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Walter Cronkite Dies at Age 92

Aired July 17, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: If you are just joining us tonight, this is A.C. 360. I'm John King, sitting in for Anderson.

Sad news for a lot of people tonight, millions of Americans from all over the country and all walks of life. They may have shared little in common, except for this. Every weeknight, at 7:00 p.m., they invited Walter Cronkite into their homes to sit down with them, tell them the news.

Tonight, at 7:42 Eastern time, Walter Cronkite left us. He died at his home in New York, his family by his side. Mr. Cronkite was 92. I grew up watching him. So did Anderson, who remembered him this way.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): For so long, for so many of us, he was the most trusted man in America.

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS: And that's the way it is.

COOPER: Walter Cronkite covered in the world, and, in an age of fewer channels and fewer newscasts, he changed the world as well.

CRONKITE: Looking back on it, I think I was so lucky. I just happened to fall into the right things at the right time. And it worked beautifully.

He was born Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. in 1916. He was a beat reporter and football announcer before joining United Press in 1939. When the first troops stormed Normandy, Walter Cronkite was there.

CRONKITE: It was Dwight Eisenhower who told me, sitting on the stray wall over here, on the 20th anniversary of D-Day that he thinks of the grandchildren that these young kids will never have. And that is something for all of us to think about.

COOPER: When we think about Walter Cronkite -- and generations of broadcast journalists have and will continue to -- we think about his tenure at CBS, a company he joined in 1950. Twelve years later, he became the anchor of "The CBS Evening News."

In that chair, in that role, he came to define what an anchor was. He told America the way it was. Who can forget November 22, 1963. Cronkite reported and reacted to the horror in Dallas. CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

COOPER: In 1968, after returning from a trip to Vietnam, his conclusions may have helped alter the course of history.

CRONKITE: It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.

COOPER: The opinion reached President Johnson, who reportedly said, "If I have lost Cronkite, I have lost Middle America."

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: His approach to news was, when news happens, get as close to the story as you possibly can, and then tell people about it in language that they can understand. Walter spoke like the average person. It wasn't all literary, flowery kind of language. People don't talk that way. And Walter didn't either.

COOPER: Walter, it seemed, was always there, for the moon landing...

CRONKITE: Man on the moon. Oh, boy.


CRONKITE: Whew. Boy.

COOPER: ... for Watergate, for the Mideast peace breakthrough.

He was humble and honest and straightforward, and never made himself the story, even on a winter day in 1981, when he sat in the anchor chair for the last time.

CRONKITE: Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away. They just keep coming back for more.

And that's the way it is, Friday, March 6, 1981. I will be away on assignment. And Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years.

Good night.

COOPER: Good night, Mr. Cronkite. Good night, and Godspeed.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, New York.


KING: Anderson Cooper there reflecting on Walter Cronkite.

Late reaction tonight from President Obama. The president said -- quote -- "Walter was always more than just an anchor. He was family. He invited us to believe in him. And he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend. And he will be truly missed." That's President Obama on Walter Cronkite, who died tonight at the age of 92, just days short of the 40th anniversary of man walking on the moon. You heard his reaction to that moment. "Oh, boy." He was a fan. And he made no bones about it -- one of the many moments, perhaps more than he would care to admit, when his voice wasn't just that of a newsman delivering the facts, but, instead, a trusted friend, sometimes taken with the moment, sometimes overcome with emotion, as you saw on that fateful day in Dallas.

My mom, who left us too long -- left us too soon long ago, once told me I was a baby boy on her lap when she watched this.


CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

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.


KING: Don Hewitt was there, not just for many of those moments, but for his first as anchor of "The CBS Evening News."

Don joins us now by telephone.

Don Hewitt, help us understand what the man meant, not to CBS News, but to the country, especially when you reflect on a moment like telling many Americans their president had been killed.


Every historic moment during the time he and I worked together, I managed to learn from Walter Cronkite. He was a -- he was a newsman's newsman. There was nothing fancy about him. He -- he didn't even look the part.

He looked like Walter Cronkite, which was a great thing to look like.

It's -- it's difficult to say too much about Walter Cronkite, because I don't think there will be another one.

KING: And -- and, Don, help me understand. He was the voice for so many Americans of what was happening at a time when the country was being so torn apart, whether it was Vietnam, the violence of the civil rights movement, the John Kennedy assassination, the Bobby Kennedy assassination, the Martin Luther King assassination.

At a time the country was being so torn apart, how was it that this man emerged who was such a unifying voice? HEWITT: He was a voice of calm. Walter didn't allow his emotions to get in the way of his reporting. And he reported as -- he reported as -- as one of the great reporters of all times. He told a story, told it well, and didn't embellish.

KING: What was the secret? What was he like when you were getting in that final crunch before a newscast goes on the air, and you're making those decisions, what's in, what's out, what's the lead? What was Walter's secret?

HEWITT: Well, I -- we usually had a conference. Two or three of us would sit down with Walter and decide what we were going to do. And, by the time that meeting was over, Walter had told us what he was going to do, and we had found little reason to disagree with him.

KING: Help me understand, Don Hewitt. You now run the legendary "60 Minutes" program. We live in the age of cable, of Internet, of blogs. A lot of people on television voice their opinion, not the facts. And there is a fair amount of shouting that, I think it's fair to say, we both know Walter didn't like.

What are the lessons that we need to keep in our business today that would honor Walter Cronkite's legacy?

HEWITT: Calm. Walter was calm about everything.

Walter didn't get caught up in the emotions of a moment. He rose above the assassinations and all the -- the moments that were -- shaped our -- the times we lived in. And he did it calmly and intelligently.

And, you know, there were an awful lot of potential Walter Cronkites. There was only one real Walter Cronkite.

KING: Very well put, Don Hewitt.

Don, we thank you for your thoughts tonight and your reflections on a -- on a great man.

Walter Cronkite was a newsman. He was a gentle man. And, as Don said, he set the gold standard for journalism.

Dan Rather, who took over the anchor chair at CBS News, released this statement tonight: "I'm saddened to hear of Walter's passing. He was, by any measure, a giant of the journalistic craft. Walter loved reporting and delivering the news. And he was superb at both."

That's Dan Rather tonight.

Just a short time ago, I spoke with Katie Couric, the current anchor of "The CBS Evening News."


KING: Katie Couric, you are the current anchor of "The CBS Evening News." You sit -- not quite exactly, but you sit in Walter Cronkite's chair. How does that feel every night?

KATIE COURIC, HOST, "CBS EVENING NEWS": Well, John, it is a huge responsibility, and, I have to say, slightly intimidating.

When I took this job -- and, you know, for a number of days, we have known at CBS News that Walter was in -- in failing health. And we were all worried about when this day would come. And he was so revered and so beloved here.

And I had read so much, John, in recent days -- and really throughout my career -- about Walter. But I have been reminded really only recently what an incredible man and journalist he was.

I mean, he was the personification of integrity and decency and humanity. I think that is one thing that struck me as I have watched some of the -- the earlier broadcasts from the past.

You know, when he announced that President Kennedy had died, it was so moving to see his body language and -- and his facial expressions, and, similarly, the glee he exhibited when the -- you know, he was anchoring a space launch. He had sort of an adolescent enthusiasm, it's been said, about the space program, this unbridled joy, in terms of reporting that story, and a -- a huge interest in science as well.

But I think he -- he really connected to the audience. You know, sometimes, you think about television as being this sort of stiff, stilted profession, particularly when Walter was at the helm.

But what struck me is how natural he was. And, in his early days, apparently, before the era of teleprompters, John, he would write a few notes on cards, just glance at them, know what the story was, and speak extemporaneously to the audience. And you can't find many anchors who are really capable of pulling that off in this day and age.

KING: Speaking with the country, I think, not at the country, might have been part of his gift.

I want to take you back in time. Walter Cronkite goes on the air in February 1968, and he says, on the air, that the United States is mired in a stalemate. And President Johnson, we would later learn in the history book, told his aides, "If I have lost Cronkite, I have lost Middle America."

Will any television anchor in today's age, when the business is so different, ever have that power?

COURIC: I don't think so.

You know, it was a very different period of time. And there was no CNN, no 24-hour news cycle. In fact, he often talked a bit disparagingly about 24-hour news and said, people get a little pill of news, and they think that's enough, 24 hours a day -- no offense, John, to you or CNN.

But I think he did wield incredible influence, because he was so trusted.


KING: Joining us now on the phone, two longtime CBS News colleagues of Walter Cronkite, Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer.

Morley Safer, let me begin with you. And I just want to yield the floor.

Walter Cronkite's legacy is?

MORLEY SAFER, CBS NEWS: Well, I think his legacy, quite simply, is, he, in -- in a way, created what we now regard as -- as broadcast news.

And they did it -- he did it with a kind of -- I don't know how quite to describe it -- a very ordinary, a very commonplace grace that, really, no one has quite duplicated. See, you can't duplicate that. Either you have got it or you don't.

And Walter had it. And it is really interesting to me that this mythology of being the most trusted man in America. Well, it's not a myth. He probably was just about the most trusted man in America. And people felt he never betrayed -- betrayed that trust.

He had that -- a kind of dead-honest simplicity about him, both on the air and off the air, by the way. I mean -- and he was devoted to the craft. There is no question.

One thing that no one has mentioned is how much fun he was off the air. He was the -- the best man I have ever known to go drinking with. And I have been fortunate enough -- or unfortunate enough...


SAFER: ... to have done it many times.

KING: Amen.

SAFER: He never lost his old wire service instinct, which is, get the story done and then go out and have some fun.

KING: Amen to that.

Morley, please stay with us.

Bob Schieffer, I want you to join in the conversation. And I have -- I have been wrestling with this as we cover this story, this sad story, over the past few hours, how did he do it, in the sense that I know there was no cable television. I don't know how any news anchor could go through the civil rights movement, the tumult of Vietnam, a presidential assassination, Robert Kennedy's assassination, Martin Luther King's assassination, even something less controversial, but man on the moon, and keep his calm and keep the trust of the American people.


SCHIEFFER: It was -- he not only loved the news, John, and loved covering the news.

He had great respect for the news and for the people who were involved with making the news. And it -- it just sort of came through to people. I have often thought about Walter, and -- and I think one of the secrets to his success was, being the anchor of a major news program is a pretty darn good job, when you come right down to it.

And I think people used to look at Walter and say, you know, that is a good job Walter has. And old Walter knows it is a good job, and he appreciates having it.

And I think -- I think people understood that. And -- and, in fact, it was absolutely correct. Walter felt very fortunate. I mean, Walter had this just insatiable curiosity about things and how things worked, and -- and this enthusiasm about trying to find out about it.

And -- and he understood that he had the job that -- the allowed him to talk to all these people who made the news. And -- and he liked that. He -- it wasn't just that, you know, he was running around with celebrities or something. He was really interested in what they had to say and why they thought what they thought. And -- and that just came through to people.

KING: We see...

SCHIEFFER: You know, Walter never let anything get in the way of the news, including himself.

KING: We are -- we're seeing a picture of Walter Cronkite playing himself, standing next to Ted Knight -- Ted Baxter, of course -- on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."


SCHIEFFER: I remember that episode.

KING: It's a fabulous photo.

I want you both to reflect on this -- and Morley, to you first -- in the sense of the trust he had then. He clearly didn't like what happened -- has happened -- to much of our business now. Could Walter Cronkite be Walter Cronkite in the age of cable and Internet and blogging?

SAFER: Well, I would like to think he could, that there is a -- some safe haven for a straight delivery of the news done by someone who -- who is not a poser in the -- in the chair, but actually gets out and covers the news, and has, as -- as Bob said, terrific respect for it, and -- and great respect for the people who make news, even some of the rascals.

And, so, I -- I would like to think, yes, he could. The reality, I guess, is that -- that the country has passed that moment by, has neglected it or something. I'm not -- I'm not sure.

But -- and you're right. He -- he didn't like what had happened -- and I think Katie mentioned it -- this 24-hour news cycle. I think that one of the things that a 24-hour news cycle does to reporters is, it -- it takes away their time to think. And thinking time is terribly important, even it is only 10 minutes to think about what you are going to say.

But this business of just rattling off stuff, it doesn't enlighten very much, and -- and it certainly doesn't get the best out of the people who are doing the reporting.

KING: Two legends...

SCHIEFFER: Well, I -- I would just add to that, John, I mean, Walter said to me one time, he said, "You know there's nothing that peps up a newscast like a little news."


SCHIEFFER: And he knew new facts, something that people hadn't heard before, he knew, you know, you could tap-dance and all that kind of thing if you were the anchor, but the fact is, if you came up with a story that was important that people didn't know about, it -- it -- it was going to get people's attention.

And that was always Walter's great secret. I mean, he -- he didn't let other things get in the way of reporting the news.

And I want to tell you, at 6:25, as that newscast was getting ready to go on the air, if a big story broke, Walter loved tearing the whole thing apart and -- and getting what he thought the news was right up at the top. And he -- you know, he just loved that. To him, that -- that was -- that was what it was all about. And -- and, because he did, we all -- I mean, we learned from him. And -- and we liked it, too.

KING: Two damn good newsmen in their own right, Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer, helping us tonight reflect on the life and legacy of a legend, Walter Cronkite.


SAFER: Can I say just one more small thing, just picking up on what Bob said?

KING: Quickly, Morley, please.

SAFER: Yes. He really was the correspondent's best friend. He was a very tough boss, very demanding, but you really felt you had a friend in court when you -- when you were reporting for Walter.

SCHIEFFER: Absolutely. Absolutely.


SCHIEFFER: I'm so glad you said that, Morley.

KING: As a guy who is more often the correspondent, not the anchor, I will say that we love that in an anchor, always.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time tonight. I know it is a tough night for you both. And we greatly appreciate it.

Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer reflecting on Walter Cronkite.

And when we come back: one of Walter Cronkite's army of young producers who would go on to great fame in her own right at CBS News, Susan Zirinsky, next, holding in her hand one of the many pieces of Cronkite history that also happened to be American history.


KING: He was the calm voice of the news, and, on this occasion, a voice that moved the nation's center of gravity.


CRONKITE: If the communists' intention was to take and seize the cities, they came closer here at Hue than anywhere else. And, now, three weeks after the offensive began, the firing still goes on.

Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we would like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective.

Who won and who lost in the great Tet Offensive against the cities? I'm not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. And the referees of history may make it a draw.


KING: Walter Cronkite there on the Vietnam War.

Mr. Cronkite died tonight at the age of 92.

As we look back on his extraordinary life and his legacy, we are joined by the people who knew him and worked with him.

Susan Zirinsky is the executive producer of "48 Hours Mystery" on CBS. She was also a producer for Mr. Cronkite.

Susan, simply your thoughts on this sad night.

SUSAN ZIRINSKY, FORMER COLLEAGUE OF WALTER CRONKITE: Well, I think, for -- for me, I was 19 years old when I started in the Washington bureau. And it was weeks after Watergate.

And what Cronkite was, what Cronkite embodied was the core values of any young journalist. It was an unbelievable time during Watergate. Walter was an coming down and anchoring specials.

But what was so striking about the time was the impact a single voice could have, "The Washington Post." Network television was on night after night. And I think those of us that grew up in that era saw the impact that this single man had.

People were trusting this man like no one else that had come in -- we were in their living rooms. Walter came into your living room. And, yet, Walter was not about flash. Walter was about the story.

Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer earlier tonight talked you about that he wasn't a flashy, he wasn't a fancy guy. He was about the core value of the news.

I think that, you know, we live now in an era, with the proliferation of cable, which is fantastic, access by people to information. But the -- but the great part about having a smaller platform was that you were always heard.

It is harder now to have a distinctive voice. I mean, I'm proud to work at CBS, where "60 Minutes" is the hallmark of journalism, and continues to break new ground.

But Walter was all about that. Walter was about the values and the -- knowledge of a story and shedding light. It sounds old- fashioned, but that is what it was about.

KING: And, Susan, we have talked throughout the course of the past couple hours here on CNN about so many big nights, the Kennedy assassination, man on the moon, that turning point in Vietnam we just listened to.

Walter was a pack rat, we have been told. And I understand maybe that is one of the things you learned from your friend and mentor, because you have in your desk the script of another famous night in Walter Cronkite's life and America's history.

ZIRINSKY: I do, indeed.

And, actually, I feel really grateful that I can show it tonight. Let me put it up here, so you can see it.

The night that Nixon resigned -- and you can see the copy -- "Good evening. The 37th president of the United States resigned today."

You can see Walter's handwriting on there. The copy was written by a writer named Charlie West. And I was a researcher. And Walter cavalierly just threw the script into the garbage can. And it is the whole script for the night of the special of the night Nixon resigned.

I, of course, fished it out. And I had no knowledge of eBay back then. I could have made cash today. But I have kept on -- I have kept holding this script in my possession.

And I always felt very attached to Walter through the years, because of what I learned and the fact I was a researcher. But holding the copy from a historic night, where his handwriting made the changes, is -- is a moment that you feel that I have history in my hands. I have Walter in my hands.

I'm just going to read a little piece of it, which was the last line. And it -- it was at the end of the show.

And it said: "And, so, virtually on the eve of her bicentennial, the United States has passed through a day of historic drama, a day many of her citizens had been awaiting with dread, a day some feared would shred the fabric of her society. But the feared has not come to pass. As President Ford said in his acceptance speech, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws, not of men. Here, the people rule. This is Walter Cronkite, CBS News, Washington. Good night."

It doesn't get better than that. And that -- this embodies what Walter was, taking a dramatic, amazing nights and days and events in history, putting them in context and perspective, and taking a country through the history.

We are doing our own special on Sunday night at 7:00 called "That's The Way It Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite." And, as you will watch this show, what you are struck with is, not only the great journalism of a man, but the fact that we lived, as a country, through history through the eyes and the voice of this man.

I'm incredibly proud to kind of embody Walter and have -- have a script like this in my possession. But it is more about the ethics. It is more about who he was and the people, the producers that worked for him.

We were film back in the early Cronkite days. You were running up floors with reels of film. Every night, everything was at stake. And, quite frankly, the technology which has given ease of information was fantastic, but there was no less emphasis on getting it right.

You know, you were a little scared of Walter. If Walter called during the show, after the show, you were pretty nervous. There was nothing about -- about a -- an advocacy or a point of view.

For Walter, it was the straight and narrow: We are covering the story. We are covering the news. Tell me like it is.

And I think that many of us here at CBS -- and we are grateful that those of us who came up through the ranks -- and many of us still exist here -- we're -- we're kind of proud to be Walter Cronkite's disciples and carrying on his message.

KING: Susan Zirinsky, one of the Cronkite kids, one of the many Cronkite kids at CBS News, we thank you so much for your thoughts and your reflections tonight and for sharing that historic script with us tonight.

Susan, thank you, and take care in the days ahead.

More on Walter Cronkite's passing and his pivotal role in this business and, more importantly, the lives of so many Americans. "NBC News Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams joins us, along with former CNN anchor Bernie Shaw, who worked with Walter Cronkite at CBS -- all that still ahead on 360.



CRONKITE: And that's the way it is, Monday December 5th, 1977. This is Walter Cronkite, CBS News. Good night.

Good evening from Paris. Reporting from Moscow. From the Great Wall of China. Reporting from Madrid. This is Walter Cronkite aboard the naval aircraft somewhere over the North Atlantic.

This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of the "CBS Evening News." To me it's a moment for which I long planned but which nevertheless comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all we've been meeting like this in the evenings and I'll miss that.


KING: That was Walter Cronkite's final broadcast as the anchor on the "CBS Evening News." More on his legacy shortly. First, though, a quick update on some of the other stories we're following tonight.

Randi Kaye with the "360 Bulletin."


Indonesian authorities believe suicide bombers are behind the twin hotel bombings in Jakarta that killed at least six people and wounded more than 50. U.S officials say eight Americans are among the injured.

Investigators are analyzing surveillance images showing a man in a baseball cap pulling his suitcase toward the Marriott's lobby seconds before the blast. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the nearby Ritz-Carlton.

In Iran today a new wave of demonstrations. The biggest in weeks sparked by a sermon by the opposition's most important clerical backer, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tens of thousands of protesters filled Tehran's streets after Rafsanjani criticized Iran's leadership for losing the public's trust. His comment broadcast nationwide. The government responded to protesters with violence.

Unemployment in June topped 10 percent in 15 states in June. That is the grim headline out of the Department of Labor's latest report. Hardest hit, Michigan, which became the first state in 25 years to see unemployment rise above 15 percent.

And the influential travel Web site trip adviser is waging a quiet battle against fake reviews. Some hotels post a bogus rate to improve their rankings. Well, the site has been posting disclaimers to flag those hotels and says they involve only a small fraction of the 400,000 reviews they post.


KING: Randi, thank you very much.

Walter Cronkite died tonight at home in New York. He was 92. He had been ill for a long time. He'll be remembered a lot longer.

Former CNN anchor Bernie Shaw new Walter Cronkite as a CBS News colleague. He joins us, and so does Brian Williams, the anchor of the "NBC Nightly News" and someone who came to know Mr. Cronkite.

Bernie, let me start with you, my friend. Take me inside CBS News in your heydays as one of the colleagues of this great man.

BERNIE SHAW, FORMER CBS CORRESPONDENT (via phone): John, I'm looking at a letter that Walter wrote me, mailed it to my Washington apartment. It's dated October 29, 1971. And very briefly it says, "Dear Bernie, congratulations and thanks for that very warm letter. I too have no doubt that you have joined the very finest of the news organizations.

"Of course we are a long way from perfection and I know that you are sophisticated enough not to let the petty annoyances dim your broader vision of the outfit. Our feet may not be of clay, but our little toe is suspect. I'll look forward to seeing you on the 'Evening News.'"

And I think about those days, Suzanne Zirinsky alluded to them back in the early 1970s. Walter was a stickler for facts and figures. And I was a rookie reporter there with Leslie Stahl and Connie Chung in the bureau. Gerald Ford had just become president. And you remember -- in handling the nation's economic problems at that time, there was created this federal agency called the Pay Board.

Well, the CBS News bureau at 2020 M Street at the other end of the block this agency existed. I had covered this story late on the Hill and then I went to the lobby where this agency was and I wrote my script and the Cronkite producers in Washington talked it over with those in New York and the script was in the show.

It was the second story on the Cronkite evening news. Walter saw a script about 6:20, 10 minutes before air time and he did not like the fact that a certain figure was not in my script.

All of this now is on videotape. They come to me and say you've got to change this. Walter wants this and this. We were so late that as the announcer was saying, "Direct from our newsroom in New York, this is the 'CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.'" Bernie Shaw was still at his typewriter getting the figures correct.

We had technicians running out of the front of the bureau with cable, stretching it down the street to this federal agency lobby. I had to run down the street and get into position to do this story.

That's how tightly we sometimes went with the "CBS Evening News." But the important thing was to have the story right with the right perspective.

KING: And, Brian Williams, join the conversation because you can help with the challenge that I think I'm failing at all night which is trying to explain to people who did not know this man, who did not grow up watching him, he left the anchor chair in 1981, and to somebody in their 40s or younger out there watching they might say, OK. He was a great man who had a great job. But why does he matter to me?

You have had the experience of trying to explain, as we talked earlier, to your daughter, when this great man walked into your home for dinner, how do we tell people what he meant.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS (via phone): John, the best way to say it is in the words of a buddy of mine, who said when Cronkite was on in his years, at his height, in his heyday, he addressed the nation. When he said good evening it was tantamount to addressing the nation, not just anchoring the news.

We had three choices, three channels in this country. And you could almost feel the lights dim in New York when people tuned into Cronkite's newscast in the years when they were dominant. And they had a heck of a fight from Huntley and Brinkley in New York.

It was palpable. He loved doing what he did for a living. He would put his jacket on seconds before air. He looked the part. He had those eyebrows like the hedgerows our boys fought through in Europe in World War II. He looked like a newsman. He smoked a pipe in the newsroom all day.

He had -- I was smiling while Susan Zirinsky was talking. He had such a tactile love of the news. Gave up his manual typewriter reluctantly. He loved paper. He loved copy. He loved getting it from the writers, putting it back in the out tray for a rewrite, as the veteran Frankly Townsend and John Mossdale (ph).

He was simply the best at what he did and he created the mold. We didn't have an anchor, a true anchorman, a lead correspondent leading the gang like we did until Cronkite.

KING: Brian and Bernie, we don't have much time left because we have more colleagues waiting, but I want you each to take about 20 or 30 seconds if you could and help me understand, because you are both newsmen for whom I have such high respect who have managed the transition between network and the world of cable.

Bernie, to you first, Walter didn't like this world that much, did he?

SHAW: No, he did not because of the lack of discipline. One of Walter's secrets was he that he was a voracious student of history and he used history as a prism for viewers and listeners to understand the present.

KING: So, Brian Williams, how do you take your anchor seat every night wanting to be like Walter Cronkite knowing you work in a different age?

WILLIAMS: Knowing that the skill set is the same. A reporter is a reporter. When a fire truck goes by our window on 49th Street in New York, I am on the FDNY citywide scanner. I've got to know what the alarm is. I can't live any other way. That was the gene that Walter had. That goes on.

KING: Gentlemen, I want to thank you both that Walter Cronkite called you both friend and respected you so much that's why we appreciate your thoughts and insights tonight.

Brian Williams, my friend Bernie Shaw, thank you both, gentlemen.

Coming up, he was one of a kind. Walter Cronkite in his own words when "360" returns.


KING: Back now, looking at the life, the work the legacy of Walter Cronkite. A newsman's newsman who died today at age 92.

Walter covered the world and he helped changed it. For decades and to millions, he did what he loved most, reported the news.

Here is Walter Cronkite at the anchor desk and beyond in his own words.


CRONKITE: Good evening from the CBS News control center in New York. This is Walter Cronkite reporting.

From the biggest assignment any American reporter could have so far in this war. Covering the occupation of North Africa by American troops.

This aircraft is executing a maneuver to make it and everyone in it temporarily weightless. What are the hazards and what are our scientists doing to ensure a man's survival in the hostile environment of outer space?

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There seems to be some kind of battle going on over there about North Carolina.

CRONKITE: Yes. There is a battle going on. If you can get over there. We can see it directly under our booth. Here they're carrying a man out bodily by the legs and the arms.

It makes us in our anger -- I want to just turn off our cameras and pack up our microphones and our typewriters and get the devil out of this town. The Vice President Mr. Ford will become president at noon as we have said. He's already hard at work, of course, in putting his new government together.

Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher briefed President Carter today on his two days of talks with Algerian intermediaries about the American hostages in Iran. U.S. officials said later that the process of negotiating with Iran through the Algerians is working. That progress has been made but that there is no expectation of a quick release.

Mr. President, the only hot war we've got running at the moment is, of course, the one in Vietnam.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it's their war.

CRONKITE: The administration has not, however, been willing to discuss in public and in detail any of the specific accusations by the nation's press reviewed here tonight. In our next report, the money behind the Watergate affair.

And that's the way it is, Friday, October 27th, 1973.


KING: "And that's the way it is" was Walter's signature SigOut. A voice of the Midwest we came to trust. That was Walter Cronkite doing what he did best and in many cases did first.

Let's talk about his impact on the nation. Historian and CBS News contributor Doug Brinkley is writing a book about Mr. Cronkite.

And Doug, if I have this right, you spent part of the day in research looking at the papers of this great man.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, "AND THAT'S THE WAY IT IS": Well, we were talking. I live in Austin. And we have the thing called the BrosCo Center for American -- Center for American History at the University of Texas and a man named Don Carlton, some years ago, a great friend of Walter Cronkite's, was able to get all of his diaries and papers back to Texas.

Cronkite, of course, grew up in Houston and then spent some of his early reporting years in Austin and went to college here two years and he had a great affinity for Austin, Texas. One of his daughters lives here. And so they have this great treasure trove of papers. In the last few years I have been researching it because Walter Cronkite is a great window on American history.

It is a story of, as you've been talking about the UPI, but not only was he part of the Normandy invasion, but covering the Nuremberg trials, then being CBS through the Edward R. Murrow period and the Kennedy assassination to Vietnam. He saved everything. He saved speeches, papers, correspondence, photographs, press passes, on and on. And it's all at the center. They're getting ready at the University of Texas in the spring of 2010 to have a big Walter Cronkite conference.

KING: And Doug Brinkley, having seen all these papers, tell us something we don't know about him in the sense that this was a man who had dinner with millions of Americans every night, who held their hands and telling them their president had been shot and killed. That Martin Luther King had been shot and killed. That Bobby Kennedy had been shot and killed.

Such a public man but, of course, in these papers are things we never knew. Like what?

BRINKLEY: Well, one thing -- in general comment, for example, you know, he was a great admirer of Ernest Hemmingway's piece. Hemingway for "Esquire" in 1934 wrote a piece called "Old Newsman's Writers." And Cronkite read that and he believed in the old wireman tap.

Meaning, he used to go and constantly read the AP and UPA wires and save some of those and circle them. He also kept his notebooks. And when you read the notebooks it has a clipped sense, I was looking at one today from Vietnam, for example, when he went over there.

And you see each line he's writing source, source, source. And I'd interviewed people that you've had on your show this evening, by people like Bob Schieffer and Bill Plant, I've talked to this past week, just working on my book. And they all talk about how tough Walter Cronkite was.

I mean he ran the CBS show there when he had, you know, Roger Mudd, Rather, Schieffer, but also like Eric Sevareid as the pundit, and you had Daniel Schorr doing investigative work and Robert Pierpoint, and Bernard Shaw, Lesley Stahl.

It was quite a group around CBS and Cronkite was sort of like the orchestra leader, a Duke Ellington type of figure, with all these great players. And Cronkite tended to love print reporting and he believed that CBS News Television in that era was as fine as any newspaper because people that worked for him had to do the digging and they had to read the wires.

So I think what people remember about Cronkite's voice is, for one thing, his street voice was the same as his TV voice. It wasn't an act. That was Walter Cronkite. But, secondly, he would -- when he said something like, named a soldier's name, let's say, Bob Jones died. The way he would say that, you didn't need to have flourishes.

You didn't need a lot of language. And you know, that's one of the things to me that comes through when you read his speeches, notes, letters, his succinctness of language both on the air and off the air.

KING: Historian Douglas Brinkley, we thank you for your reflection tonight and we so look forward to your continued work and research, sir. You mentioned Walter's work for the wire service. I didn't know him well. I did meet him a few times and early in my career at CNN. He knew that I had come from the AP and he said I would probably, because of that experience, do OK in this business. I needed to prove it, probably, he says.

A few moments ago, Dan Rather had some kind words for and memories from the man whose chair he filled. We'll hear from Dan shortly. That and more, next.


KING: We just had a chance to talk to the former CBS News anchor Dan Rather about the death of Walter Cronkite. Here's some of what Dan told us.


DAN RATHER, FMR. CBS ANCHOR: He was literally a living legend and now a legend in memory of the very best in the journalistic craft. In many ways -- in many important ways he defined the role of the network anchor.


KING: Walter Cronkite called by so many the consummate newsman. Said so often it almost sounded like a cliche. Almost. But the fact is, as Dan Rather just said, Cronkite literally defined the role of anchorman.

At the time when television news was coming of age, his face and voice were linked to so many pivotal moments in history. Simply by reporting them, he made history.

One of those moments the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 2003, 40 years later, Cronkite described that unforgettable day to the former CNN anchorman Aaron Brown. Take a listen.


AARON BROWN, FMR. CNN ANCHORMAN: How long after you got on television did you find out that the president was -- had been shot, fatally shot?

CRONKITE: We didn't learn that he had been fatally shot until they announced that he was dead. That -- they never gave us any kind of a hospital bulletin that he was even critical.

At the airport in Dallas the -- and throughout the streets of Dallas, the Dallas Police have been augmented by some 400 policemen called in...

BROWN: Obviously, the magnitude of the moment had hit you. I mean you knew this was as serious as anything you had ever done and television had ever done. Were you nervous?

CRONKITE: No. I don't think so. No, I wasn't nervous at all. You know, Aaron, the thing about a situation like that that you're living through as a living on-air reporter at the moment, at that time the job is everything.

You've got to concentrate on doing what you're supposed to do and are trained to do. And I think the same thing is true of us news people because I had no personal sense of tragedy in this thing until the moment when I had to say he was dead.

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time. Some 38 minutes ago.

BROWN: You take off your glasses and you wipe a tear. How do you -- when you think about that moment now, 40 years later, would you do it differently?

CRONKITE: Probably not because that moment was purely extemporaneous in every sense of the word. I certainly, it wasn't -- I hadn't planned to have a tear in my eye at that moment at all. I wouldn't have thought of that. I would never have yielded to that if it had been a thought.

BROWN: Do you regret it?

CRONKITE: No. I don't regret it at all. Not at all. I would have regretted it if I broken down and couldn't have continued. That one I would have regretted. But this brief show of emotion was something that I think is perfectly natural. And I don't blame an on- air person for showing emotion.

It seems to me that you really don't want people reporting to you who don't have any sense of the emotional impact of a given moment in history.


KING: You've seen a lot of emotion here tonight from people who dearly miss Walter Cronkite and honor his legacy.

Coming up, Mr. Cronkite made history as he reported it. The defining moments of his legendary career, just ahead.


KING: Just moments ago the president of the United States joining the many reflecting on the life and legacy of Walter Cronkite.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's why we loved Walter, because in an era before blogs and e-mail, cell phones and cable, he was the news. Walter invited us to believe in him and he never let us down.

This country has lost an icon and a dear friend and he will be truly missed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president just a short time ago. And for our shot tonight, the legend Walter Cronkite. Much more than a newsman. He was there to bring the country reports that changed history. Here are some of the defining moments of this iconic career.


CRONKITE: Good evening from the CBS News control center in New York. This is Walter Cronkite reporting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The eagle has landed. We're rock (INAUDIBLE). We're bringing it again. Thanks a lot.


CRONKITE: Oh, boy. Boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wally, say something, I'm speechless.

CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time. Some 38 minutes ago.

Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away, they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is, Friday, March 6th, 1981. I'll be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years.

Good night.


KING: And to that there's not much more to add. Part of the beauty of a Walter Cronkite newscast is how much he said in so few words, yet reaching so many people. So in that tradition we can only say he will be missed. And that is the way it is.

More coverage on "360" and throughout the morning, next.