Forty years ago this week, the world watched together as mankind landed on the surface of the moon for the first time. And for my own family, and of course millions of others, it was the voice of Walter Cronkite who led us there. As a kid, naturally, I was excited. My father had kept meticulous scrapbooks of all the space program events, and had even taken us on a family vacation to visit (then) Cape Kennedy. I remember watching my father shed tears of disbelief as Cronkite told us that the Eagle had landed. It seemed that a new world of possibilities was opening right before our eyes.
In A Reporter’s Life, Cronkite himself summed it up rather well. “That first landing on the moon was, indeed, the most extraordinary story of our time and almost as remarkable a feat for television as the space flight itself. To see Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles out there, as he took that giant step for mankind onto the moon’s surface, was a thrill beyond all the other thrills of that flight. All those thrills tumbled over each other so quickly that the goose pimples from one merged into the goose pimples from the next.” (The library also stocks an audiobook version of A Reporter’s Life (read by the author), and lots more.)
And as we look back on our first explorations into other worlds, it seems ironic that the very person who took us on that amazing journey and would have perhaps celebrated this anniversary as enthusiastically as anyone, has himself left this world for another.
Plenty has (and will be written) about Cronkite’s professionalism and the personal-ism he brought to his craft. Indeed, television journalism as we know it might have been very different were it not for his pioneering leadership. In a CBS News Saturday Early Show tribute this morning, many of his colleagues remarked that Cronkite insisted the evening news program he first pioneered was to be about accurate reporting rather than celebrity entertainment.
But for me as a kid growing up in rural America and watching the news each evening to see what the rest of the world was doing, it was Cronkite’s enthusiastic optimism that I remember and treasure most. Indeed, there was plenty to be worried (even scared) about during the sixties and seventies, but for me at least, Cronkite’s positive outlook guided our family through it (and even attempted to make sense of it) all.
One of my personal favorites was the Emmy award-winning CBS series The 21st Century (1967-70). In a weekly news magazine format, Walter brought us stories about fascinating inventions and new developments, and provided us with an optimistic glimpse of what the world might look like in what then seemed like the quite distant future. Today, that seemingly distant future is here and many of those fascinating ideas are indeed a reality.
“And that’s the way it is…”
A Reporter's Life