Armed with a “splendid poker face and a voice that incarnated authority,” Walter Cronkite symbolized the very credibility of American institutions that his reporting came to undermine, Todd Gitlin writes in the New Republic. Whether it was the Pentagon or the president of the United States, Cronkite broke character and challenged the conventional wisdom on issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate.
While successor Dan Rather closed his broadcasts with a more modest farewell—“That’s part of our world tonight”—Cronkite, with his “that’s the way it was” approach, “persisted in the naïve but sturdy faith that it was possible, and obligatory, to tell the big truth of his time." After untangling Watergate and challenging the war, Cronkite's "conventional patriotic persona went back to work," Gitlin writes. But his “step out of character was a formidable symbol of broken legitimacy."