From our files: An interview with Walter Cronkite
The Monitor spoke with the CBS anchorman, who died Friday, in a 1973 series of interviews with the three networks' broadcast journalists.
From the December 26, 1973 issue of The Christian Science MonitorSkip to next paragraph
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Watergate may prove to be a great boon to the American people, predicts Walter Cronkite, the most trusted public figure in the U.S.A., according to a recent Quayle survey in which he out-polled President Nixon by 14 percent. Says the CBS-TV evening newsman: "I have a feeling that when this administration is squared away - whether by resignation, impeachment, or accommodation - we are in for a period of considerable moral soul searching which may straighten us out for a good number of years to come. People have become so fed up with subterfuge, dishonesty, and lack of candor that we are going to find them demanding of their politicians a straightforwardness such as we haven't had for many generations."
Mr. Cronkite is talking in his office in the midst of the CBS-TV news headquarters on New York's 57th Street - a glass-enclosed refuge from the hectic newsroom which surrounds it. Since it is early in the day, he has not yet begun the task of scanning the news wires, writing and rewriting the news which continues up till the moment before the 6:30 p.m. broadcast time. In some areas, the show is seen on tape at 7 p.m., unless late-breaking news calls for additional live coverage.
Off camera, Mr. Cronkite is even more relaxed than he seems on screen - certainly more informal. His jacket is off, his tie is loosened, his feet are up on the desk in an almost calculated "Front Page" stance. He is reluctant to be deified as an all-knowing pundit and nods with amusement toward his feet. "See," he says, "clay."
"We're in such trouble right now that it's hard for us to see ahead," Mr. Cronkite continues. "But I think the soul searching may also lap over into our personal lives. We've got a grand opportunity for a new morality in business, in government, in our individual lives. I really believe we are on the verge of reaching a new plateau in human relations.
"Watergate just happened to come along at the same time as the demand for honesty in relations between the sexes, in advertising, in ecology, in almost everything. It just stumbled into that great big elephant trap that had already been built for it. That's what is forcing the President's hand right now. He simply has to do something to satisfy that nationwide demand for a thorough cleansing of our way of life."
A real effort
If there is any criticism of President Nixon in Mr. Cronkite's conversation, it is almost completely by implication. He makes a real effort to tread the line of impartiality in his remarks off the air as well as in his attitudes on the air.
"I guess taking a stand is valid for a commentator. But that's not what I am. I am a news presenter, a news broadcaster, an anchorman, a managing editor - not a commentator or analyst. I feel no compulsion to be a pundit. As a matter of fact, I really don't have that much to say about most things. Working with hard news satisfies me completely."
"Of course, ABC and to some extent NBC, have a different approach. ABC believes that its anchormen can do a regular analytical spot as well as present the hard news. I don't believe that you can do both jobs on the same broadcast."