Veteran TV network newsman Walter Cronkite told a Santa Barbara audience Saturday that he sees the nation as less safe for having waged war on Iraq .
“The problem, quite clearly, is we have excited the Arab world, the Muslim world, to take up arms against us,” he said, adding that this excitement far exceeds the anger that existed among terrorist groups prior to the war.
The comments came moments after Mr. Cronkite received an annual award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at a gala event focused on his longtime and storied journalism career and his views on current U.S. foreign policy. They came in response to questions posed by veteran ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson in front of an audience of more than 400 people in a ballroom at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort.
At age 87, Mr. Cronkite is far more outspoken with regard to his personal opinions than he ever was or arguably could be during his career as a reporter and news anchor.
Dubbed “the most trusted man in America ,” even after his 1981 retirement, Mr. Cronkite is increasingly regarded as an advocate for world peace. In its 21st year, the Distinguished Peace Leadership Award goes to individuals who have demonstrated “courageous leadership in the cause of peace,” according to the nonprofit Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which works to eliminate nuclear weapons and inspire antiwar activism.
Past recipients include the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jacques Cousteau and King Hussein of Jordan .
David Krieger, foundation president, said Mr. Cronkite was chosen this year because he represents integrity in the media and spoke the truth to the American public. “We believe that is essential for Democracy to function and for peace to have a chance in any society.”
Speaking with Santa Barbara news media before the ceremony, Mr. Cronkite said he thinks the Nov. 2 presidential election will be one of the most important since perhaps the Civil War because it comes on the heels of a drastic change in U.S. foreign policy and a ballooning national debt.
The war on Iraq marked the first time the United States has conducted a pre-emptive invasion and occupation of another country. The debt, now at $7.43 trillion, has grown by almost a third since President Bush took office.
So what will it take to achieve peace in this world?
“It certainly has to include, as a major factor, diplomacy,” Mr. Cronkite said, adding that an increased understanding between nations and cultures is critical, coupled with the involvement of an international organization such as the United Nations.
He said TV news could do more to serve the public. In particular, he said networks should expand their nightly news offerings to one hour from a half hour, and should use news magazine shows more wisely.
“The material that flows over the newsroom desks each day cannot be handled in the proper detail,” Mr. Cronkite said, adding that magazine shows focus too much on sex, crime and scandal. “Why don’t they take those hours and do instant documentaries, which they are certainly capable of doing?”
He said these could focus on the major stories of the day. “This great informative medium we’ve got of television is really not fulfilling its obligation to the public.”
Slightly stooped and gray, Mr. Cronkite walks in measured steps. He appeared in a dark suit and yellow tie and, at times Saturday, relied on his chief of staff to repeat questions.
“I am a little bit hard of hearing,” he said. Then he added: “That’s a darn lie. I’m as deaf as a post.”
The Missouri-born journalist began his career writing for public relations, small newspapers and at radio stations before joining United Press International to cover World War II.
Five years after the war, he joined CBS, hosting warmly remembered shows such as “You Are There” and “Twentieth Century” before taking the anchor slot on the “CBS Evening News” in 1962. His broadcasts after the Tet offensive and afterwards, in which he suggested the war was in stalemate, have been credited by some with helping turn public sentiment against the war.
On foreign shores, his on-the-air question to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, asking if he would go to Jerusalem if invited, ended with such an invitation and eventually to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt .
Mr. Cronkite is perhaps remembered best by some viewers for his famous sign off: “And that’s the way it is.”