Once upon a time, there were three TV networks, three nightly newscasts, and, above all, one Walter Cronkite.
Cronkite, TV's most famed and influential news anchor, died today after a long illness. He was 92.
"When I think of Walter Cronkite, I think of his high journalism standards, integrity—but most of all his humanity," CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, said in a statement Friday night. "I think he was so trusted because he exhibited a sense of purpose and compassion, night after night. He was the personification of excellence."
"We trusted him and that trust was well founded," added ABC News fixture Barbara Walters. "He was also a jolly and supportive friend. He will be missed by each of us individually who knew him and by the whole country who loved him."
As anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1962-1981, the grandfatherly Cronkite—known as "Uncle Walter"—was a nightly dinnertime presence for the prewired, precable nation, walking viewers through the tumult and triumphs of the time: the assassination of President Kennedy, the first-ever manned moon landing, the Vietnam War.
"Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away," Cronkite said on his final telecast. "They just keep coming back for more."
Beyond the TV news set, Cronkite mattered in a very real pop-culture way, topping public-opinion polls seeking "the most trusted man in America," and, per one popular historical take, turning public sentiment against Vietnam with one brief, but pointed observation in a 1968 telecast.
"How many news organizations get the chance to bask in the sunshine of a half-century of Edward R. Murrow followed by a half century of Walter Cronkite?" commented Cronkite's longtime producer, Don Hewitt, upon news of his death.
In a retirement that was anything but, Cronkite hosted, narrated and/or appeared in dozens of news specials and documentaries. He even returned to the CBS Evening News. Since 2006, when Couric ascended to the anchor chair that, thanks to ratings attrition, no longer dropped much weight, Cronkite has been heard introducing the newscast.
"It is impossible to imagine CBS News, journalism or indeed America without Walter Cronkite," CBS News President Sean McManus said. "More than just the best and most trusted anchor in history, he guided America through our crises, tragedies and also our victories and greatest moments. No matter what the news event was, Walter was always the consummate professional with an un-paralleled sense of compassion, integrity, humanity, warmth, and occasionally even humor. There will never be another figure in American history who will hold the position Walter held in our minds, our hearts and on the television."
In June, Cronkite's family, responding to reports that the newsman was gravely ill, revealed the Cronkite had suffered for "some years" from cerebrovascular disease, a disorder of the blood vessels of the brain.
At least Walter Cronkite lived a long and fruitful life. Not so much these pop stars, who will remain forever pretty young.