Tonight we honor an extraordinary journalist, a familiar face and voice for us all, a man of uncompromising integrity.
Our theme tonight is broadcasting peace, and there are few broadcasters who have held peace so dear as our honoree.
When Lyndon Johnson realized that he had lost the support of our honoree for the Vietnam War, he knew that he had lost the support of the country. He knew that Walter Cronkite would tell the American people the truth about the war – and that truth would end their support for the war.
When journalists serve power rather than truth, there can be a fast descent into the frightening world of George Orwell’s 1984. It takes dedicated journalists to assure that war is not equated with peace; that ignorance is not equated with strength; and that freedom is not equated with slavery.
The principal function of a journalist is to bring the truth to the people so that power will not be abused. That requires hard work and integrity, and it is what has characterized Walter Cronkite throughout his distinguished career. Mr. Cronkite has served democracy well, and set a high standard for younger journalists to follow.
In his career spanning over 65 years in journalism, he has earned the respect of the American people and of people throughout the world. He has been named the “most influential person” in broadcasting and selected in a nationwide viewer survey as the “Most Trusted Man in Television News.”
He was born in 1916 and began his career in high school as a campus correspondent for the Houston Post. He covered World War II as a United Press correspondent.
In 1942, he landed with the Allied troops in North Africa, covering the battle of the North Atlantic . He was also with Allied troops making their beachhead assaults at Normandy in 1944.
After the war he covered the Nuremberg trials, which held the top Nazi leaders to account for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. I believe that he learned very important lessons about peace from both the war and the trials that followed it.
From 1946 to 1948 he was the chief correspondent for United Press in Moscow.
In 1950 he joined CBS News, and was their anchor for political convention and election coverage from 1952 to 1980.
In 1962 he began his duties with CBS Evening News, where he anchored the nightly news program until 1981. During that period he covered key historical events of the time – the wars, the assassinations, the elections and the ascent of man into space.
Since his retirement from CBS News he has made many award-winning documentaries, including the Emmy-winning Children of Apartheid.
He has received numerous prestigious awards for his contributions to broadcast journalism. He has been inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. And in 1981, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
In 1999, upon receiving the Norman Cousins Global Governance Award of the World Federalist Association, Mr. Cronkite stated, “Those of us living today can influence the future of civilization. We can influence whether our planet will drift into chaos and violence, or whether through a monumental educational and political effort we will achieve a world of peace under a system of law where individual violators of that law are brought to justice.”
On the subject of war and peace, he stated: “While we spend much of our time and a great deal of our treasure in preparing for war, we see no comparable effort to establish a lasting peace. Meanwhile.those advocates who work for world peace by urging a system of world government are called impractical dreamers. Those impractical dreamers are entitled to ask their critics what is so practical about war.”
Walter Cronkite is a man who has seen war at close hand, reported on it over the course of seven decades, and who comes down unequivocally on the side of peace. For his honesty, integrity and courage as a journalist and for his commitment to building a more peaceful world, I am proud to present the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2004 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award to Walter Cronkite.