Walter Cronkite's star will be forever aligned with moon landing

The "CBS Evening News" standard-bearer guided a nation through times of turmoil and great achievement. He was long considered "the most trusted man in America." He died July 17 at age 92. | <a href=",0,4276121.story"><span class="center_label">Full obituary</span></a>

He was our guide to the news during one of this nation's most eventful periods, so it was almost inevitable Walter Cronkite's death would coincide with the anniversary of some momentous occasion or another to be remembered through the prism he provided.

That it was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission seemed particularly appropriate.

There is much for which to eulogize Cronkite, who died Friday at age 92. The man so defined the job of anchorman as reporter rather than simply reader that it's said anchormen were called Cronkiters in Holland and Kronkiters in Sweden. It matters not that NBC's "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" had more viewers in his early years on the " CBS Evening News."

Among clips committed to collective memory are: Cronkite's report that President John Kennedy was dead; his 1968 analysis that the United States should seek a negotiated peace in Vietnam; his agenda-setting decision to devote 14 minutes to the growing Watergate scandal one autumn evening in '72, followed four nights later by an eight-minute report; his nightly countdown for U.S. hostages in Iran.

But it was his sustained attention to the space program, the march to the moon, that indelibly bore his stamp. Cronkite championed the Gemini and Apollo programs, and his coverage helped lift CBS News back to No. 1.

These voyages and voyagers no doubt appealed to the amateur sailor in Cronkite. Yet he often saw his job as putting daily events in historical perspective, so this was right in his wheelhouse.

When astronaut Neil Armstrong declared that the Eagle had landed, 40 years ago Monday, Cronkite's coverage was stunning in that this long-anticipated event -- and the emotion it evoked -- seemed to catch him by surprise.

"Man on the moon!" Cronkite said giddily, later adding, "Oh boy!"

Astronaut Wally Schirra, a CBS News analyst, dabbed his eye. Cronkite took off his glasses and rubbed his hands together. Long gaps were filled only by the tinny communication between Mission Control and the newly christened Tranquility Base.

"Wally, say something, I'm speechless," Cronkite said.

"I'm just trying to hold onto my breath," Schirra said. "That is really something."

On TV and radio and in print, Cronkite was a newsman's newsman, and even his rare commentaries always were rooted in reportage. Objectivity is the reporter's goal, but never at the expense of one's humanity.

Whether it was blinking back tears at Kennedy's death or being slightly agog at the moon landing, Cronkite's personal real-time reaction did not get in the way of what he was reporting and its impact. In fact, it enhanced it for those experiencing it with him and through him.

Later that night in 1969, before Armstrong left the lunar module, CBS' Roger Mudd asked Vice President Spiro Agnew his response to the day's remarkable events. Agnew, hardly a fan of the media, tried to answer, then pulled up short.

"If Cronkite doesn't know what to say," he said, "don't expect me to come up with anything too good."

WILD ABOUT HARRY: Newsman Harry Porterfield has lasted 54 years in broadcasting and 45 in Chicago. Few still working have done so well for so long.

After July 30, there may be one fewer, as Porterfield is leaving WLS-Ch. 7, which isn't renewing his contract after 24 years, citing budget pressures.

"Harry has been a legend and a pioneer," WLS boss Emily Barr said. "These are very difficult times, and every decision we make is very challenging and, frankly, anguished."

Porterfield, 81, may decide not to retire if he senses a market for his human-interest features and the goodwill they create. It was the desire to continue his career on his own terms that brought him to WLS after 21 years at WBBM-Ch. 2 following a 1985 demotion that also precipitated a damaging boycott of Channel 2.

"I do expect ... people out of love for Harry and admiration for his work will say, 'Why couldn't you figure out a way to keep him?' " Barr said. "But we are up against something here that is quite immovable."