And That’s The Way It Is
Broadcast news loses its anchor. Remembering Walter Cronkite.
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Twice I had the honor—that’s what it was—of interviewing Walter Cronkite. The first time was in September 2003, in the restaurant at the Regency Hotel, in New York, where Mr. Cronkite met me for breakfast and an extended talk about the state of journalism. He was clearly hobbled by various ailments and slowed by age—he was then 86—and he was extremely hard of hearing, a challenge in a loud and crowded room. But as soon as I asked him the first question, he sprang to life, and he remained animated the whole time, even when disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, jawing with his book publisher at a nearby table, approached to pay his respects. Cronkite could not have been nicer to him, though he muttered to me afterward, “What do you say to that guy?”
The second time was in February 2006, on a day he traveled to Austin to be honored by NASA. Again I got to ask the legendary journalist a range of questions, and we talked before a full house at the Austin City Limits studio on the University of Texas at Austin campus. We were filming an episode of my weekly television show, TEXAS MONTHLY TALKS, so it was actually more of a concern that he be able to hear me. Fortunately, he was outfitted, in both ears, with some sort of hearing aid that picked up the sound of my voice directly from my lapel mike. But that wasn’t the biggest worry related to his health. Only now I’m remembering that, before the taping, Mr. Cronkite fainted in the dressing room, and we wondered if he’d regain his bearings at all that day. But he bounced back with remarkable speed, and our interview went off without a hitch. Even more so than the time two and a half years earlier, he was genial, fully engaged, and quite witty. He could have moved from his guest’s chair into the anchor chair and read the evening’s news without too much trouble.
Time passes; people get sick; legends fade. But Mr. Cronkite was in a category of his own. Talking to him about the events of the day and the profession he and I had chosen was like cooking with Julia Child or playing catch with Satchel Paige. It was an experience I cherish—one I’ll never, ever forget.
Texas Monthly Talks
Evan Smith interviews broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, March 23rd, 2006.
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