Walter Cronkite was born on this day in 1916. Douglas Brinkley’s bestselling 2012 biography, Cronkite, opens with a sampling from the many who, upon the newscaster’s retirement as anchorman for the CBS Evening News, attempted to articulate how he had become to America, as one network executive put it, “God, mother, the American Flag, the four-minute mile, and Mount Everest.” Kurt Vonnegut’s tribute in The Nation emphasized Cronkite’s humility: “A subliminal message in every one of his broadcasts was that he had no power and wanted none.” When Cronkite’s wife was asked why she thought her husband was so popular, she stressed genetics: “I think it’s because he looks like everybody’s dentist. Both his father and grandfather were dentists, you know.” Brinkley himself notes that while most Americans average 165 words a minute, Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words a minute, thereby mastering the intentional pause and allowing the news to have its own voice: “Nobody before or after Cronkite had mastered the art of communicating news on television nightly without ever becoming an irritant.”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.