On March 6, 1981, CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite signs off with his trademark valediction, "And that's the way it is," for the final time. Over the previous 19 years, Cronkite had established himself not only as the nation's leading newsman but as "the most trusted man in America," a steady presence during two decades of social and political upheaval.
Cronkite had reported from the European front in World War II and anchored CBS' coverage of the 1952 and 1956 elections, as well as the 1960 Olympics. He took over as the network's premier news anchor in April of 1962, just in time to cover the most dramatic events of the 1960s. The Cuban Missile Crisis came six months into his tenure, and a year later Cronkite would break the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. The footage of Cronkite removing his glasses and composing himself as he read the official AP report of Kennedy's death, which he did 38 minutes after the president was pronounced dead in Dallas, is one of the most enduring images of one of the most traumatic days in American history. Cronkite would cover the other assassinations that rocked the country over the coming years, including those of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon. He also reported on some of the most uplifting moments of the era, most famously the Moon Landing in 1969.
In 1968, at the invitation of the U.S. military, Cronkite traveled to Vietnam. In a televised special on the war, he said, "it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate." "Uncle Walter" was already a household name and one of the most respected men in the country, and his pronouncement that the war was un-winnable is said to have contributed to President Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run for re-election in 1968. Moments like these led to the perception that Cronkite was more straightforward with the American people than their own elected leaders, an attitude reflected in a 1972 poll that named him the most trusted person in the country. The next few years saw the unfolding of the Watergate Scandal, which further degraded public confidence in Washington and which Cronkite followed closely.
Cronkite relinquished the anchor's chair at the age of 65 because CBS mandated that its employees retire at that age. He remained in public life for many years, writing a syndicated column and regularly hosting the Kennedy Center Honors. His replacement, Dan Rather, would hold the job even longer than Cronkite, anchoring the Evening News until 2005. Nonetheless, due both to his near-universally recognized credibility and to the century-defining events he reported to the nation, Cronkite remains a singular figure, quite possibly the most respected television news journalist in American history. He died in 2009.