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“If I’ve Lost Cronkite…”: Myth and Memory of Walter Cronkite, Lyndon Johnson, and the Vietnam War
Unformatted Document Text:  “If I’ve Lost Cronkite…” the elements together. Anthony Fellow reports in American Media History, “It was the first time in the nation’s history that a television anchor declared a war to be over. President Johnson told his press secretary, George Christian, that Cronkite’s report was the turning point. If he had lost Cronkite, he had lost the average citizen. It helped him make up his mind not to seek reelection” 53 Fellow’s description of the event pulls the various reports into a single, cohesive narrative anecdote, which is often seen in collective memory accounts. Over the years the various versions of the story have merged into a collective memory that views Cronkite’s editorial as an important influence on Johnson’s change in Vietnam policy and his decision not to seek re-election. In some cases, Cronkite’s statement becomes the primary influence on Johnson, in others it is one in a series of factors including dropping poll numbers, dwindling media support, and the changing opinions of the president’s top advisors. But how is the story remembered when it is told from the first-person perspective of Johnson and Cronkite, and how is it presented when used in commemorations of these men? Johnson’s Perspective In 1971, Lyndon Johnson published his memoirs, The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency, 1963 – 1969. 54 Walter Cronkite is mentioned by name just once in the 569-page book, a reference to Cronkite’s coverage of the Kennedy assassination. There is no specific mention of Cronkite’s Tet broadcast or Johnson’s reaction to it. However, Johnson makes several references to media coverage of the war, particularly in the wake of Tet. For example, he said, “There was a great deal of emotional and exaggerated reporting of the Tet offensive in our press and on television. The media seemed to be in competition as to who could provide the most lurid and depressing accounts.” Later on the same page, Johnson points out, “I was not surprised that elements of the press, the academic community, and Congress reacted as they did. I was surprised and disappointed that the enemy’s efforts produced such a dismal effect on various 13

Authors: Burns, Lisa.
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“If I’ve Lost Cronkite…”
the elements together. Anthony Fellow reports in American Media History, “It was the first time 
in the nation’s history that a television anchor declared a war to be over. President Johnson told 
his press secretary, George Christian, that Cronkite’s report was the turning point. If he had lost 
Cronkite, he had lost the average citizen. It helped him make up his mind not to seek reelection”
 Fellow’s description of the event pulls the various reports into a single, cohesive narrative 
anecdote, which is often seen in collective memory accounts.  
Over the years the various versions of the story have merged into a collective memory 
that views Cronkite’s editorial as an important influence on Johnson’s change in Vietnam policy 
and his decision not to seek re-election. In some cases, Cronkite’s statement becomes the 
primary influence on Johnson, in others it is one in a series of factors including dropping poll 
numbers, dwindling media support, and the changing opinions of the president’s top advisors. 
But how is the story remembered when it is told from the first-person perspective of Johnson and 
Cronkite, and how is it presented when used in commemorations of these men?       
Johnson’s Perspective 
In 1971, Lyndon Johnson published his memoirs, The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the  
Presidency, 1963 – 1969.
 Walter Cronkite is mentioned by name just once in the 569-page 
book, a reference to Cronkite’s coverage of the Kennedy assassination. There is no specific 
mention of Cronkite’s Tet broadcast or Johnson’s reaction to it. However, Johnson makes several 
references to media coverage of the war, particularly in the wake of Tet. For example, he said, 
“There was a great deal of emotional and exaggerated reporting of the Tet offensive in our press 
and on television. The media seemed to be in competition as to who could provide the most lurid 
and depressing accounts.” Later on the same page, Johnson points out, “I was not surprised that 
elements of the press, the academic community, and Congress reacted as they did. I was 
surprised and disappointed that the enemy’s efforts produced such a dismal effect on various 
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