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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…” view. But he is a household name far more than other newsmen; he is the man millions rely on for their summary of the news every day; he is not identified as an editorialist, but as a reporter of great objectivity.” 29 The accounts from both Oberdorfer and Small have become sources for other writers. The early reference that is most frequently cited in later books is from New York Times reporter David Halberstam’s 1979 book The Powers That Be. 30 Halberstam details how Cronkite “shed” his objectivity because he “finally felt he had to do so,” knowing that the decision to include an editorial in the Tet special was “likely to be a severe blow to the reputation for impartiality that he and CBS had worked so hard to build.” 31 In describing Johnson’s reaction, Halberstam says, “Cronkite’s reporting did change the balance; it was the first time in American history a war had been declared over by an anchorman. In Washington, Lyndon Johnson watched and told his press secretary, George Christian, that it was a turning point, that if he had lost Walter Cronkite he had lost Mr. Average Citizen. It solidified his decision not to run again.” 32 This is the first occasion where the “If I’ve lost Cronkite” quote reference appears. Halberstam posits that Cronkite’s editorial affected Johnson in two ways, that Johnson “realized that he had lost the center, that Walter both was the center and reached the center, and thus his own consensus was in serious jeopardy” and that, because “he liked an admired Cronkite so much and thought him so fair a reporter, he found himself believing that if Walter Cronkite was reporting these things, he must know something, he was not doing this just to help his own career, the way so many other reporters were.” 33 Unfortunately, Halberstam does not cite any sources to support his claims and his take on Cronkite’s influence seems to be based more on conjecture than on any solid evidence. The fact that Halberstam has become one of the most widely quoted sources on the “Cronkite moment” raises some of the red flags that Campbell identifies. But, on the other hand, 9

Authors: Burns, Lisa.
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“If I’ve Lost Cronkite…”
view. But he is a household name far more than other newsmen; he is the man millions rely on 
for their summary of the news every day; he is not identified as an editorialist, but as a reporter 
of great objectivity.”
 The accounts from both Oberdorfer and Small have become sources for 
other writers.  
The early reference that is most frequently cited in later books is from New York Times 
reporter David Halberstam’s 1979 book The Powers That Be.
 Halberstam details how Cronkite 
“shed” his objectivity because he “finally felt he had to do so,” knowing that the decision to 
include an editorial in the Tet special was “likely to be a severe blow to the reputation for 
impartiality that he and CBS had worked so hard to build.”
 In describing Johnson’s reaction, 
Halberstam says, “Cronkite’s reporting did change the balance; it was the first time in American 
history a war had been declared over by an anchorman. In Washington, Lyndon Johnson watched 
and told his press secretary, George Christian, that it was a turning point, that if he had lost 
Walter Cronkite he had lost Mr. Average Citizen. It solidified his decision not to run again.”
This is the first occasion where the “If I’ve lost Cronkite” quote reference appears. Halberstam 
posits that Cronkite’s editorial affected Johnson in two ways, that Johnson “realized that he had 
lost the center, that Walter both was the center and reached the center, and thus his own 
consensus was in serious jeopardy” and that, because “he liked an admired Cronkite so much and 
thought him so fair a reporter, he found himself believing that if Walter Cronkite was reporting 
these things, he must know something, he was not doing this just to help his own career, the way 
so many other reporters were.”
 Unfortunately, Halberstam does not cite any sources to support 
his claims and his take on Cronkite’s influence seems to be based more on conjecture than on 
any solid evidence. 
The fact that Halberstam has become one of the most widely quoted sources on the 
“Cronkite moment” raises some of the red flags that Campbell identifies. But, on the other hand, 
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