The longtime CBS News White House correspondent, who started at CBS in 1964, says working under Walter Cronkite yielded lessons in integrity that stay with him to this day.
From the time I joined CBS News in June 1964 until early 1981, Walter Cronkite was the man to whom I answered. More than an anchorman, Cronkite was managing editor of the CBS Evening News—a title which he took very seriously. We knew he had covered the Second World War, that he came to CBS from United Press—a background that spoke of his ability as both reporter and writer. We knew that he was more likely than not to review our scripts and ask questions—queries to which we had better have an answer. He was, in short, a demanding boss.
Walter rarely showed emotion. The few times I remember seeing him display his feelings include his announcement of President John F. Kennedy’s death, his cheering on of the manned space program, and his utter delight in the parade of tall ships in New York City for the Bicentennial celebration.
But Walter had another side. He loved political gossip. When we came into New York from the campaign trail, he wanted to know what was going on. He loved jokes—and parties. His annual Christmas get-together for the Evening News staff was legendary. He could be generous. At a farewell party for one young production assistant going on to become a reporter, Cronkite surprised everyone by giving the departing staffer that era’s signature tool of the trade—an Olivetti portable typewriter.
The '60s and '70s were difficult times for the nation—Vietnam, the civil-rights movement, Watergate—but through it all, Walter Cronkite was the man to whom people looked for reassurance.
To young journalists like me, his work was the standard by which we judged our own: his courage in calling Vietnam as he saw it; his barely contained outrage at the Watergate coverup; his solid integrity.
We will do well to remember it.
Bill Plante is the White House correspondent for CBS News, a post he has held since 1981.