“Walter Cronkite’s authority is something of a mystery,” said Verlyn Klinkenborg in The New York Times. The longtime CBS Evening News anchor somehow combined luck, skill, experience, timing, modesty, and character to become the most trusted man in America from 1962 to 1981. When Cronkite died Friday night, at 92, his death marked the end of “a world, a century, that no longer exists.”
If Cronkite’s “gravelly imperturbable” voice reminds us of an illusory era of innocence and harmony, said Lee Siegel in The Daily Beast, it's because both Cronkite and his audience wanted to believe “that’s the way it was.” Cronkite was really just a “consummate performer” like Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, and Jon Stewart, but Cronkite’s viewers wanted to trust in his authority; today we want to see all authority ridiculed and unmasked.
It’s more than that, said John Dickerson in Slate. Before Cronkite, TV news anchors came from the entertainment world, and like today’s best news broadcasters, he had to fight “the entertainment aspect of the news.” Cronkite was “the bridge” joining hard news with staged presentation, and his act worked so well because, unlike today’s anchors, he told us what we needed to know with a natural, calm authority.
He also had “discretion,” said the New York Post in an editorial. Politically, he was a “man of the left.” But he inspired “absolute trust” and “commanding authority” because he (mostly) kept his views to himself. It’s impossible to imagine a news anchor today with the same “authoritative and reassuring presence” to guide us through JFK’s assassination, the Apollo 11 moonwalk, “massive social unrest,” and Vietnam.