Speed Read

10 Best Details From Douglas Brinkley’s ‘Cronkite’

From dressing down JFK to regrets about Armstrong, tidbits from Brinkley’s new biography. By Howard Kurtz.

Douglas Brinkley’s Cronkite has made headlines for its revelations about the legendary CBS anchor’s ethical missteps and liberal leanings. But the biography is packed with behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Walter Cronkite’s life and career. Here are the 10 most fascinating details.

1. After the 1956 conventions, Walter Cronkite and colleague Sig Mickelson “went on a drinking binge to drown the unending strain of the past month.”

2. Jack Kennedy insisted on a “do-over” when Cronkite interviewed him and Richard Nixon during the 1960 campaign, feeling he had blown the opportunity. But JFK backed down when Cronkite called it “the lousiest bit of sportsmanship I ever saw in my life.”

3. Chris Wallace, as Cronkite’s 16-year-old assistant, started going out with Nancy Cronkite. “So I got my first convention job with Walter while dating his daughter,” the Fox News anchor says.

4. Cronkite kicked the floor in disgust and moaned upon learning that he would have to share airtime at the 1964 conventions with commentator Eric Sevareid. Cronkite didn’t like the stuffy Sevareid or the one-minute commentaries he did on the CBS Evening News, and when one of those got bumped for breaking news, the anchor would say, “Good.”

5. LBJ, upset with CBS’s Morley Safer for a report on Marine atrocities in Vietnam, woke up CBS President Frank Stanton with a call: “Frank, this is your president, and yesterday your boys shat on the American flag.”

6. When Cronkite hopped in a cab after Robert Kennedy had been shot, he and the taxi driver cried as they listened to the radio reports.

7. Kathy Cronkite did not like being the daughter of a famous dad: “I’d go on and on about how I hated his guts and how he made me stay home and gave me a curfew…People thought I was fucked up, I’m afraid.”

8. Cronkite pressed Neil Armstrong, on Face the Nation, about whether he had any religion, based on a form the astronaut had filled out. “I did the lowest thing a man can do,” Cronkite later told Ed Bradley. “I embarrassed him about his very private relationship with God.”

9. Cronkite didn’t ask permission when he appeared as himself on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. When ticked-off CBS News President Dick Salant asked why, Cronkite said he knew the answer would be no.

10. When Dan Rather succeeded Cronkite, he threw a fit two minutes before airtime, refusing to sit in Cronkite’s chair. He insisted on moving to a low table, forcing the staff to scramble making lighting and camera adjustments. “Quite frankly,” said Bob Schieffer, who used the Cronkite chair for weekend broadcasts, “Dan looked like he was going to the crapper.”