Highlights of some of Walter Cronkite’s broadcasts.
From Cronkite’s September 1963 interview with President John F. Kennedy
Cronkite: “Mr. President, the only hot war we’ve got running at the moment is, of course, the one in Vietnam. And we’ve got our difficulties there, quite obviously.”
Kennedy: “... In the final analysis, it’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it. ... I don’t think that the war can be won unless the people support the effort and in my opinion in the last two months, the government has gotten out of touch with the people.”
Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy assassination
Around 1:40 p.m. EST, CBS breaks in on the soap opera “As the World Turns.” Screen has CBS News Bulletin card, Cronkite is heard talking:
“Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.
“More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously: President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She called, ‘Oh, no!’ The motorcade sped on. ...
“Repeating a bulletin from CBS News, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details.”
(Cut to commercial for New Minute Brew Nescafe.)
(Cut to station break for “As the World Turns.”)
Shortly after, CBS News Bulletin sign again on screen.
Cronkite: “Here is a bulletin from CBS News.
“Further details on the assassination attempt against President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. President Kennedy was shot as he drove from Dallas airport to downtown Dallas. Gov. Connally of Texas in the car with him was also shot.
“It was reported that three bullets rang out. A Secret Service man has been, was heard to shout from the car, ‘He’s dead.’ Whether he referred to President Kennedy or not is not yet known.
“The president, cradled in the arms of his wife, Mrs. Kennedy, was ... rushed to Parkland Hospital outside Dallas. ...
“Other White House officials were in doubt in the corridors of the hospital as to the condition of President Kennedy. ...
“We will keep you advised as more details come in. The incident has taken place only in the last few minutes in Dallas.
“Stay tuned to CBS News for further details.”
(Cut back to ‘As the World Turns.’)
About 2 p.m. EST, Cronkite now seen on camera:
“This is Walter Cronkite in our newsroom. And, there has been an attempt as perhaps you know now on the life of President Kennedy. He was wounded in an automobile driving from Dallas airport into downtown Dallas along with Gov. Connally of Texas. They were taken to Parkland Hospital there where their condition is as yet unknown. ...”
Over the next half-hour, Cronkite gives new details, repeating the basics as they are known. CBS shows pictures from Dallas and relays reports, not officially confirmed, that Kennedy had died. Among those reports are ones from CBS’ own correspondent, Dan Rather, and from government sources in Washington.
Then, Cronkite on camera:
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago. (Voice choking slightly) Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th president of the United States.”
Cronkite’s closing remarks on Nov. 25, 1963, after Kennedy’s funeral“It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant.
“But today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can lead only to violent deeds?
“This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world’s doubts must be put to rest.
“Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed.
“If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain.”
“That’s the way it is, Monday Nov. 25, 1963. This is Walter Cronkite, good night.”
Cronkite’s editorial on the Vietnam War, February 1968
“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. ...
“It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation. And for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the north, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of 100 or 200 or 300,000 more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to cosmic disaster.
“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. ... 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 they best they could.”
When man landed on the moon in July 1969
“Whew, boy (laughs). ... There he is, there’s a foot coming down the steps. ... So there’s a foot on the moon, stepping down on the moon. If he’s testing that first step, he must be stepping down on the moon at this point. ... Well, look at those pictures. It’s sort of shadowy, but we sort of expected that in the shadow of the lunar module. Armstrong is on the moon — Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American, standing on the surface of the moon, on this July 20, 19 hundred and 69.”
On Cronkite’s retirement as anchor in 1981“And that’s the way it is, Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.”
At the 2001 Emmy awards show, a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks
“Edward R. Murrow, the great newscaster, once said of television: ‘This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, yes, it can inspire. But it can only do so to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.’ Television has been far more than that since the terrorist attack. Television, the great common denominator, has lifted our common vision as never before, and television also reminds us that entertainment can help us heal.”
Cronkite’s voice is still heard on the recorded introduction to the nightly newscast:
“This is the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”