Because Walter Cronkite used to be Mr. Center, always the objective journalist, I was surprised to learn that he was a flaming liberal. His “coming-out” party happened at the People for the American Way’s Spirit of Liberty dinner honoring Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan on November 17, 1988, ten days after George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the presidential election. Dressed in a tuxedo, he looked handsome and dapper on the dais at the Roseland Ballroom, in New York City. Heading to the event that evening, in a taxi going down Park Avenue, he was in a discernibly feisty mood. His oratory at the Jordan event, influenced by Sidney Lumet’s touchstone movie Network, soared in a no-holds-barred “defense of liberalism.”
Cronkite, spinning his thoughts in the low, rapid voice of a broadcaster just liberated from the rules of objective journalism, scolded Democrats to never abandon the liberal tradition that Barbara Jordan represented. Some people thought he was Maker’s Mark–drunk as he denounced Reagan’s Star Wars program and vehemently defended Roe v. Wade, but Cronkite, who grew up an admirer of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was simply, finally, being himself.
A little something extra: An essay by Douglas Brinkley on Cronkite’s Austin years can be found here.