Walter Cronkite, the last journalist, dies at 92

UPDATE:   A must-read Salon piece:  “Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did.”

I’d love to hear your remembrances of this great man.  Here is mine.

Cronkite Ill


The last of the great journalists has died.  Walter Cronkite never let his popularity lead him to believe that he was bigger than the story or that he didn’t have to do the hard work of serious reporting.  A young Cronkite probably couldn’t even get a job with a major news network today.

But the purpose of this post is not to critique the MSM, but remember the man.  I met him once, a decade ago.   He was keynoting a conference I was speaking at.  I managed to introduce myself and shake his hand.  He is as classy, humble, and generous in person as he seems on TV.

Cronkite said that he had read the pre-conference material and very much liked something I had written.  I was too awestruck to respond intelligently, but it dawned on me a few minutes later that perhaps he would consider writing a jacket quote from my forthcoming book (see “Cool Companies, Part 1: How the best businesses boost profits and productivity by reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and “The United States of Waste“).

I found his assistant — he was surrounded by a presidential-sized crowd — and chatted with her.  She made no promises, but I got her card, and ultimately he agreed to read my manuscript.

Needless to say, he could easily have demurred.  But it turns out that his kind words to me were not small talk.  And that’s why the top quote on the back jacket of Cool Companies reads:

“It would seem that Dr. Joseph Romm is a 21st-century alchemist, but here is his book full of examples of companies — micro-small to mega-large — that are improving the environment while simultaneously increasing their profits.  Their experiences are an invaluable guide to more hopeful future and a refutation of the claims by too many in industry that they can’t afford to be good citizens by cleaning up their polluting effluents.”

— Walter Cronkite

So I remember him as a man who said what he meant and meant what he said.  When shall we see his like again?

For a fitting epitaph, only Shakespeare comes to mind:

His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear’d arm
Crested the world; his voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t, an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping; his delights
Were dolphin-like, they show’d his back above
The element they liv’d in; in his livery
Walk’d crowns and crownets, realms and islands were
As plates dropp’d from his pocket.

12 Responses to Walter Cronkite, the last journalist, dies at 92

  1. dhogaza says:

    A great man. My remembrance – and it saddens me that he didn’t live through the end of the 40th anniversary – was of course the lengthy coverage of Apollo 11, from before lift-off until their safe return.

    I was 14. I was glued to our old small B&W TV for almost every hour they broadcast. Cronkite could’ve been as good a science reporter as he was anchorman. Smart, very human, seemed very genuine.


  2. “He was a man, take him for all in all,
    I shall not look upon his like again.”

  3. Brewster says:

    He was the first news anchor I watched when we started to get US TV broadcasts in Canada… It gave me a deep respect for the news reporting of all TV networks.

    Unfortunately, since then, I have noticed that not all have lived up to that standard.

  4. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Walter Cronkite taught me about the greenhouse effect in the summer of 1980 on CBS Evening News. My family was living in a single room in a friends home in Houston, TX, after a divorce. I was a sponge for information and I never, ever forgot about his description of the what happens when certain gasses reflect heat back onto the Earth.

    It was 1980 and I never forgot.


  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    Deep Respect, and then a question for Christopher (#4)

    What a great person, Walter Cronkite. Caring. Credibility. Trustworthiness.

    Bravo to him!

    He has my deepest respect.

    Question to Christopher (#4): Can you say a bit more about hearing about the greenhouse effect in 1980 from Cronkite? Do you know the day, or the rough timing? Do you know whether there’s a clip on the web? Or a transcript? I’d love to hear what he said way back then.

    Be Well,


  6. Jim Eaton says:

    As a junior high school student, I remember Mr. Cronkite emotionally telling the nation that President John F. Kennedy had died, killed by an assassin. It was a moving moment.

    And as dhogaza says, it’s hard to think of the first moon landing without thinking of Walter. His reporting took us through the launch, the fingernail-biting landing on the moon, and the journey home.

    The world just lost an exceptional man. Thank you and good night, Walter Cronkite.

  7. Christopher (#4), is this the 1980 broadcast you remember?

    CBS Evening News for
    Thursday, Apr 03, 1980
    Headline: Coal / Pollution

    (Studio) Coal as air pollutant, especially creating greenhouse effect by emission of carbon dioxide, featured. Senator Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing rptd
    REPORTER: Walter Cronkite

    (DC) Greenhouse effect explained. Scenes shown Effect on climate by carbon dioxide layer set forth. [Sen Energy Committee Paul TSONGAS – details effects.] [Mitre Corporation Chief Scientist Gordon MacDONALD – notes effect on Washington, DC weather.] Greenhouse warning compared to warning of biblical flood given Noah.
    REPORTER: Nelson Benton

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Thank you very much Christopher (#4) and Peter+Trudy (#7). Very helpful!

    And thank you Walter!



  9. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Wow. That may be it! How can we see that? All I know is that it was warm outside, it was 1980, and the story used a drawing of the Earth’s atmosphere.

    But it may have been after school was out, which is in May, but I’m not sure. I may have to query my family.

    How can I see that clip listed in the link above?

  10. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    OK, just confirmed with family, we didn’t move to this location until late May of that year. Is it possible that CBS re-ran some science stories during summer months, or that it was a follow up?

    I definitely recall the other stories of the Iran hostage crisis and Olympic saber rattling.

  11. Col says:

    I’m too young to remember him much. But I’m glad to see this in the midst of the critiques on the media. We are lambasting the modern-day media because we want and need them (SO BADLY!) to become quality journalists again … not celebrities, gossips, or propagandists.

    That said, I’m not overwhelmingly harsh in judging the modern day reporter. It’s hard to know exactly how or why people don’t follow important trends and allow themselves to mostly eat ‘junk news’. It’s also very hard to fight intimidation law suits or intimidating managers who want to please the bean-counters.

    I still wonder why Obama hasn’t delved into the media ownership issue, reducing the fraction of media ownership limit in any given market…

    …or maybe he has and we just aren’t hearing about it ;)!

  12. Dan says:

    One of the greats – a simple man but also extraordinary. Too bad there are so few such people. Perhaps that’s how it always is relative to everything and everyone else. In any case, Walter Cronkite clearly delineated a model for all of us to follow.

    Also, seems like the ‘share’ isn’t working.