BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Walter Cronkite, Author of "A Reporter's Life." Had you had your heart operation before this book was finished, would you have talked about it? Was it that big a deal?
WALTER CRONKITE, AUTHOR, "A REPORTER'S LIFE": Oh, probably not. I think particularly if I'd have had the knowledge at that time that I did have shortly after the operation that everybody in the world's had this operation up to now except me. I thought I'd be the social lion of my set all the rest of the spring, and every time this matter comes up, it turns out people say, 'Well, now when I had mine, I had a quadruple, it's—seemed the be about as common as clipping one's toenails.
LAMB: When did you find out you had a heart problem?
CRONKITE: Very Surprisingly, I'd never had a heart problem of any kind, been very active, play singles tennis still at my advanced age—more doubles than singles—but I felt just a very little pressure one morning and called my doctor and reported this. And we said, 'Oh nothing wrong with your heart. Your blood pressure's always been perfect. Your heart's great. But just in case, we haven't had a stress test for a couple of years. Go have a stress test.
One stress test led to another till four days later, I was on the operating table for this quadruple bypass. Wouldn't have believed it. I didn't have any symptoms at all, never any pain, never nay problem…
LAMB: What was the date? When did this happen?
CRONKITE: Beg your pardon?
LAMB: When did this happen?
CRONKITE: The operation was April Fool's Day. I've always wondered about that, but it was April 1st.
LAMB: And what's it like?
CRONKITE: Oh, it's terrible. Any hospital stay is terrible to me. Actually, I had a magnificent surgeon, Dr. Wayne Isom, who is a good Texas boy and—AI'mn an adopted Texan myself, and we had a lot to share there. But he's a marvelous surgeon. He's the Head of Thoracic or Heart Surgery. At New York Hospital and I just can't say enough about him. So Attentive—his entire staff is so attentive, it's just marvelous. The follow up so quickly and so thoroughly. Came by the house immediately after the operation as soon as I went home he was in the hospital, He was in the room every day checking up. It's more than you except these days.
LAMB: But is it hard to recover from it?
CRONKITE: I had a very rapid recovery, seems to me. The Doctors kept saying I was way ahead of the curve, and I really had no complications, no problems. I do have a dear friend whose birth we practically officiated at, daughter of our very best friends. And known her since she was an in fact, she became a psychiatric nurse in New York and now does some writing for McGraw-Hill and so forth.
But she called to ask how I was and I said, 'Well, the doctors all say that I'm ahead of the curve.' And she, of course, being very practical minded nurse says, 'Well, that's what they all tell everybody,' you know, which didn't exactly encourage me.
LAMB: You tell a story, though, in the book about an early operation you had for appendicitis.
LAMB: And you give a rather graphic detail of the—Things got rough. Would you tell that story again?
CRONKITE: Well, when they asked me what kind of anesthetic I wanted, I didn't know that I had a choice of anesthetics. And for the first time, they described to me a spinal block.
LAMB: What year was this?
CRONKITE: Oh, this was back when I was first in Washington after the war. We'd just got back from Nuremberg and Moscow and it must have been 1950, I guess. Any they explained this spinal block and they said you'd be conscious except the—Block off the lower part of your body. And I said, 'Well, if I'm conscious could I watch the operation?' The doctor's—'Well, we've never had that request before, but I suppose I could rig up a mirror of some kind' and indeed, he did.
And so I'm conscious. I'm watching the operation in the mirror, find it fascinating, the whole process, when at one point—now in this operation, you're conscious but your head is in a big block so you can't move it at all. Your head is all covered except for—you've got an oxygen mask except for your eyes. Apparently, the only thing that anybody can see of you and your arm are strapped to your side. You've got no motion at all, obviously. Any the anesthesiologist was standing behind me with his nurse. Any they put a clamp on one of my blood vessels- put this clamp on. I watched it happen.
Well, I went into shock. I never understood, really, during the war what shock was although they kept telling me the soldiers died of it. I never quite understood what it was. But now I realize what shock was. It's a paralysis of your entire body. You can't breathe, in effect, and your heart is in danger of stopping because you're not breathing.
Well, suddenly I'm in shock. The anesthesiologist, just at that point, had been talking to the nurse about buying a card. And he said. 'And they've got this cute little Chevy out there in Silver Springs. I looked at it just a couple days ago and I'm going back Sunday and get it if it's still there.' He was just at that stage. I remember those words specifically today.
And when the shock hit me—and there's no way to let anybody know—he's the one that's supposed to be keeping tabs of this, but he's talking about a new card. And here I am frozen in place. I'm rolling my eyes, the way I think I can possibly get any attention. Any that's not getting it done. And I'm about to pass out. I really know that I'm going. And when the—obviously my vital signs began to fail and my body—at the surgeon's looking down into the cavity there, and he yells, 'OXYGEN. OXYGEN.'
And the anesthesiologist says, 'Oops,' and turns up the oxygen. And the minute he does, I'm fine. I mean, just like that, just instantly. But you know, another couple of seconds and I could have had irreparable brain damage or something of the kind. And it make you wonder what happens there on the operating table in too many operations where, 'Oh, we to have to tell you this, but his heart couldn't take it, His heart failed,' and that kind of thing. It makes you a little suspicious sometimes of medical practice.
LAMB: You also tell another story about the time you went to the Himalayas in a helicopter.
LAMB: What were the circumstances there?
CRONKITE: Well, that was another case of possibly passing out, I guess, I was visiting Pakistan and General Zia Ul Haq was the head of government at the time. And in the interview I did with him, he was being very gracious, as people are when they're trying to sell something. And he said, 'Is there anything I can do for you? Anything you'd like to see in my country?' Well, they'd just completed a little while before the first road over the high Himalayas, that great pass that was built by the Karakorum Pass, something like that. I think I've got that a little wrong today but that's about it.
And the Chinese, primarily, and the Pakistanis had built this Road, the first through the Himalayas. And I said, 'Well, I'd kind of like to see Karakoram Pass—and he said, 'Well, we can arrange that.' Well as far as I knew no westerner had been to the pass- nobody except the workers who'd worked on it. It's absolutely at the top of the world, 18,000 feet above the sea level, one of the highest points in the Himalayas.
Well, to get there was a rather tortuous air journey. One trip up with an old DC-3 up to a base camp and another—one helicopter to another base camp and then an Alouette French helicopter, the only helicopter that can operate at 18,000 feet—at that time anyway—to take us up to the top.
And it was a two-man helicopter into which they crowded not only me but my cameraman, who was crouched in the back of this machine with the lightest camera he could take. And we made it. It was the most incredible helicopter flight I've ever made. I love helicopter flights, but this was in the valleys of the Himalayas, getting up into the snowline and then up to the beaks themselves.
Just incredible sightseeing, we landed on this very top, where the little pass was, where the road came, the road was all blocked, as the expected it to be, by landslides, it was going to be years before that all quit and they cleaned the up. I don't think they have yet and that was 10, 15 years ago. Anyway, we got to the top and the pilot, a very well-spoken Oxford graduate, Pakistani Air Force Captain, and he said, 'Now when you get out, move very solely. At 18,000 feet, you're going to have trouble breathing. And really, we should have oxygen masks at this height. We don't have those individually. Just move very slowly or else you may pass out.'
So we were following these instructions to move very slowly. We didn't have very far to move anyway. This little, tiny platform on which we landed and the direct fall away into the deep valley's below. From this site you can see the Soviet Union and India and Pakistan, Afghanistan. Incredible. And it was a very clear day up there, fortunately, for the helicopter flight. But as we started to move away the engine was still running and my cameraman said to the pilot, 'Would you turn off the engine, please. We really can't hear over the engine roar. And he said, 'Oh, no no. I can't turn it off'. He said, 'If I turn it off, I'll never get it started again at this altitude. And—we only have one other helicopter that would get up this high and it's down for repairs. So I can't dare turn it off.'
Well, my fosh he hadn't told us that. Now we moved as far as we could and I shouted over this helicopter noise. Actually, the film wasn't form anything because the noise was too great. But as we were standing there and shooting, the engine the helicopter noise it does when it's shutting down. (Makes noise of engine slowing down and speeding up) My god, here we see the pilot rush—reaching down, punching buttons, putting levels, and we hurried back despite all the admonitions and hurrying to get aboard of that helicopter and get it off before it failed.
And we did, obviously. Had a very successful flight back. It was a great experience. Unfortunately, the film wasn't very good.
LAMB: What year was that?
CRONKITE: That must have been about 1981, '82.
LAMB: Now this book came out right before Christmas and you hit the road. What was it like on the tour?
CRONKITE: You know, I love my--the people at Knopf, who edited and publicized this book and did a beautiful job of it. But I really must say, quite honestly, that in arranging these tours, these book tours, most of the lessons they've learned have come from the manual of the Iranian terrorists, I think. The book tours are pretty frightful. They book you so you end up with four and a half hours sleep between the morning show one day and the late night show the night before that they've done. An incessant group of interviews and book signings. It's rather interesting. I found it quite fascinating. The book signings were particularly interesting. Everyone, I think, must accept with pleasure, the kind of adulation one gets with a whole line of people coming up to buy your book and say nice things about you.
LAMB: Were you surprised that it was on the best-seller list as long as it was?
CRONKITE: Oh, I was very surprised. Very surprised.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how many books that have sold?
CRONKITE: I know how many were published. As you know, with books, until they get all the returns from all the retailers, why, they never know precisely what were sold. But over 800,000 were printed. And they have had a feeling that the returns weren't going to be very high. So, apparently, it sold quite well. I was dumbfounded. My real hope was that it might be good enough to make the best-seller list and stay there for a week or two down at 14 or 15, down at the bottom of the list. Instead, in the first week it jumped into number one and stayed there for several weeks; stayed on the list for, I think, 19 weeks.
LAMB: Was there much that you wrote that was left out?
CRONKITE: Well, yes. My marvelous editor--and I would say that even if I didn't think I might write a sequel--Ash Greene, a great editor, he told me from the very beginning, `Write as much as you want, but let's just get it on paper. And once you've gotten it on paper, if it's too much, we'll trim it down.' Well, I did that. I just wrote. And it turned out it was about a third more than he thought would sell as a book. And, unfortunately, Kay Graham had another editor at Knopf about the same time, and he let her get by with 400 pages; only let me get by with 300 pages. But she's still on the best-seller list, so it must mean something. At any rate, about a third of the book was cut.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
CRONKITE: That was a studio portrait, quite obviously, done in my office in New York for another purpose and had been held for some time, a beautiful picture. The only trouble with that picture is that it's so good that I have wasted a lot of time at the mirror in the morning trying to look like that before going out. I can't quite manage it.
LAMB: Let me ask you about some of the business terms that come up in the book. Who dubbed you an anchorman?
CRONKITE: Beg your pardon?
LAMB: Who first used the term `anchorman'?
CRONKITE: There's a slight dispute about that. It was either and probably--Sig Mickelson, who was the first head of a combined television-radio news department at CBS and was really the architect of the kind of news department it took to handle radio and television and particularly to pioneer television news, a great man and really one of my major sponsors. He's the man I have to thank for being where I got to at CBS News. And/or Paul Levitan, who was a wonderful producer, the first producer of the ad lib, extemporaneous type programming: conventions, elections, things of that kind.
And I was under the impression that Paul first used the word, but others have almost convinced me that I'm wrong; that Sig originated it. But at any rate, it was--just at the same time, I mean, I know precisely when it began. It was for the first political convention, 1952, that we covered by modern television. The 1948 conventions were covered as well, but with rather primitive equipment and only shown on three stations, so it hardly counted. '52 was what we really think of as the beginning of the television age with politics. And it was invented for that occasion.
LAMB: You write near the end of the book the following--you say that, `A career can be called a success if one can look back and say, "I made a difference."' And then you say, `I don't feel I can do that.' Why?
CRONKITE: Well, that was a poorly explained statement in the book, quite honestly. I think I failed there because others have asked the question; many have asked it with a complimentary addenda there that, `You made a big difference.' And I'm willing to accept that compliment, that perhaps I did make a difference in some ways. That meant specifically to refer to the rest of that chapter in the fact that the--some of the standards that I felt that we had established, not just I, but everybody at all three networks in the early years of network television news, have been abandoned pretty well.
What I thought we had established as a--probably an ongoing standard of production and values, news judgment I don't feel have lasted. And that was what that referred to as, I think, the rest of the chapter made clear. But the bald statement doesn't quite stand up, perhaps.
LAMB: Why haven't your standards survived?
CRONKITE: Well, a lot of pressures. I think if perhaps if I were in television today, I would be suffering the same pressures and perhaps reacting in the same fashion that those who are running television news today have. I'd like to think I wouldn't have, but I very well might have. The pressures are severe. The three networks, when I was doing it, were the dominant networks on the air. There was very little competition from either the independent stations or from cable, which didn't exist--cable just coming in when I left, and it had not become a factor at all yet. Satellite broadcasting, videotape--all of the divertissements, other than the three networks, which dominated and absolutely monopolized the television sets. People had one of the three networks to go to, primarily.
As a consequence, we--the three of us--shared 100 percent, really, of the audience. Actual numbers were in the high 90s; 98 percent or something of the audience was tuned to one of the three network news broadcasts. As such, we could afford to be a lot more high-minded than perhaps they feel today. Today they're under such pressure from the competition. The total network audience today for the network programs is down in the 50 percent mark, and even drops below 50 percent for the total number of television viewers on at any time. Well, that's a very drastic reduction in audience since my day.
As a consequence, all three network news departments are under considerable pressure from top management to try to hold up their 1/3rd of that 50 percent and try to build on that. As a consequence, the news management, under the pressures that they're under, have gone toward trying to popularize their broadcast; and instead of concentrating 100 percent on news, have gone to feature stories. And even those feature stories--although a feature story that explains the important news of the day, could be valuable--these are feature stories, I'm afraid, of Hollywood personalities, of book writers and publishers and the gossip side of the news, the back-page sides of the news, not the front page.
And I think this is a terrible, terrible waste of time when on the evening news broadcasts we really only have about 23 or 24 minutes of news copy, subtracting the advertising, lead-in, the lead outs. That's not enough to cover the day's news, let alone taking out of that time, time for feature stories. It's really a desecration of the responsibility that's been handed to the news departments to do that.
LAMB: Let me ask you some terms that you bring up in your book. You have a term late in the book called `a lens hog.' You were accused of being a lens hog. Explain that.
CRONKITE: Well, I was accused of it and possibly rightly. A lens hog, as the name implies, is one who hogs the lenses, who wanted to be on camera at all times. I did insist on being on camera at times during political conventions and election nights, but I insist that this was a high-minded attempt to do a better job of reporting the conventions and elections than sometimes the producers would have wanted us to do by accident.
Excuse me a minute. I'm dry of throat today.
You know, in a convention coverage, actually the only person--and this is one reason that I--what's also made me sound like a lens hog--always wanted to work alone instead of with a co-anchor, as Huntley-Brinkley, a very successful team on NBC, did--that's a picture of our anchor desk with my two assistants. They weren't on the air; they were just assistants of mine.
LAMB: In '52.
CRONKITE: Yeah, they were very important assistants. I couldn't have done it without them. But at any rate, the idea of a co-anchor or the other idea of bringing in the reporters from the floor, which were important reports to have--they added a great deal to what we understood was going on, on the floor of the convention at a time when the conventions--a lot of things happened on the floor. They don't in these later conventions, where they model their conventions now, the political parties, for television and we're not getting any real discussion of issues at all.
But in those early days, those early conventions, they were determined on the floor to debate between the delegations. And it was all very exciting, required a lot of explanation. But the only person in the entire operation who knew what was going on from the podium at all times and elsewhere, for that matter, the remotes we did at political headquarters, party headquarters, at the hotel lobbies, secret meetings and all of that from our other reporters--the only person in the whole shop who had a sense of the continuity of that story was me, the anchorperson.
The people in the control room were so busy setting up the next shots, shouting over each other's own shouted words about where they wanted to go next, what we needed to cover at this time, what reporters had on the floor and they wanted to get on with, that they didn't know what was going on. They weren't even hearing me very clearly.
So in the middle of an explanation of what the real difficult maneuvering was that was going on from the podium and on the floor, my producer would come in and say, `Go to Mike Wallace. Go to Mike Wallace. He's got the Carolina delegation.' Well, heck, the Carolina delegation didn't have anything to do with that story right at the moment, and Mike might have a very good story, but it didn't fit with the flow of what we were doing. So I would say, `Later. Later,' you know, not on air, of course, but through one of those communicators sitting beside me: `Later. Later. Later,' you know?
And as a consequence, the poor guys on the floor are standing there with some senator or governor that they're not going to be able to hold onto very long. They think they've got a really hot story, and they may have had. But I'm trying to keep the flow going. As a consequence, I became known as a lens hog, properly as I say.
LAMB: What's a 'tell item'?
CRONKITE: A tell item is one where the anchorperson simply is reciting the item rather than going to a correspondent or tape or film or whatever.
LAMB: Was there such a thing as a magic number in those days? You write about...
CRONKITE: The magic number was the number that I had for my part to the
broadcast, and it was come by basically our deciding what film reports went into the broadcast from our correspondents at home and overseas and then what time was left. And the time that was left was what I would have on the broadcast. If the time left was not adequate for the major stories that I had to tell, we would then cut some of the film stories coming in.
LAMB: Did that make correspondents mad when you wanted to up the numbers?
CRONKITE: Oh, sure. Sure. It would make anybody mad. When I was a correspondent in the field--when I'd go out myself sometimes and do a story and a substitute would be sitting in at the anchor spot, even then I'd get furious that they were cutting my story instead of letting me run. Of course, anybody thinks that their story's the most important of the day and that they need an extra 15 seconds or 20 seconds or something of the kind.
LAMB: When did the first idea come to you that you needed an agent?
CRONKITE: Oh, heavens. I didn't think I needed an agent at all. After that '52 convention and the two conventions, the Democrat and the Republican--both were in Chicago, and with the lead-in week to each of them, we were out there almost a month monopolizing the schedule; for almost a month, we were on the air. And I'd gotten a lot of publicity, of course, and a very nice write-up in the newsmagazines.
And the last convention, the Democrats'--it was over 2:00 in the morning, and Sig Mickelson and I, my boss, heard the news. We're walking down Michigan Boulevard and just kind of walking back to a hotel down the beautiful Michigan Boulevard, 2:00 in the morning, and Sig said to me--he said, `Well, Walter, you're going to need an agent.' And I said, `What do you mean I'm going to need an agent?' I said, `I'm a newsman. I don't need an agent. You mean a theatrical agent, that kind of person?' He said, `Yes, exactly that kind of person.' I said, `Well, why in the world, Sig, would I want an agent?' Here's my boss telling me to get an agent. And he said, `Well, Walter,' he said, `you know, you're going to want a raise now.' I said, `Well, I hadn't really thought of that.' Well, actually, I think I was making $150 a week or something at the time. And he said, `Well, that's ridiculous. I know you're going to want a raise. And there's somebody for you to negotiate with, my business manager. I don't negotiate. A business manager negotiates for CBS, and you ought to have your business manager type do that. So you're going to need an agent.'
Well, I had never thought of that in my life. I didn't have any idea of anyone to get. And Sig ended up giving me a couple of names, and I checked around on them and selected a very fine fellow, Tuck Stix of the firm Stix and Gude. And that was 1952, and he's been my agent ever since.
LAMB: Were you the first in television to have an agent?
CRONKITE: Oh, I don't think so. No, I think I...
LAMB: In television news, that is.
CRONKITE: Yeah, yeah. No, I think even those in the news department probably had. But I was very naive about it. I hadn't even thought about it.
LAMB: More than once in the book you talk about an 800-pound gorilla. Why?
CRONKITE: Well, that got to be a phrase used in television to describe me and, I think, other anchor people. And it can describe, as well, the headliner off a newspaper, the top correspondents who move in on a story when it breaks overseas, and the poor stringer's been handling it; now this fellow comes in. The other phrase for that is `bigfooting,' coming in as a Bigfoot, taking over the story. With the 800-pound gorilla, the story comes from the old story of `Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?' The answer is, `Anywhere he wants to.' And the thought is that the anchorman, the "stars" in television news, have become 800-pound gorillas; whatever they want, they get. Where do they sleep? They sleep where they want to sleep.
LAMB: But is that still the case today?
CRONKITE: Oh, sure. Sure. Absolutely. It's unfortunate, I think, that the star system has come to television news or to any news operation, really, but to television news particularly--the exceedingly high wages they earn. But I think it's inevitable. It's nobody's fault. Nobody deliberately set out to develop it. It's just a fact that if you're operating in the environment of television, which is a show business environment, no matter how much we would like to deny that--if you're competing in that environment for viewers, you're bound--and your face is hanging out there, you're bound to become a "star" in the sense of a public personality. And a star value raises your value to the network.
And I remember when Barbara Walters became the first television newsperson to get $1 million when ABC lured her away from NBC to become the first woman co-anchor on ABC. And I--none of us were making $1 million at that point, and somebody asked me--some newsperson called and asked me, `Is Barbara Walters worth $1 million?' And my answer was, and still applies today, `Compared to what?' Compared to a rock 'n' roll singer on television with whom she's competing for time and--on air? Absolutely, she's worth a lot more than $1 million. Compared to a high school teacher? Certainly not; she's not worth $1 million. It's a code of values here that we're dealing with that you can't compare apples and oranges. And that applies today.
The fact that the anchor people are making huge amounts of money--they make in the multimillions of dollars a year--I think, is perfectly proper in the area in which they work. Along with their salaries have gone up the salaries of most of the staff, people on air. It's still disproportionate, but that's the way it's going to be under a star system, and they operate in a medium where the star system prevails.
LAMB: You say in the early days--let me get the quote here--that--"In the beginning golden days of television and of television news, that the rules were bent as we found our way." What happened first: that you bent the rules or that the rules were created after you bent them? I mean, why do you say they were bent?
CRONKITE: Well, I think they were bent primarily because--and this shows a certain prejudice on my part from my own background--they were built on the basic old rules of print journalism. All of us at that time, practically, were out of print with--I don't mean out of circulation, but we came out of the print medium. And we brought with us the ethics of print journalism. We were simply concerned with the ethics of the craft: honesty, fairness, accuracy, crediting of all the sources of information, that kind of thing--things today I'm afraid even the print journalism has slipped in doing. The business has sort of deteriorated, perhaps, because of television leadership.
I just felt that--I still feel that we were a little bit more of--cognizant of the old principles of journalism than the younger staffs today, most of whom have not had print experience at all. Not entirely their faults; there are not that much opportunities to get print experience. It's part of a vicious cycle; radio and television have driven so many newspapers out of business that we only have monopoly journalism--most cities--United States. And that doesn't provide enough jobs for people to be trained there before going to broadcasting. So it's become kind of a vicious cycle.
LAMB: You say, though, when you were in print journalism and you were with the Houston Post, you're quoted as saying--I think it was--it may not have been Houston--"We resorted to all the dirty tricks ever devised in the game." You remember making that statement?
CRONKITE: Oh, yeah. Sure, I made the statement, and I'll stand behind it.
LAMB: But what were the dirty tricks?
CRONKITE: There were many in the game. And I don't mean to say that journalism was pure in all the print days. As a matter of fact, the best--the purest, I think, that newspapers have ever been were post-World War II in a period of about 20 years there from 1945 to 1965 or something in those years.
Before that, there were a lot of sleazy practices before World War II in newspapers, particularly among the graphic newspapers, the tabloid-sized papers. Picture-stealing was one of them. The theory was that we always wanted to get a picture of the victims --or the perpetrator or whatever. And, frequently, to get a picture of that individual, you would try to get it from the survivors, from their home. And any old subterfuge would do if you could get the picture.
I found myself, at one point, with the Houston Press at that point being sent out to get a picture of a young lady who had died in a scandalous accident, the car being driven by a prominent businessman in town late at night, back from a--obviously, a motel outside of town. And it was quite a scandal at the moment. I went out to the young lady's home and got there and found that there was no one there. The door was open, as they were in those days. People left their doors open. Only the screen door was there, and you could look right into the house. And they didn't answer the knock, and I looked in, and there on the piano was a picture of what clearly was the young lady, and--seemed to me from the description of her that we had. And since nobody answered, I just opened the screen door and went in and took the picture --off the piano and--obviously going to return it. Possibly, we'd even get it back before they got back home, just take it to the plant and get it reproduced.
And I did that. And, indeed, we had the only picture of her that afternoon in the afternoon papers. The only problem was it wasn't of her. I'd gone into the neighboring house instead of the house I was supposed to be knocking at the door of. It turned out--and the only thing that saved my job was that the city desk had given me the wrong address. It wasn't really my fault. But that was a pretty nefarious thing, this picture-snatching. It was clearly a case of burglary, going and picking up a picture of that nature. But at the moment I was very proud of myself. I got all kinds of accolades from the city desk for my enterprise.
LAMB: You write in your book that--`I can't believe any news broadcaster today can possibly enjoy the work as much as we did.' Why do you think that?
CRONKITE: Well, simply because--to me, there was simply more to getting a newspaper out than there is to getting on the air. On the air, you're still very much at the hands of the technicians. Now they have become very news-oriented and understand what is needed and getting the picture on and the film on the air and the tape on the air and the still pictures on the air and integrating all of this. They do an exceedingly good--a marvelous job of it in the little bit of time they have to organize it.
But to me, that isn't putting out a newspaper. With the newspaper, it just seemed to me that the news department was in control throughout the process. The people who did everything were so keenly part of the process, rather than sitting in some kind of isolated splendor over here in the television, an assignment editor, for instance, who might not be able to write his name or her name, but was good at deciding who should go on what stories and made those decisions. Oh, I don't know, a communications head that was in charge of being sure that the lines were in from wherever the guy was going or the woman reporter was going, that kind of specialist.
In the old newspaper days, it seemed to me, everybody was a writer, a reporter; they just happened to be on rewrite that day or they happened be on makeup that day. You were close to the whole production. When the doors swung open to the makeup room, you could hear the clatter of the Linotype machines; you could smell the printer's ink; you could smell the pulp paper. The building shook when the big presses started rolling. And it was all part of the bloodstream.
To me, television, radio--because probably you're in a business that is a--you are an adjunct to a much bigger business; news is not the major function of the business to which you're attached. You are a tail of that dog. And with the newspaper publishing, you are the dog.
LAMB: You interviewed Dwight Eisenhower, after he was president, for 13 hours. You interviewed Lyndon Baines Johnson for how many hours?
CRONKITE: It was almost the same, I think, about 12 hours, something like that.
LAMB: Did you do it with Richard Nixon?
CRONKITE: No, I did not do Nixon's memoirs.
LAMB: Did you have to pay Dwight Eisenhower?
CRONKITE: Yes, we paid both of them, as far as I know.
LAMB: Do you remember how much?
CRONKITE: No, I don't. I'm not sure I was ever even aware of how much precisely. We had a very strong, very rigid rule about paying anybody for an eyewitness story, any participant in the story or eyewitness to a story. But memoirs, I always felt and agreed with management, were a vastly different story. We were doing something that was the equivalent to an individual writing their memoirs, they owned that history; they owned that autobiographical information. They're entitled, it seems to me, to get a fee for it. I never had any argument within myself with that or with anybody else. And I don't think we ever had any real concern about paying for a memoir.
LAMB: You did one of the last interviews with John Kennedy...
LAMB: ...in 1963 and one of the things you talked about was Vietnam. What was the setting for that interview?
CRONKITE: Well, we were the first of the networks to go to the full half-hour broadcast from 15 minutes. Believe it or not, news broadcasts were 15 minutes for quite a number of years until that year of 1963. And we went to the half-hour, and in doing so, I asked the president for an interview--if he'd sit still for an interview for the network's first half-hour broadcast, which he agreed to do. It was over the Labor Day weekend, and he was up at Hyannis Port, so we went up to Hyannis Port to his summer home and did the interview there.
LAMB: You say in your book on page 243, `And I have always believed that if he had lived, he would have withdrawn those advisers from Vietnam, although his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, later wrote he never heard the president mention this possibility.' That particular interview seems to come up in a lot of books we do here on Vietnam. Why do you think he would have pulled American troops out of Vietnam had he lived?
CRONKITE: I sensed that he was fed up with Vietnam at that point. He was fed up with the leadership--the civilian leadership in Vietnam, remarked upon it at some length. And it just seemed to me that he was too bright to have wanted to remain in a circumstance where it meant that we were going to have to take over that war and run the war in an environment which quite clearly was going to require a great deal more effort, more dedication of men and material than it had ever been planned. And I just feel that he would have gotten out.
LAMB: Let me just show you the same quote from your interview that Chris Matthews had in his book where--and it's just a shortened version and you'll see it on the screen here in just a second. In this he talks about the winning or losing--I don't know where it is. I guess we don't have the quote. But I wanted to show you that quote where--and you have it in your book where you say, `They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them. We can give them equipment. That war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war.' Then he said a week later—and I don't know if we have the quote ready or not but it was a quote that was made on the David Brinkley and Chet Huntley program. Or I guess David Brinkley had an interview with him. And if we can see that quote, I'll show Mr. Cronkite--I guess we don't have it.
Anyway we're at the point in that particular quote--that's not the quote. Anyway, I'm sorry. We don't have it. The idea was that he said in another interview that he doesn't see us getting out of there for a long time.
CRONKITE: Well, I think that this was a result of considerable unhappiness in his official family over the comment on our broadcast. They reacted to that with considerable concern that he had tipped the fact that shortly thereafter--well, there was an assassination, as you know, of Ngo Dinh Diem, the emperor leader of Vietnam. And the United States CIA was very much involved in the plot to depose Diem. There are various representations of what precisely happened in the actual murder of Diem. The attempt is made to disclaim any American responsibility that it got out of hand, the entire revolution--coup d'état, which was supposed to get rid of Diem but not cause his death. Others maintain that the CIA involvement--the American Embassy's involvement was much deeper than that and that actually we went along with the assassination. That has never been proved one way or the other as far as I know.
But in his statement there to me, it was interpreted by some people right away that he had tipped the fact that we knew what was going to happen out there and that there was great concern that he would be held liable, as people examined that statement later, to have him plan the assassination--Diem. Because of that pressure, I think he was backing off of the statements the following week when NBC jumped on the bandwagon and also went to a half-hour and he duplicated his effort with us by giving Huntley-Brinkley an interview. And I think that's what happened.
Years later--the keepers of the flame after Kennedy's death, which was only a couple of months after our interview--we're still out trying to cover up the tracks, if you please, to doll up history a bit. And Pierre Salinger, who's a good friend of mine who had been his press secretary, wrote a piece in The New York Times Magazine, which accused us at CBS of having edited that statement of his to make it appear that he was against the administration of Diem when actually he had praised the administration in parts we cut out.
Well, that was a vast overstatement by Pete's--vast overstatement. Indeed, there was a statement in there which was on the broadcast which said something nice about Diem, about the administration. There were a couple of other statements that said something nice. We cut those out only because of time, but in no way did we alter the impact of either his praise of Diem or this business of getting out. And I think that this was just another attempt to preserve Camelot on Pierre Salinger's part.
LAMB: Around that subject of Vietnam you say this: `I was proud of the degree to which we had kept our evening newscast free of bias.' And as you know not everyone agrees with that. You...
LAMB: ...over the years. I have a question. Why in the midst of keeping the newscast free of bias did you have one person, Eric Sevareid, be the spokesman for CBS News?
CRONKITE: Because--well, actually, Eric was not the spokesman for CBS News. We never represented him as such. As a matter of fact, we represented that these were his own opinions--and they were. Frequently, I'm sure that they were not those of Bill Paley at the top management of CBS at all. Eric was far more liberal than the management of CBS was. And there was constant strain between the two. But--well, he was not selected as a spokesman. He was selected as an editorialist; that we felt we needed someone trying to put the focus where it belonged on these very complicated national and international stories. And Eric was a superb essayist in that regard.
LAMB: But why didn't you just have another voice in there on the other point of view if people were criticizing at that time so people could hear the other side?
CRONKITE: You mean another point of view other than Eric's?
CRONKITE: Well, I don't think it was thought that we were setting up a debate. We were setting up an opinion by an editorialist, if you please. We tried to avoid and--Eric's having an opinion. When I say an opinion column, an editorial column, I am stretching the point. We used to make the point--I used to make the point that he was an analyst, not an editorialist and not a commentator. Those three all were different. The commentator commented on the news. An editorialist suggested action on the basis of their opinion of the news. And an analyst simply took the pieces out of the complex picture and tried to show you how they fitted together. And that's what Eric tried to do most of the time. He slopped over into editorializing, I must admit. And it was basically liberal.
LAMB: In the last couple of minutes I want to ask you about this person right here. You mention her often in the book. And you talk about her sense of humor. That's Betsy. How long have you been married?
CRONKITE: We've been married 56 years and say that they've been 56 mighty wonderful years. Betsy Maxwell, which was her maiden name, is a woman with one of the great senses of humor of all time. There she is with her mother and our firstborn, Nancy. Her mother had a sense of humor as well. The whole family did, the Maxwell family. See, my wife had a new knee replacement not too long ago. And I must say, with all the pain at the hospital, all the doctors and all the nurses says, `My gosh, what a sense of humor that woman has.' It was passed around the hospital immediately that she was a wit.
LAMB: What's Nancy, your oldest daughter, doing today?
CRONKITE: Nancy is in real estate in Martha's Vineyard. My other daughter there they are with The Beatles. They got to meet The Beatles on the first trip to the United States backstage at "The Ed Sullivan Show." And my other daughter is Kathy. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her lawyer husband and her two children and travels a great deal, lecturing on mental health, which is a subject of her second of two books.
LAMB: What about Chip, your son?
CRONKITE: She's working on a third book now. I beg your pardon?
LAMB: Your son, Chip?
CRONKITE: And Chip is the third child who is not in that picture. He's a little baby then. He's a television producer, I'm happy to say; works with me in New York in our own company.
LAMB: And are you going to come out with a second book?
CRONKITE: Well, I don't know about that. I must admit that a lot of people are reminding me of a lot of stories that I had forgotten about, didn't get into this book. I've got about a third of a book already done that Ash Greene ordered me to cut out of this one. So the temptation is there. I don't promise a sequel but there might be one.
LAMB: Walter Cronkite's our guest and the book is called "A Reporter's Life." And thank you very much.
CRONKITE: Thank you.
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