Imagine the nation turning on the evening news to find out the day's happenings from the most trusted man in the country. OK, we've already dated ourselves. The evening news is an afterthought for many in the 21st century ... we have many ways to get our news, now. And the idea that the most trusted man in the country might be a journalist? I don't think anyone feels that is possible given the current structure of our news media.
But in 1968, nationally televised news came from only three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). NBC had Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, ABC had ... well, I'm gonna have to look that one up, hold on a second ... their anchor at the time was a man named Bob Young. CBS, of course, had Walter Cronkite, a few years before he trademarked "the most trusted man in America." Cronkite first made a name for himself in the news world with his work during WWII. By 1962, he was the anchor of the CBS Evening News, a job he kept for almost 20 years. His steadfast coverage of the assassination of JFK is often cited as a primary reason why the public trusted "Uncle Walter."
As the Tet Offensive continued into February of 1968, Cronkite went to Vietnam to see the situation for himself. On February 27, Cronkite, by that time back in his familiar anchor seat, ended the newscast with an editorial comment, in itself a startling switch from the norm. He said that he wanted to sum up what he'd found in Vietnam, and began noting that Tet looked to be a draw, with neither winners or losers. He anticipated further large battles, and further standoffs. He expressed fears about what continued stalemates might lead to: if there was to be no "real give-and-take negotiations," then escalation was sure to occur, "and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster." After which came this:
President Johnson supposedly said afterwards, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America."