The Popcorn Stand: When Walter Cronkite changed the world
I’m a couple of days late with this one, but as a journalist I had to write about something that became a watershed moment in history and in journalism. Feb. 27 was the 50th anniversary of Walter Cronkite’s “Mired in Stalemate” address to the nation.
On Feb. 27, 1968, Cronkite, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, ended his broadcast with an editorial on the Vietnam War. Cronkite, of course, wasn’t just the most respected broadcast journalist at that time, he was the most respected man in America and known as the most trusted man in America. And of course those of us who watched Cronkite remember how he ended his newscast when he said, “And that’s the way it is.”
But on Feb. 27, 1968, Cronkite didn’t end his broadcast with those words, instead ending with his view on Vietnam, which took 54 seconds. It may be hard to believe but this was during a time when broadcast journalists actually didn’t editorialize, so Cronkite’s editorial on the Vietnam War was quite groundbreaking.
Cronkite’s editorial came shortly after the Tet offensive and after Cronkite had been to Vietnam himself. The Tet offensive launched by enemy forces is considered to be the turning point of the war, but the importance of Cronkite’s editorial can’t be understated because it went against military and political leaders’ claims they were on the way to victory. After all, after Cronkite’s editorial, President Lyndon Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” and he decided not to run for re-election in 1968.
In his editorial, Cronkite stated essentially victory nor defeat was inevitable, thus his statement “Mired in Stalemate.” He concluded his editorial by saying we should realize we can’t leave Vietnam as victors but as “an honorable people who did the best they could.”
Cronkite’s editorial could be called “54 Seconds That Changed the World.” You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nn4w-ud-TyE.
— Charles Whisnand