March 6th 1981: Cronkite signs off

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Cronkite in his office before his last broadcast

On this day in 1981 the legendary anchor of CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite, signed off for the last time. Cronkite had been presenting the news for nineteen years and became known as ‘the most trusted man in America’. He is known for his departing catchphrase “And that’s the way it is”, followed by that day’s date. Cronkite reported on some pivotal moments in history including the Nuremberg trials, the moon landing and the Watergate scandal. He also got involved in the politics of the day, and is known for his denunciation of the Vietnam War which led President Johnson to bitterly remark “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America”. Cronkite is also remembered as the anchor who broke the story of the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22nd 1963. After his retirement, Cronkite continued to be an active figure in the American media and as a political activist. He died in 2009 in New York City, aged 92.

 

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Cronkite announces the assassination of JFK on November 22nd 1963

“This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have 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…And that’s the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night”

 

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Newspapers report his resignation

Modern Americans may reflect wistfully on the days when the news media was dominated by figures like Walter Cronkite. Now it is full of partisan pundits like Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy, Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough. Cronkite was the most trusted newsreader of his day, but who is it now? Certainly not any of these pundits. Viable candidates in the so-called ‘mainstream media’ could be NBC Nightly News’s Brian Williams or CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. However the name often tossed around to take over Cronkite’s mantle is The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. Despite being a comedian and The Daily Show a resolutely satiric show, many young Americans get most of their news from Stewart and/or his fellow ‘fake news’ host Stephen Colbert. Stewart himself despairs at this fact, as it perfectly proves the point he hammers home every night that the American news media is fundamentally and systemically flawed and does not provide adequate news coverage. However, if there is anyone who is as trusted to provide unbiased news as Cronkite was in his day, it is most likely Jon Stewart. This article highlights some of the similarities between Stewart and Cronkite and discusses how Obama may have ‘lost’ Stewart like Johnson lost Cronkite. We can therefore see how Cronkite’s legacy lives on; we may never see another media figure like him, but he remains an iconic ‘ideal-type’ journalist.

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