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Cronkite School honors namesake

September 30, 2009

Walter Cronkite’s life, work and dedication to journalism were remembered during a daylong tribute Wednesday at the school that bears his name – the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.

Cronkite, who died July 17, had a 25-year relationship with the school, which was named for him in 1984. 

About 250 students, faculty, journalists and members of the public gathered in the school’s forum to watch live satellite interviews of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, PBS news host Jim Lehrer and former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw, all past winners of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, who now serves as the Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at ASU, conducted the interviews.

The journalists recalled how Cronkite broke new ground in broadcast journalism during coverage of stories such as Watergate and earned the trust of America in the process.  

“He had the most trust of anybody of his time,” Lehrer said.

Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981 and reported on the pivotal stories of the era – the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the civil rights battles and the Apollo moon landings.  

Cronkite’s coverage of the Watergate scandal was unprecedented, Woodward said.

“The world did not know about Watergate at that point,” Woodward said. “Walter said, ‘These stories raise serious questions about what is going on in this presidential campaign.’ It was one of the all-time gutsy moves by an anchor.” 

Shaw said that Cronkite was a role model who eventually became a colleague and a friend.

“My two idols aside from my parents were Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite,” Shaw said.  

It was a day of reflection for faculty, staff and students at the Cronkite School, especially for those who knew Cronkite.

“It’s very sad to lose Walter, but we have the spirit of Walter Cronkite; we have the values. And our pledge to students is to instill the values that Walter lived each and every day,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan.  

Cronkite was actively involved with ASU, advising the journalism school’s leadership, meeting with students and faculty and traveling to Arizona each year to personally give the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism to a media leader. The award is one of the most coveted in American journalism today. Past recipients include Helen Thomas, Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw.

This year’s recipient is Brian Williams, who will receive the 26th Cronkite Award at a luncheon ceremony Nov. 18 at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel. 

Cronkite always made time to visit the school, speaking to classes and granting interviews to eager student journalists, during his trips to Phoenix for the award ceremonies. 

“These are my people,” said Cronkite, in an archival video clip that showed him with a group of students.  

Cronkite became involved with the school when Tom Chauncey, the owner of the CBS affiliate in Phoenix and a leading supporter of journalism education, asked his old friend if he would allow the school to take his name. That marked the beginning of a 25-year relationship that helped boost the school to national prominence.

Cronkite students and faculty produced an hour-long video tribute to Cronkite and his impact on the school that closed the day-long tribute program.

Throughout the day, students stopped by a recording booth set up in the school’s First Amendment Forum to record their thoughts about the school’s namesake. 

Student Josh Frigerio, a sophomore broadcasting major, said Cronkite continues to serve as a model to students.

“I think there’s an industry standard and a Cronkite standard. How high that is I can’t even imagine,” Frigerio said. “Nobody came close to doing what he did.”   

Phoenix resident Darleen Phelan came to the event to remember Cronkite, who she used to watch when he anchored the CBS Evening News.

“You really felt that he was honest, that you could trust him … telling it like it was,” Phelan said.