Sunday, July 19, 2009

Everything you see here was as it happened that day

My dad met Walter Cronkite once.

It was very shortly after the episode of Mary Tyler Moore in which Cronkite made a guest appearance as himself. That episode aired in February 1974, and this would have been no more than a few weeks later. Cronkite was visiting someone at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, where my father was working at the time. My dad saw Cronkite in the elevator and said "Mr. Cronkite, if you're willing to shake Ted Baxter's hand, you should be willing to shake mine." Cronkite laughed, and they shook hands.

Look, I didn't say it was an exciting story. But it's the only story I have about Cronkite, and I won't have any other occasion to tell it.

My family had only just moved to New York City a couple of months earlier...and on the basis of this incident, I probably assumed meeting national celebrities was just something everyone took for granted here. Like it happened so often that it wasn't even worth mentioning. Actually, that last part turned out to be true.

The most apt memorial writing I've read is Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did. The increasingly pompous Brian Williams in particular is the new Ted Baxter. In his self-congratulatory reminiscences you can hear an echo of those booming stentorian tones: "It all began at a small 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California..."


  1. While attending journalism school, I used to wear a button that said, "I miss Walter." The man retired just before I went to college, but was a major reason why I decided to get a journalism degree.

  2. My mother says I used to shake my rattle at the TV screen and intone "Rodder Conkite!" This, and I also said "Bon Appetit!" to Julia Child.

    It is astounding to me that I cannot seem to articulate what I thought, and still think -- I swear I can feel myself thinking! -- about Walter Cronkite.

    Perhaps this is why the Salon article makes me nod in agreement. I'm sure all the news anchors have had no trouble at all articulating about Walter Cronkite to beat the friggin' band. So much conceptual framing they engage in, and yet no knowledge ever results from any of it. I'm sure I would've been sickened, if I'd seen any of it.

  3. Hey, it didn't name me correctly...!


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