Amy Henderson: That’s The Way It Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite

Roundup: Talking About History

Amy Henderson is the National Portrait Gallery's cultural historian.

Who do you trust?

In 1972, an Oliver Quayle Research survey reported that CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite was the “most trusted man in America”—more trusted than anyone else in public life, although, that’s not including such 1970s pop stars as Cher or Paul Newman.

Trust. Today, it is an eye-popping notion that a network newsperson would have that kind of status. How many of us even watch nightly network news? The Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism reports that between 1980 and 2011, the three commercial networks lost 28.4 million nightly news viewers, or 54.5 percent of their audience. Does Swanson still make TV dinners? Do people even know what a Swanson TV dinner is?

The man embraced by postwar audiences as “Uncle Walter” is the subject of historian Douglas Brinkley’s new biography, Cronkite. It is a richly detailed chronicle of a media figure who both personified his era and who radiated an unblinking authenticity in years before “trust-but-verify” became the nation’s cultural watchword.

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