NEW YORK – President Barack Obama called Walter Cronkite “a voice of certainty in a world that was growing more and more uncertain.”
Speaking at a memorial service for the legendary newsman, Obama acknowledged he hadn’t known Cronkite personally, “but I have benefited as a citizen from his dogged pursuit of the truth.”
Obama’s remarks concluded a gathering Wednesday of dignitaries, journalists, family and friends at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall to honour Cronkite, who died July 17 at age 92.
Others appearing included former CBS colleagues, musicians Wynton Marsalis and Mickey Hart, and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who saluted Cronkite for “an inquiring mind and a caring heart and a careful devotion to the facts.”
Obama lamented commercial and competitive pressures that threaten journalistic standards Cronkite championed.
“But if we realize that the kind of journalism he embodied will not simply rekindle itself as part of the natural cycle, but will come alive only if we stand up and demand it,” Obama said he was convinced “the golden days of journalism still lie ahead.”
Cronkite was celebrated as a man of the sea almost as much as a newsman.
Jimmy Buffett sang “Son of a Son of a Sailor” for his sailing buddy Cronkite.
But before performing his classic song, Buffett shared a memory of seeking some advice for a mutual friend, the late “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley.
After a sail, “the sun was down, the rum was out, and I said, ‘Walter, Ed called me and he’s thinking about wearing an earring on ’60 Minutes.”‘
Buffett said Cronkite responded: “It doesn’t matter if he wears an earring, as long as it’s a good story.” Then Cronkite added impishly: “If I was going to wear an earring on ’60 Minutes,’ I’d wear one of those big, long, dangly ones.”
Cronkite anchored “The CBS Evening News” from 1962 until 1981, a period that included the Vietnam War; the space race; the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; and Watergate.
During his decades at CBS News, Cronkite came to be known as “the most trusted man in America.”
Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw called him “a seminal force in the transformation of this country.”
Cronkite “lifted a lamp and showed us the wider world and allowed us to understand it more clearly and coherently,” Brokaw said.
Veteran CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer spoke of attending a book party with Brokaw, ABC’s Peter Jennings and CBS’ Dan Rather. There he ran into Cronkite, whom he asked to join the anchor triumvirate for a photo.
In an excellent imitation of Cronkite, Schieffer voiced his reply: “‘Couldja tell ’em to come over HERE? I’m trying to get a drink and I don’t want to lose my place at the bar.”‘
Katie Couric, who now sits at the “CBS Evening News” anchor desk, noted that lesser men are sometimes idealized at their passing.
“But this passing has required no selective recollections or hyperbole,” Couric said. “It’s been a pure joy to celebrate and remember Walter Cronkite for the way he really was.”
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who in 1969 made his historic Apollo 11 moonwalk with Neil Armstrong, spoke of Cronkite’s passionate interest in covering the space program. He praised Cronkite’s “belief in science, his dedication to the story, and his commanding presence that made every step in space exciting for Americans of every age.”
Among those attending the service were Rather; ABC’s Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and Bob Woodruff; and NBC’s Brian Williams.
-With files from AP Television Writer Frazier Moore.