there something about him that is kind of that middle America? You know, that that sort of genuine nesser uncomplicated.

Speaker No, I'm from New York. I object to this. I don't think there anymore are any difference in New Yorkers or anyone who grew up in Albany. I don't think there's any difference between me and somebody who grew up in Topeka.

Speaker Well, there's a there's a sense of wonder and you feel when you hear Walter Cronkite report and looking at screening all these reports, there is a sense of wonder and a kind of. There's not an edge to him, is what I'm trying to say.

Speaker Oh, he was his great talent, was he? He went right down the middle of a story. In other words, he wasn't trying to he wasn't trying to sell anything. He wasn't trying to. Influence anybody's thinking. He was just trying to give people the facts. And he did a great job of it.

Speaker Now, you, your wife and two U.S. couples were very good friends. How do you account for the long marriage that Walter had with Betsy up until her death?

Speaker Well, they loved each other. They were very close.

Speaker But what kind of a woman was Betsy?

Speaker Well, it seems to inconsequential to say in answer to that question, she was funny. One of the things about Patsy was she was funny. I mean, she she hated the boat. And she went with Walter on his boat because she loved Walter, but she hated sailing.

Speaker And she would go down below and lie on the bunk down there day after day reading bad novels while the rest of us were up.

Speaker Sailing and.

Speaker I don't know what it's it's you're asking me to give the answer to a question that all of mankind is search for an answer to.

Speaker For all the years we've been around.

Speaker Well, Walter said that one of the factors was the humor. And it seems like you and he share that humor that you were very you both have a great sense of humor and that seems to have served you well in life.

Speaker Well, I have more of an edgy sense of humor than Walter has. I use it critically and not always in a friendly way. I should correct that, as a matter of fact. I can be nasty with humor. And Walter doesn't.

Speaker When you said, I feel sorry for all the people who are not best friends with Walter, they only know the most trusted man in America. They don't know what they're missing.

Speaker I have all I've said this before. If if everybody knew Walter Cronkite the way I know him, he would be the most trusted man in Iraq. And I like him better than any of them.

Speaker OK. Can you give me a little more as to why?

Speaker Why I like him so much about this other aspect of the trusted. Was he a jokester? Is he a prankster?

Speaker No, I just. I wouldn't go any further with a.

Speaker I'm interested in knowing, like Kroko. You made a transition from print to television. What did you think of the medium of television at first?

Speaker Well, I. I grew up with it.

Speaker I was working for Arthur Godfrey in nineteen forty nine and they were still experimenting with television at the CBS major headquarters building. And about a year after I started with him, I came to Godfrey and asked if he minded if they brought a camera in, but they were still photographing a radio show and they kept at that.

Speaker And it became the biggest.

Speaker He became the biggest thing in television for about five years. He's gone now. People don't remember Arthur Godfrey, but he was huge in the business for many years.

Speaker And I. I was interested in. The the the medium did not interest me as much as the fact that I was reaching so many people.

Speaker I mean, if you were a writer. Eat, eat, no matter, you try to be modest, but you have some hope that you will be influencing, a lot of people had some good direction and I hope that I was doing that with what I was doing. Writing for Godfrey for radio. And when television came along, the audience was magnified and it was more effective. So highlighting.

Speaker But did you share the vision that Merle and his group and Cronkite did, all those that generation? Did you have a vision for what you use on television? Could be. And do you feel that that it went in the direction that you had all hoped? Did you share in that vision?

Speaker Probably. I was not a visionary. I was just working alone. And I did not have that big dream that Murrow had and whether water had it or not.

Speaker But now I was not. Non-plan sparked problem by.

Speaker Well, the reason I ask that question is. Walter, at the end of his book makes a statement that even though he's had a very successful career, there is the disappointment that somehow he really didn't make much of contribution. Do you agree with that?

Speaker Oh, no, he's wrong. That's unnecessarily modest. He made a huge contribution. He established the standards to which everybody in the news business aspires to a certain extent. Murrow did that. But Walter is better known than Ed Murrow. And he his standards were impeccably high. It's very interesting. I mean, Walter has a lot of strong opinions that the American public who admire him so much would not approve of. But he was so good about not. Forcing those on the public, he had the good sense he wasn't hiding them, he just knew that that was not his role. His role was and is getting the most news to the most people he could. And that's what he did without forcing any of his opinions on me.

Speaker I there have been recent observations about. News anchors and. Walter had a genius. For.

Speaker I say concealing, but it suggests that he was hiding something.

Speaker He had a genius for doing the nose in a straightforward fashion without entering into any opinions of his own.

Speaker And the one time that he did really offer an opinion, which was after he had been to Vietnam, the second. Yes, what.

Speaker What was well, had a huge impact. He saved he saved that up. But it was it was a good thing he did because it ended the war.

Speaker And it was of immense importance. And it was interesting that he decided to do that. He really broke his own rule. And he should have.

Speaker So you think that journalists, I mean, anchor people at a certain point sometimes do need to express their opinions?

Speaker No, I wouldn't say that. I thought Walter did the right thing. But no, I don't think the anchors, generally speaking, should ever, ever do that. Then I accept that that was an important exception when Walter did it, knowing him as you did.

Speaker Did was that a very kind of.

Speaker Was he agonizing with this issue? I mean, was this.

Speaker Did you. Were you part of it? Was it a difficult decision?

Speaker Well, we had talked about. I was aware of how he felt. And no, I was surprised when he did it. I did not know what he was going to do it.

Speaker He doesn't ask for much advice.

Speaker Why do you think that he was so trusted?

Speaker Well, because he deserved it. He was he was trustworthy. The word trustworthy in itself answers your question.

Speaker Do you have any thoughts about the difference between the mural area era at CBS and Cronkite? Parents see that CBS? Well, in a sense, Murrow was more.

Speaker So a soft, philosophically intellectual and Walter Alder's intellect is of the highest.

Speaker But Murrow used his intellect in a different way. I think thinking about the ethical values of issues. And I think Walter was always more interested in pure news, the events themselves.

Speaker How powerful was Cronkite in his heyday?

Speaker Well, it seems strange to use the word power.

Speaker In relation to what Walter did, because he he didn't use what he was doing to influence anyone in any way, that.

Speaker And that suggests power. He just gave them the news. I think the word is not power, but important. How important was he? He was very important. Powerful. I would back off that word.

Speaker And since leaving CBS, Cronkite's been quite outspoken about a lot of his feelings in domestic policy and foreign policy. What do you think happened to him once he left CBS?

Speaker Well, he thought he had the right to do it, that he did not think that he was using his position of CBS as an anchor man. And he thought that the rules had changed for him. And they had and he's done exactly the right thing. He has reserved himself quite often, not always spoken out. But when he really feels strongly about something and has it a platform, he has used that very well, infrequently. I mean, he hasn't done it very often over the years, but it's been important when he has.

Speaker He's also been incredibly outspoken about the news business, including CBS. He thinks that salaries are too high at the expense of coverage and he's just sore because he never make too much.

Speaker Well, it is true, Walter, really. I mean, he he got screwed. They they never paid him what he was worth.

Speaker I mean, not he didn't get. I don't know what his salary ever was, but it was not one tenth of what any of the anchors are getting now. Maybe one fiftieth of what they're getting now.

Speaker And he also feels that the coverage is too soft. There are too many features that the public is lazy. Do you think that we deserve this kind of tongue lashing?

Speaker Oh, I do, absolutely. What has happened is that for a long while and the networks, the the powers, they are palely Goldenson and the people at NBC.

Speaker I think they they felt that they owed the public good news broadcasts in exchange for the license, they had to make hundreds of millions on their entertainment programming. And that's gone now. News is just another source of income, and it's wrong. I wish that we had someone who would say, look, I want to do the right thing. I'm going to provide news for America because it's important. If America's democracy is going to work. The American public has to know what the issues are. They have to know what they're voting on and. We're going to provide them with the news they need, but none of the networks are doing that and it's it's a shame. I mean, all of Europe could disappear into the ocean tomorrow and it would be a 20 second bite on the evening news broadcast. We just are not covering. We used to have. We used to have. Reporters in every country or we had 50 or 60 foreign correspondents had somebody in Warsaw, Poland, full time. Now we have five or six people mostly based in London. They'll fly somewhere if something happens. But we are not covering the world anymore. No, I not don't say that just about CBS, NBC or ABC or doing the same thing. Staff is down. The money they are spending on nose is drastically reduced. I don't know what it is, but I don't think CBS News now is spending more than 40 million dollars a year on news. And they should be spending hundreds of millions.

Speaker Apparently, Walter once told you that both Republicans and Democrats had approached him to run for office. Wait till they find out that I take away every gun in America where we just play tennis together a lot.

Speaker And this very good reporter came to us once.

Speaker We were just finished playing tennis and she asked him about the possibility of his running for office. So he he says that's when he said to me after she left. He says, hey, keep asking me if I'm going to run for office. As if I would be a shoo in to be elected president. He said, well, I'll start running.

Speaker You may find out that I'd take away every gun from every American who had one. See if they still would vote for me for president.

Speaker That's great. But the fact that now that that anchors the news, people in the sense have become celebrities. It is possible, isn't it, that he could have run for president? And what do you think about that?

Speaker I think he would have been a great president. I'd love to have, say, malter president. I think he would have been a very good president. He would have been fair. Bright, honest and. Intellectually honest? Yes. I think he would have made a very good president.

Speaker I have a couple more questions, which is.

Andy Rooney
Interview Date:
2006-02-14
Runtime:
None
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
1909663565
MLA CITATIONS:
"Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite: Witness to History." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 14 Feb. 2006, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/532
APA CITATIONS:
(2006, February 14). Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite: Witness to History. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/532
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite: Witness to History." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 14, 2006. Accessed January 20, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/532

© 2022 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.