Walter Cronkite and Civility

I’m writing this post from a hotel room in Breckenridge, Colorado. And I first heard about Walter Cronkite’s death last night on Twitter. Those two unrelated happenings speak volumes about why there will never be another Walter Cronkite — the one journalist in America whom people trusted to tell them “the way it is.” Media are too fragmented these days. Too many communication platforms, blogs and Twitter and Facebook and so on.

But there will never be another Cronkite because I can’t imagine the American public ever trusting anyone like we trusted him. He was a journalist — displaying the highest ethical and professional qualities. You can read that in any of the thousands of articles available about him today in print and online.

Yet what impressed me about Cronkite was his civility. I had the opportnity to meet him in 1995. He narrated a video about the 125th anniversary of The BFGoodrich Company. And I went on the corporate plane (yeah, still had private planes in the days before the Wall Street and auto meltdowns) to escort him from New York to Cleveland where he did added his voice — and his credibility really — to the production.

What a great experience. The chance to sit and talk one-on-one with Walter Cronkite for several hours. We talked about his interest in the space program — about the negative reaction that many viewers had to his initial reports when President Kennedy was assassinated — about his disappointment in leaving CBS — and so on.

But you know what. He appeared to be every bit as interested in me and what I was doing. And I came away from that conversation with the sense that the reputation that Cronkite had was accurate and well-deserved.

He was a gentleman.

He was a working journalist — not someone who put himself above the story.

And he treated people with respect and civility. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite hosting one of the cable news shoutfests? Nah.

The personal qualities that he brought to the anchor desk may be the most important lesson from the life and career of Walter Cronkite.

Civility matters.

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