Chip Cronkite Defends Father Walter Cronkite’s Honor in Letter to ‘Newsweek’

Walter Cronkite during a live broadcast from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 1962. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

‘Walter Cronkite Would Be Fired Today’

I think Howard Kurtz misinterpreted some aspects of Douglas Brinkley’s new biography. The free PanAm trips, as I recall, amounted to three. Perhaps that is three more than proper, perhaps not. His party consisted of just him, his wife, and his youngest child, still living at home (me). Other journalists along on the trips were Bob Considine, Art Buchwald, and Neal and Judith Morgan. I blame James Michener for instigating it all, anyway. (The first trip centered around Michener returning to the South Pacific after 30 years.) Besides the columns and book chapters generated by the others, my father conducted background interviews with the Haitian military and President Suharto. This makes him untrustworthy? Admitting to a liberal philosophy (which he defined as something akin to open-mindedness), while adhering to a career, almost a calling, of the straightest, old-fashioned journalism? This is “linguistic hedging”? His liberal radio editorials were evidence of openness, no?

He was a professional, and hard on himself. He knew when he should have done better.

Granted, the bugging of the conference room at the convention in 1952 could be considered overenthusiastic. He explains the genesis and fallout of this episode in his autobiography, A Reporter’s Life.

He was a professional, and hard on himself. He knew when he should have done better. The re-cut LBJ interview was a mistake he and his producer corrected. He also knew he should have asked tougher questions occasionally, particularly of Mayor Daley in 1968. However, the Jimmy Carter fireside radio call-in program does not fit in this category—it was not an interview.

Does reporting a proposed German trip indicate contempt for Goldwater? I don’t know. Did he add another (not very influential, I wouldn’t think) voice for RFK to run? I don’t know. Is a subsequent interview evidence of a quid pro quo? Maybe, but probably RFK would have been happy to give him an interview anyway.

My father was never an unassailable icon, but I suggest he be assailed for any legitimate failures in his lifelong battle to defend a free press, the public’s right to know, a democratic people’s responsibility to know what their military is doing in their name, and Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy, which he quoted as “A people who expect to be ignorant and free expect what never was, and never will be.” To me, he was an honorable journalist who did the best he could.

—Chip Cronkite, New York, N.Y.

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