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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Walter Cronkite Dies at 92

Aired July 17, 2009 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN KING, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: If you are just joining us tonight, this is AC360. I'm John King sitting in for Anderson.

Sad news, for a lot of people tonight, millions of Americans from all over the country and all walks of life that may have shared little in common except for this. Every weeknight at 7:00 P.M., invited Walter Cronkite into their homes, to sit down with him and tell them the news.

Tonight at 7:42 Eastern time, Walter Cronkite left us. He died at his home in New York, his family by his side. Mr. Cronkite was 92.

I grew up watching him. So did Anderson who remembered him this way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: For so long, for so many of us he was the most trusted man in America.

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: And that's the way it is.

COOPER: Walter Cronkite covered the world and in the age of fewer channels and fewer newscast, he changed the world as well.

CRONKITE: Looking back on it I think I was so lucky -- I just happen to fall into the right things at the right time. And it worked beautifully.

COOPER: He was born Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. in 1916. He was a beat reporter and football announcer before joining United Press in 1939. When the first troops stormed Normandy, Walter Cronkite was there.

CRONKITE: As Dwight Eisenhower told me sitting on this very wall over here on the 20th anniversary of D-Day, that he thinks of the grandchildren that these young kids will never have. And that's something for all of us to think about.

COOPER: When we think about Walter Cronkite, in generations of broadcast journalists have and will continue to, we think about his tenure in CBS, a company he joined in 1950.

Twelve years later he became the anchor of the CBS "Evening News." In that chair, in that role, he came to define what an anchor was. He told America the way it was. Who can forget, November 22, 1963, Cronkite reported and reacted to the horror in Dallas.

CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard time, 2:00 Eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago.

COOPER: In 1968 after returning from a trip to Vietnam, his conclusions may have helped alter the course of history.

CRONKITE: It seems now more certain than effort that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.

COOPER: The opinion reached President Johnson who reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite I've lost Middle America."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And his approach to news was when news happens, get as close to the story as you possibly can and then tell people about it in language that they can understand. Walter spoke like the average person. It wasn't all literary flowery kind of language. People don't talk that way and Walter didn't either.

COOPER: Walter, it seemed, was always there. For the moon landing.

CRONKITE: Man on the moon. Oh, boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

COOPER: For Watergate, for the Mideast peace breakthrough.

He was humble and honest and straight forward and never made himself the story even on a winter day in 1981 when he sat in the anchor chair for the last time.

CRONKITE: Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is, Friday, March 6, 1981.

I will be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.

COOPER: Good night Mr. Cronkite. Good night and Godspeed.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Anderson Cooper there reflecting on Walter Cronkite.

Late reaction tonight from President Obama -- the president said, quote, "Walter was always more than just an anchor. He was family. He invited us to believe in him. And he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend. And he will be truly missed."

That's President Obama on Walter Cronkite who died tonight at the age of 92, just days short of the 40th anniversary of man walking on the moon. You heard his reaction to that moment, "oh, boy." He was a fan and he made no bones about it.

One of the many moments perhaps more than he cared to admit, when his voice wasn't just that of a newsman delivering the facts but instead a trusted friend, sometimes taken with the moment, sometimes overcome with emotion.

As you saw on that fateful day in Dallas, my mom who left us too soon long ago once told me I was a baby boy on her lap when she watched this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central standard time, 2:00 Eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago.

Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably he will be taking the Oath of Office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Don Hewitt was there not just for many of those moments but for his first as anchor of the CBS "Evening News." Don joins us now by telephone.

Don Hewitt, help us understand what the man meant, not to CBS News, but to the country. Especially when you reflect on a moment like telling many Americans their president had been killed.

DON HEWITT, LONGTIME CRONKITE COLLEAGUE (via telephone): We learned a lot from Walter Cronkite. Every historic moment during the time he and I worked together, America learned from Walter Cronkite.

He was a newsman's newsman. There was nothing fancy about him. He didn't even look the part. He looked like Walter Cronkite, which was a great thing to look like.

It's difficult to say too much about Walter Cronkite because I don't think there will be another one.

KING: And Don, help me understand, he was the voice for so many Americans of what was happening at a time when the country was being so torn apart; whether it was Vietnam, the violence of the civil rights movement, the John Kennedy assassination, the Bobby Kennedy assassination, the Martin Luther King assassination.

At a time the country was being so torn apart, how was it that this man emerged to with such a unifying voice?

HEWITT: He was a voice of calm. Walter didn't allow his emotions to get in the way of his reporting. And he reported -- he reported as one of the great reporters of all time. He told a story, told it well and didn't embellish. KING: What was the secret? What was he like when you were getting in that final crunch before a newscast goes on the air, and you're making those decisions -- what's in, what's out what's the lead? What was Walter's secret?

HEWITT: We usually had a conference. Two or three of us would sit down with Walter and decide what we were going to do. And by the time that meeting was over Walter had told us what he was going to do and we found little reason to disagree with him.

KING: Help me understand, Don Hewitt. You now run the legendary "60 Minutes" program. We live in an age of cable, of Internet and of blog. A lot of people on television voice their opinion not the facts. And there is a fair amount of shouting that I think it's fair to say we both know Walter didn't like.

What are the lessons that we need to keep in our business today that would honor Walter Cronkite's legacy?

HEWITT: Calm. Walter was calm about everything. Walter didn't get caught up in the emotions of a moment. He rose above the assassinations and all the moments that would shape the times we lived in. And he did it calmly and intelligently and you know, there are an awful lot of potential Walter Cronkites. There was only one real Walter Cronkite.

KING: Very well put. Don Hewitt. Don, we thank you for your thoughts tonight and your reflections on a great man. Walter Cronkite was a newsman, he was a gentleman.

And as Don said, he set the gold standard for journalism.

Dan Rather who took over the anchor chair at CBS News, released this statement tonight, "I'm saddened to hear of Walter's passing. He was by any measure, a giant of the journalistic craft. Walter loved reporting and delivering the news and he was superb at both." That's Dan Rather tonight.

Just a short time ago I spoke with Katie Couric, the current anchor of the CBS "Evening News."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Katie Couric, you are the current anchor of the CBS's "Evening News." You sit, not quite exactly, but you sit in Walter Cronkite's chair. How does that feel every night?

KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR, "EVENING NEWS": Well, John, it is a huge responsibility and I have to say slightly intimidating when I took this job. And for a number of days we've known at CBS News that Walter was in failing health and we were all worried about when this day would come.

And he was so revered and so beloved here. And I've read so much, John, in recent days and really throughout my career about Walter. But I've been reminded really only recently what an incredible man and journalist he was.

I mean, he was the personification of integrity and decency and humanity.

I think that is one thing that struck me as I've watched some of the earlier broadcasts from the past. When he announced that President Kennedy had died it was so moving to see his body language and his facial expressions.

And similarly, the glee he exhibited when, you know, that he was anchoring in a space launch. He had sort of an adolescent enthusiasm -- it's been said -- about the space program. This unbridled joy in terms of reporting that story and a huge interest in science as well.

But I think he really connected to the audience.

Sometimes you think about television as being this sort of stiff, stilted profession, particularly when Walter was at the helm. But what struck me was how natural he was.

In his early days apparently, before the era of teleprompters John, he would write a few notes on file cards, just glance at them and know what the story was and speak extemporaneously to the audience. And you can't find many anchors who are really capable of pulling that off in this day and age.

KING: Speaking with the country, I think, not at the country might have been part of his gift.

I want to take you back in time. Walter Cronkite goes on the air in February 1968 and he says on the air that the United States is mired in a stalemate.

And President Johnson we would later learn in the history books told his aides, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Will any television anchor in today's age when the business was so different ever have that power?

COURIC: I don't think so. You know, it was a very different period of time and there was no CNN, no 24-hour news cycle. In fact, he often talked a bit disparagingly about 24-hour news and said people get a little pill of news and they think that's enough, 24 hours a day.

No offense John, to you or CNN, but I think he did wield incredible influence because he was so trusted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining us now on the phone, two long time CBS News colleagues of Walter Cronkite, Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer. Morley Safer, let me begin with you and I just want to yield the floor, Walter Cronkite's legacy is...

MORLEY SAFER, CBS CORRESPONDENT, "60 MINUTES" (via telephone): Well, I think his legacy quite simply is, he in a way, created what we now regard as broadcast news. And he did it with a kind of -- I don't know how quite to describe it -- a very ordinary, a very common place grace that really no one has quite duplicated. You can't duplicate that; either you've got it or you don't. And Walter had it.

It is really interesting to me that this mythology of being the most trusted man in America. Well, it's not a myth. He probably was just about the most trusted man in America and people felt that he never betrayed that trust.

He had that -- a kind of dead (ph) honest simplicity about him, both on the air and off the air, by the way. I mean and he was devoted to the craft, there is no question. But one thing that no one has mentioned is how much fun he was off the air. He was the best man I've ever known to go drinking with.

And I have been fortunate enough or unfortunate enough to have done it many times.

KING: Amen.

SAFER: He never lost his old wire service instinct, which is get the story done and then go out and have some fun.

KING: Amen to that. Morley, please stay with us.

Bob Schieffer, I want you to join in the conversation. And I have been wrestling with this as we cover this story this sad story over the past few hours. How did he do it? In the sense, that I know there was no cable television.

I don't know how any news anchor could go through the civil rights movement, the tumult of Vietnam, a presidential assassination, Robert Kennedy's assassination, Martin Luther King's assassination even something less controversial but man on the moon and keep his calm and keep the trust of the American people. How?

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS AUTHOR (via telephone): And it was -- he not only loved the news John and loved covering the news, he had great respect for the news and for the people who were involved in making the news. And it just sort of came through to people.

I have often thought about Walter and I think one of the secrets to his success was being the anchor of a major news program is a pretty darn good job when you come right down to it. And I think people used to look at Walter and say, you know that's a good job Walter has.

And old Walter knows it's a good job and he appreciates having it. And I think people understood that. And in fact, it was absolutely correct. Walter felt very fortunate.

I mean, Walter had this just insatiable curiosity about things and how things worked and this enthusiasm about trying to find out about it. And he understood that he had the job that allowed him to talk to all these people who made the news and he liked that.

He -- it wasn't just that, you know, he was running around with celebrities or something. He was really interested in what they had to say and why they thought what they thought. And that just came through to people. Walter never...

KING: I see...

SCHIEFFER: ...let anything get in the way of the news including himself.

KING: We are seeing a picture of Walter Cronkite playing himself standing next to Ted Knight, "Ted Baxter" of course, on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show."

SCHIEFFER: I remember that episode.

KING: It's a fabulous photo -- I want you both to reflect in this -- and Morley, to you first -- in the sense of the trust he had then, he clearly didn't like what has happened to much of our business now.

Could Walter Cronkite be Walter Cronkite in the age of cable and Internet and blogging?

SAFER: I would like to think he could. That there is some safe haven for a straight delivery of the news, done by someone who is not a poseur in the chair, but actually gets out and covers the news, and as Bob says terrific respect for it and great respect for the people who make news, even some of the rascals.

And -- so I'd like to think he could. The reality, I guess, is that the country has passed that moment by and neglected it or something. I'm not sure.

But -- and you're right. He didn't like what has had happened. And I think Katie mentioned it.

KING: Yes.

SAFER: This 24-hour news cycle. I think that one of the things that a 24-hour news cycles does to reporters is it takes away their time to think. And thinking time is terribly important even if it is only ten minutes to think about what you're going to say.

But this business of just rattling off stuff -- it doesn't enlighten very much and it certainly doesn't get the best out of the people who are doing the reporting.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I would just say it with that John, I mean, Walter said to me one time, he said, you know there is nothing that peps up a newscast like a little news.

And he knew new facts, something that people hadn't heard before, he knew you could tap dance and all that kind of thing if you are the anchor. But the fact is if you came up with a story that was important that people didn't know about it was going to get people's attention.

And that was always Walter's great secret. I mean, he didn't let other things get in the way of reporting the news. And I want to tell you at 6:25 as that newscast was getting ready to go on the air, if a big story broke, Walter loved tearing the whole thing apart and getting what he thought the news was right up at the top.

And he just loved that. To him that was what it was all about. And because he did, we all -- I mean, we've learned from him. And we'd liked it too.

KING: Two damn good newsmen in their own right, Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer helping us tonight reflect on the life and legacy of a legend Walter Cronkite.

SAFER: Can I just say one more small thing picking up what Bob said?

KING: Quickly, Morley, please.

SAFER: Yes, he really was the correspondent's best friend. He was a very tough boss, very demanding but you really felt you had a friend in court when you reported to Walter.

SCHIEFFER: Absolutely. I'm so glad you said that, Morley.

KING: As the guy who was more often the correspondent and not the anchor I will say we love that in an anchor always.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time tonight. I know it's a tough night for you both. And we greatly appreciate it. Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer reflecting on Walter Cronkite.

And when we come back, one of Walter Cronkite's army of young producers, who would go on to great fame in her own right at CBS News, Susan Zirinsky next, holding in her hand, one of the many pieces of Cronkite's history that also happened to be American history.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: He was the calm voice of the news. And on this occasion a voice that moved the nation's center of gravity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRONKITE: If the Communist intention was to take and seize the cities they came closer here at (INAUDIBLE) than anywhere else. And now three weeks after the offensive began, the firing still goes on.

Tonight back in more familiar surroundings in New York we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great (INAUDIBLE) offensive against the cities? I'm not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knock out but neither did we. And the referees of history may make it a draw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Walter Cronkite there on the Vietnam war. Mr. Cronkite died tonight at the age of 92. As we look back on his extraordinary life and his legacy, we're joined by the people who knew him and worked with him.

Susan Zirinsky is the executive producer of "48 Hours Mystery" on CBS. She was also a producer for Mr. Cronkite. Susan, simply your thoughts on this sad night.

SUSAN ZIRINSKY, CRONKITE'S FORMER PRODUCER: Well, I think for me, I was 19 years old when I started in the Washington Bureau and it was weeks after Watergate. And what Cronkite was -- what Cronkite embodied was the core values of any young journalist.

It was an unbelievable time during Watergate. Walter was coming down and anchoring specials. But what was so striking about the time was the impact a single voice could have. "The Washington Post," network television was on night after night.

And I think those of us who grew up in that era saw the impact that this single man had. People were trusting this man like no one else that had come in.

We were in their living rooms. Walter came into your living room. And yet Walter was not about flash; Walter was about the story.

Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer earlier tonight talked to you about that he wasn't a flashy, he wasn't a fancy guy. He was about the core value of the news.

I think that we live now in an era with the proliferation of cable -- which is fantastic access by people to information -- but the great part about having a smaller platform was that you were always heard.

It's harder now to have a distinctive voice.

I mean, I'm proud to work at CBS where "60 Minutes" is the hallmark of journalism and continues to break new ground. But Walter was all about that. Walter was about the values and the knowledge of a story and shedding light. It sounds old-fashioned but that's what it was about.

KING: And Susan we've talked throughout the course of the past couple of hours here on CNN, about so many big nights: the Kennedy assassination, man on the moon, that turning point in Vietnam we just listened to.

Walter was a pack rat we have been told and I understand, maybe that's one of the things you learned from your friend and mentor, because you have in your desk the script of another famous night in Walter Cronkite's life and America's history.

ZIRINSKY: I do, indeed. And actually I feel really grateful that I can show it tonight. Let me put it up here so you can see it.

The night that Nixon resigned and you can see the copy, "Good evening, the 37th President of the United States resigned today." You can see Walter's handwriting on there. The copy was written by a writer named Charlie West.

And I was a researcher. And Walter cavalierly just threw the script into the garbage can and it's the whole script for the night of the special of the night Nixon resigned. I, of course, fished it out. And I had no knowledge of eBay back then. I could have made cash today.

But I have kept on -- I have kept holding this script in my possession. And I always felt very attached to Walter through the years because of what I learned and the fact I was a researcher. But holding the copy from a historic night where his handwriting made the changes is a moment that you feel that I have history in my hand.

I have Walter in my hands. I'm just going to read a little piece of it, which was the last line. It was at the end of the show. And it said, "And so virtually on the eve of her bicentennial, the United States has passed through a day of historic drama, a day many of her citizens had been awaiting with dread, a day some feared would shred the fabric of her society. But the feared has not come to pass. As President Ford said in his acceptance speech, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws not of men. Here the people rule. This is Walter Cronkite, CBS News, Washington, good night."

It doesn't get better than that. And that -- this embodies what Walter was: taking dramatic, amazing nights and days and events in history, putting them in context and perspective and taking a country through the history.

We're doing our own special on Sunday night at 7:00 called, "That's the Way It Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite." And as you will watch this show, what you are struck with is not only the great journalism of a man, but the fact that we lived as a country through history through the eyes and the voice of this man.

I'm incredibly proud to kind of embody Walter and have a script like this in my possession. But it's more about the ethics. It's more about who he was and the people, the producers that worked for him.

We were film back in the early Cronkite days. You were running up floors with reels of film. Every night, everything was at stake and quite frankly, the technology which has given ease of information was fantastic, but there was no less emphasis on getting it right.

You know, you were a little scared of Walter. If Walter calls during the show or after the show, you were pretty nervous. There was nothing about an advocacy or a point of view. For Walter, it was the straight and narrow, we are covering the story, we are covering the news. Tell me like it is.

And I think that many of us here at CBS and we're grateful that those of us who came up through the ranks and many of us still exist here. We're kind of proud to be Walter Cronkite's disciples and carrying on his message.

KING: Susan Zirinsky, one of the Cronkite kids -- one of the many Cronkite kids at CBS News. We thank you so much for your thoughts and your reflections tonight and for sharing that historic script with us tonight. Susan thank you, take care in the days ahead.

More on Walter Cronkite's passing and his pivotal role in this business -- and more importantly the lives of so many Americans.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams joins us along with former CNN Bernie Shaw who worked with Walter Cronkite at CBS.

All that still ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS ANCHOR: And that's the way it is, Monday December 5, 1977. This is Walter Cronkite, CBS News, good night.

Good evening from Paris.

Reporting from Moscow.

From the Great Wall of China.

Reporting from Madrid.

This is Walter Cronkite aboard the Papal aircraft somewhere over the North Atlantic.

This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News. For me, it is a moment of which I long have planned but which nevertheless comes with some sadness.

For almost two decades, after all, we have been meeting like this in the evenings and I will miss that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was Walter Cronkite's final broadcast as the anchor of the CBS Evening News.

More on his legacy shortly.

First though, a quick update on some of the other stories we're following tonight; Randi Kaye with the "360 Bulletin."

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.

Indonesian authorities believe suicide bombers are behind the twin hotel bombers in Jakarta that killed at least six people and wounded more than 50. U.S. officials say eight Americans are among the injured.

Investigators are analyzing surveillance images showing a man in a baseball cap pulling a suitcase toward the Marriott's lobby seconds before the blast. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the nearby Ritz- Carlton.

In Iran today, a new wave of demonstrations -- the biggest in weeks -- sparked by a sermon by the oppositions most important cleric backer, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tens of thousands of protesters filled Tehran's streets after Rafsanjani criticized Iran's leadership for losing the public's trust; its comments broadcast nationwide. The government responded to protesters with violence.

Unemployment in June topped 10 percent in 15 states. That is the grim headline out of the Department of Labor's latest report. Hardest hit -- Michigan, which became the first state in 25 years to see unemployment rise above 15 percent.

And the influential travel Web site, Trip Advisor is waging a quiet battle against fake reviews. Some hotels post bogus raves to improve their ratings. The site has been posting disclaimers to flag those hotels and says they involve only a small fraction of the 400,000 reviews they post -- John.

KING: Randi, thank you very much.

Walter Cronkite died tonight at home in New York. He was 92. He had been ill for a long time. He will be remembered a lot longer.

Former CNN anchor Bernie Shaw knew Walter Cronkite as a CBS News colleague; he joins us and so does Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC Nightly News as someone who came to know Mr. Cronkite.

Bernie, let me start with you, my friend. Take me inside CBS News in your heydays as one of the colleagues of this great man.

BERNIE SHAW, FORMER CNN ANCHOR (via telephone): John, I'm looking at a letter that Walter wrote me, mailed it to my Washington apartment. It's October 29, 1971.

Very briefly it says, "Dear Bernie, congratulations and thanks for that very warm letter. I, too, have no doubt that you have joined the finest of the news organizations. Of course, we are a long way from perfection and I know that you are sophisticated enough not to let the petty annoyances dim your broader vision of the outfit. Our feet may not be of clay, but our little toe is suspect. I'll look forward to seeing you on the evening news."

And I think about those days, Suzanne Zirinsky alluded to them, back in the early 1970's. Walter was a stickler for facts and figures.

I was a rookie reporter there with Lesley Stahl and Connie Chung in the bureau. Gerald Ford had just become president. And you remember, in handling the nation's economic problems at that time there was created this federal agency called the Pay Board.

Well, the CBS News bureau is at 2020 M Street; at the other end of the block this agency existed. I covered this story late on the hill and then I went to the lobby where this agency was and I wrote my script. And the Cronkite producers in Washington talked it over with those in New York and the script was in the show. It was the second story on the Cronkite evening news.

Walter saw the script about 6:20, ten minutes before air time and he did not like the fact that a certain figure was not in my script.

All of this now is on videotape. They come to me and say you've got to change this. Walter wants this and this. We were so late that as the announcer was saying, "Direct from our newsroom in New York. This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." Bernie Shaw was still at his typewriter getting the figures correct.

We had technicians running out of the front of the bureau, with cable stretching it down the street to this federal agency lobby. I had to run down the street and get into position to do this story.

That's how tightly we sometimes went with the CBS Evening News. But the important thing was to have the story right with the right perspective.

KING: And Brian Williams, join the conversation because you can help with the challenge that I think I'm failing at all night which is trying to explain to people who did not know this man, who did not grow up watching him. He left the anchor chair in 1981. And to somebody in their 40s or younger out there watching they might say, "Ok. He was a great man who had a great job. Why does he matter to me?"

You have had the experience of trying to explain as we talked earlier, to your daughter when this great man walked into your home for dinner. How do we tell people what he meant.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: John, the best way to say it is in the words of a buddy of mine who said when Cronkite was on in his years at his height, in his heyday, he addressed the nation. When he said good evening it was tantamount to addressing the nation, not just anchoring the news.

We had three choices, three channels in this country. And you can almost feel the lights dim in New York when people tuned in to Cronkite's newscast during the years when they were dominant. And they had a heck of a fight from Huntley and Brinkley in New York. It was palpable.

He loved doing what he did for a living. He would put his jacket on seconds before air. He looked the part. He had those eyebrows like the hedgerows our boys fought through in Europe in World War II. He looked like a news man. He smoked a pipe in the newsroom all day.

He had -- I was smiling while Susan Zirinsky was talking. He had such a tactile love of the news; gave up his manual typewriter reluctantly. He loved paper. He loved copy. He loved getting it from the writers and putting it back in the out tray for a rewrite as the veterans like Lee Townsend and John Mosedale will tell you.

He was simply the best at what he did and he created the mold. We didn't have an anchor, a true anchorman, a lead correspondent leading the game like we did until Cronkite. KING: Brian and Bernie, we don't have much time left because we have more colleagues waiting. But I want you each to take about 20 or 30 seconds if you could and help me understand because you are both newsmen for whom I have such high respect who have managed the transition between network and the world of cable.

Bernie, to you first, Walter didn't like this world that much, did he?

SHAW: No, he did not because of the lack of discipline. One of Walter's secrets was that he was a voracious student of history. He used history as a prism for viewers and listeners to understand the present.

KING: Brian Williams, how do you take your anchor seat every night wanting to be like Walter Cronkite knowing you work in a different age?

WILLIAMS: Knowing that the skill set is the same; a reporter is a reporter. When a fire truck goes by our window on 49th Street in New York, I am on the FDNY citywide scanner. I have to know what the alarm is. I can't live any other way. That was the gene Walter had; that goes on.

KING: Gentlemen, I want to thank you both that Walter Cronkite called you both friend and respected you so much. It's why we appreciate your thoughts and insights tonight. Brian Williams, my friend Bernie Shaw, thank you both, gentlemen.

Coming up, he was one of a kind. Walter Cronkite in his own words, when 360 returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back now looking at the life, the work, the legacy of Walter Cronkite -- the newsman's newsman -- who died today at age 92.

Walter covered the world and he helped change it. For decades and to millions, he did what he loved most -- reported the news.

Here's Walter Cronkite at the anchor desk and beyond, in "His Own Words."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRONKITE: Good evening from the CBS News control center in new York, this is Walter Cronkite reporting.

From the biggest assignment that any American reporter can have so far in this war -- covering the occupation of North Africa by American troops.

This aircraft is executing a maneuver to make it and everyone in it temporarily weightless. What are the hazards and what are our scientists doing to ensure man's survival in the hostile environment of outer space. From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard time, 2:00 Eastern Standard time, some 38 minutes ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There seems to be some kind of battle going on over there.

CRONKITE: Yes. There is a battle going on -- if you can get over there. We can see it directly under our booth. They are either carrying a man out bodily by the legs and the arms.

It makes us in our anger -- I want to just turn off our cameras and pack up our microphones and our typewriters and get the devil out of this town.

The Vice President Mr. Ford will become president at noon as we have said. He's already hard at work, of course, in putting his new government together.

Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher briefed President Carter today on his two days of talks with Algerian intermediaries about the American hostages in Iran. U.S. officials said later process of negotiating with Iran through the Algerians is working that progress has been made but that there is no expectation of a quick release.

Mr. President, the only hot war we've got running at the moment is, of course, the one in Vietnam.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support that the war can be won. In the final analysis, it is their war.

CRONKITE: The administration has not, however, been willing to discuss in public and in detail any of the specific accusations by the nation's press reviewed here tonight. In our next report: the money behind the Watergate affair.

And that's the way it is, Friday October 27, 1973.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "And that's the way it is" was Walter's signature -- sig out; a voice of the Midwest we came to trust. That was Walter Cronkite doing what he did best and in many cases did first.

Let's talk about his impact on the nation. Historian and CBS News contributor Doug Brinkley is writing a book about Mr. Cronkite. And Doug, if I have this right, you spent part of the day in research looking at the papers of this great man.

DOUG BRINKLEY, CBS NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we were talking. I live in Austin. We have a thing called the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas. And a man named Don Carlton, some years ago, a great friend of Walter Cronkite's was able to get all of his diaries and papers back to Texas. Cronkite, of course, grew up in Houston and then spent some of his early reporting years in Austin and went to college here two years and he had a great affinity for Austin, Texas. One of his daughters lives here.

They have this great treasure trove of papers. In the last few years I have been researching it because Walter Cronkite is a great window on American history. It is a story of as you have been talking about the UPI. But not only was he part of the Normandy invasion, covering the Nuremberg trials and then being with CBS through the Edward R. Murrow period and the Kennedy assassination to Vietnam.

He saved everything. He saved speeches, papers, correspondence, photographs, press passes, on and on. It is all at the center. They are getting ready at the University of Texas in the spring of 2010 to have a big Walter Cronkite conference.

KING: And Doug Brinkley, having seen all these papers, tell us something we don't know about him in a sense that this was a man who had dinner with millions of Americans every night, who held their hand and telling them their president had been shot and killed. That Martin Luther King had been shot and killed. That Bobby Kennedy had been shot and killed. Such a public man but, of course, in these papers are things we never knew. Like what?

BRINKLEY: General comment for example, he was a great admirer of Ernest Hemingway's piece. Hemingway for Esquire in 1934 wrote a piece called "The Old News Man's Writers."

Cronkite read that and he believed in the old wireman tap. Meaning, he used to go and constantly read the AP and UPI wires and save some of those and circle them.

He also kept his notebooks. And when you read the notebooks it has a clipped sense. I was looking at one today from Vietnam, for example, when he went over there. And you see each line he is writing source, source, source.

I have interviewed people that you have had on your show this evening like people like Bob Schieffer and Bill Plant I talked to this past week just working on my book. They all talk about how tough Walter Cronkite was. He ran the CBS show there when you had Roger Mudd, Rather, Schieffer, but also like Eric Severi, the pundits and you had Daniel Shore doing investigative work and Robert Pierpoint and Bernard Shaw and Leslie Stahl.

It was quite a group around CBS and Cronkite was sort of like the orchestra leader, a Duke Ellington type of figure with all these great players. Cronkite tended -- loved print reporting and he believed that CBS News television in that era was as fine as any newspaper because people that worked for him had to do the digging and they had to read the wires.

So I think what people remember about Cronkite's voice is for one thing his street voice was the same as his TV voice. It wasn't an act. That was Walter Cronkite. Secondly, when he said something like, named a soldier's name, let's say Bob Jones died. The way he would say that, you didn't need to have flourishes. You didn't need a lot of language.

That's one of the things to me that comes through when you read his speeches, notes letters, his succinctness of language both on the air and off the air.

KING: Historian Douglas Brinkley, we thank you for your reflections tonight and we so look forward to your continued work and research here.

You mentioned Walter's work for the wire service. I didn't know him well. I did meet him a few times and early in my career at CNN. He knew that I had come from the AP and he said I would probably -- because of that experience -- do ok in this business. I needed to prove it. "Probably" he said.

A few moments ago, Dan Rather had some kind words for and memories of the man whose chair he filled. We'll hear from Dan shortly.

That and more, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We just had a chance to talk to the former CBS News anchor, Dan Rather, about the death of Walter Cronkite. Here's some of what Dan told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: He was literally a living legend and now a legend in memory of the very best in journalistic craft. In many ways, many important ways he defined the role of the network anchor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Walter Cronkite called by so many the consummate newsman, said so often it almost sounds like cliche -- almost. But the fact is as Dan Rather just said Cronkite literally defined the role of anchorman.

At a time when television news was coming of age his face and voice are linked to so many pivotal moments in history. Simply by reporting them, he made history.

One of those moments: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 2003, 40 years later, Cronkite described that unforgettable day to the former CNN anchorman, Aaron Brown. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AARON BROWN, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: How long after you got on television did you find out that the president had been shot, and fatally shot?

CRONKITE: We didn't learn of him being fatally shot until they announced that he was dead. That -- they never gave us any kind of a hospital bulletin that he was even critical.

At the airport in Dallas, the -- and throughout the streets of Dallas, the Dallas police had been augmented by some 400 policemen called in on their...

BROWN: Obviously the magnitude of the moment had hit you. I mean, you knew this was as serious as anything you had ever done and television had ever done. Were you nervous?

CRONKITE: No, I don't think so. No, I wasn't nervous at all.

You know, Aaron, the thing about a situation like that that you're living through as a living on-air reporter at the moment, at that time the job is everything. You've got to concentrate on doing what you're supposed to do and are trained to do.

I think the same thing is true of us newspeople because I -- I had no -- no personal sense of tragedy in this thing until the moment when I had to say he was dead.

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard time; 2:00 Eastern standard time -- some 38 minutes ago.

BROWN: You take off your glasses and you wipe a tear. How do you -- when you think about that moment, now, 40 years later, would you do it differently?

CRONKITE: Probably not because that moment was purely extemporaneous in every sense of the word. I certainly -- it wasn't -- I hadn't planned to have a tear in my eye at that moment at all. I wouldn't have thought of that. I wouldn't ever have yielded to that if it had been a thought.

BROWN: Do you regret it?

CRONKITE: No, I don't regret it at all. I -- not at all. I would have regretted it if I had broken down and couldn't have continued. That I would have regretted.

But this -- the brief show of emotion was something that I think is perfectly natural, and I don't blame an on-air person for showing emotion. It seems to me that you really don't want people reporting to you who don't have any sense of the emotional impact of a given moment in history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Well, you've seen a lot of emotion here tonight from people who dearly miss Walter Cronkite and honor his legacy.

Coming up, Mr. Cronkite made history as he reported it; the defining moments of his legendary career, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just moments ago, the President of the United States joining the many reflecting on the life and legacy of Walter Cronkite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's why we love Walter because in an era before blogs and e-mail, cell phones and cable, he was the news. Walter invited us to believe in him and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend. And he will be truly missed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president, just a short time ago. And for our "Shot" tonight, the legend, Walter Cronkite. Much more than a newsman, he was there to bring the country reports that changed history.

Here are some of the defining moments of this iconic career.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRONKITE: Good evening from the CBS News control center in New York, this is Walter Cronkite reporting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The eagle has landed. Thanks a lot.

CRONKITE: Oh, boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

CRONKITE: Boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be busy for a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wally, say something, I'm speechless.

CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard time; 2:00 Eastern Standard time. Some 38 minutes ago.

Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away. They just keep coming back for more.

That's the way it is. Friday, March 6th, 1981.

I'll be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And to that, there's not much more to add. Part of the beauty of a Walter Cronkite newscast is how much he said in so few words, yet reaching so many people.

In that tradition, we can only say, he will be missed. That is the way it is.

More coverage on 360 and throughout the morning, next.