Walter Cronkite

I was a CBS Evening News junkie growing up and remained so through the troubled Dan Rather news anchor regime. He and his predcecessor Walter Cronkite were my heroes, along with Eric Sevareid, and later, Bob Simon.

I highly recommend renting Good Night, and Good Luck to learn about the great tradition of CBS News—a tradition that is sadly long gone. It focuses on the legendary Edward R. Murrow, the man who virtually built the CBS broadcast news division. Murrow recruited the iconic Cronkite, who would host the network’s evening news from 1962 to 1981 and become known as “the most trusted man in America.”

I saw him in person three times.

The first time was at a record store signing of a box set of vinyl LPs that he was involved in, historic moments of the 1960s, I think. The second was a press promotion for a home video documentary about the first moon landing. He spoke about the 1969 event–which he covered, of course—and said something to the effect that it was the most important story he had ever covered, or the one he was proudest of, or the one that was his favorite.

I was deeply disappointed.

I tried to track him down after his presentation to complain but to no avail. But luck struck some time later, when I attended what must have been Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner’s 40th birthday party, in 1986.
I didn’t know Jann and I wasn’t invited. But he had the good sense to hire my friends Beausoleil, the premiere Cajun band, to perform, and I went in with them. It was at some trendy restaurant downtown that didn’t have any outer signage saying what it was or even the address. I was way out of my element.

All the big record company people were there, and the literary likes of Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Tom Wolfe. I was very excited to meet the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza there. And to get a second crack at Walter Cronkite.

I went up to him and introduced myself and told him I had seen him at the moon landing home video press gathering. I told him how he had been such a hero, such that I could not accept his citing the moon landing over his momentous coverage of Vietnam (his famous commentary expressing doubts about the chances of winning the war, which he made on camera in 1968 after returning from a trip to Vietnam, was a major turning point in popular opinion) and the Middle East (he brought Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat together to launch the peace process).

His response was unforgettable, if to this day enigmatic.

“Well,” he said, pausing. I think he was embarrassed. I probably should have been.

“Asking what my favorite story is, it’s kind of like asking, ‘What’s your favorite soup?’”

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