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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…” announces halts on airstrikes and that he will not seek re-election. The actual teleprompter copy of the end of the speech is on display along with a wall-sized photo of Johnson during the address. In the narrative flow of the exhibit, Johnson’s decision not to run immediately follows the Tet Offensive, creating a link between the two events. Johnson was very concerned about his legacy. He viewed his presidential library as a place to present the story of his life and times “with the bark off,” showing the good and the bad. 69 According to Harry Middleton, the library’s first director, “he wanted the exhibits depicting his administration to show the controversies as well as the successes. ‘That was a very controversial period,’ he said, ‘and I don’t want another damn credibility gap.’” 70 Both Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, who headed the library committee, were very involved in the planning of the museum, talking to the designers at length about how Johnson’s legacy might be presented in the exhibits. 71 While the original Vietnam section did not include the current Tet display, it did include several critical letters from citizens, personally selected by Johnson. The current display, unveiled in 1995, was overseen by Middleton and Mrs. Johnson who redesigned the exhibits following Johnson’s philosophy of telling the story “with the bark off.” Hence the decision to include feature the “Cronkite moment” was made by two of the people who knew Johnson the best. If Johnson did not utter the famous “If I’ve lost Cronkite line” or if he didn’t think that media coverage played a role, why include it in the museum? Why make it part of his memory and legacy if it was not significant? Museums “enjoy a significance seemingly unmatched by other material supports” 72 of collective memory. According to one study, “Americans put more trust in history museums and historic sites than in any other source for exploring the past.” 73 On average, 250-thousand people tour the Johnson museum each year. 74 These visitors are left with the impression that news media coverage of the war, as represented by Cronkite’s comments and 17

Authors: Burns, Lisa.
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background image
“If I’ve Lost Cronkite…”
announces halts on airstrikes and that he will not seek re-election. The actual teleprompter copy 
of the end of the speech is on display along with a wall-sized photo of Johnson during the 
address. In the narrative flow of the exhibit, Johnson’s decision not to run immediately follows 
the Tet Offensive, creating a link between the two events. 
Johnson was very concerned about his legacy. He viewed his presidential library as a 
place to present the story of his life and times “with the bark off,” showing the good and the bad.
 According to Harry Middleton, the library’s first director, “he wanted the exhibits depicting his 
administration to show the controversies as well as the successes. ‘That was a very controversial 
period,’ he said, ‘and I don’t want another damn credibility gap.’”
 Both Johnson and his wife 
Lady Bird, who headed the library committee, were very involved in the planning of the 
museum, talking to the designers at length about how Johnson’s legacy might be presented in the 
exhibits.
 While the original Vietnam section did not include the current Tet display, it did 
include several critical letters from citizens, personally selected by Johnson. The current display, 
unveiled in 1995, was overseen by Middleton and Mrs. Johnson who redesigned the exhibits 
following Johnson’s philosophy of telling the story “with the bark off.” Hence the decision to 
include feature the “Cronkite moment” was made by two of the people who knew Johnson the 
best. If Johnson did not utter the famous “If I’ve lost Cronkite line” or if he didn’t think that 
media coverage played a role, why include it in the museum? Why make it part of his memory 
and legacy if it was not significant? Museums “enjoy a significance seemingly unmatched by 
other material supports
 of collective memory. According to one study, “Americans put more 
trust in history museums and historic sites than in any other source for exploring the past.”
 O
average, 250-thousand people tour the Johnson museum each year.
 These visitors are left with 
the impression that news media coverage of the war, as represented by Cronkite’s comments and 
17


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