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Walter Cronkite’s glasses and me

| Friday, November 15, 2019

Broadcast news brought forth a new era of journalism and new heroes within the field. One of these men was Walter Cronkite. Dubbed the “Most trusted man in America,” Cronkite continued to be welcomed into living rooms long after many Americans lost their faith in the country. 

Walter Cronkite, and his glasses. In one of the most identifiable moments in Broadcast history, Walter Cronkite removed them to inform the country that John F. Kennedy was dead. I have seen this footage on YouTube, but also in countless movies and most notably the opening credits of HBO’s “The Newsroom.” 

No one knows the exact reason why Cronkite decided to remove his glasses, but I like to think that it was to connect with the public, an attempt to remove one of the barriers between him and the American people. He may have done it so they could look him in the eyes when he told them that their beloved President was dead, and who knows, it might have just been an action to accompany the dramatic pause. Even if the last motive is the real one, Cronkite removing his glasses created a connection for me, even across the five decades that separate us. 

I have read or listened to Cronkite recount this event in interviews and in his memoir. He usually doesn’t talk about his glasses, or even what he was thinking about in the moments leading up to announcing the news, besides wanting to get the most accurate information quickly. He talks about a phone call he received afterwards. A women called the CBS office to criticize him for not wearing a suit jacket. He says that he came straight from the newsroom to the desk and did not think of it. At some point during the broadcast someone draped a jacket on his chair, but he simply did not think of it. This woman did. Who knows what she was thinking, feeling or intended, but what she said obviously stuck with Walter. 

When Cronkite took off his glasses he was establishing a genuine moment between him and the American public, including the woman in his story. She set this opportunity for connection aside in turn for social conventions. Every time I see this moment in history I don’t think of a fatherless Jack or Bobby Kennedy with a bowed head and Jackie in a black veil. I don’t think of our leaderless country. I think of this woman who cared more about whether Walter Cronkite was wearing a jacket or not, then about his effort for sympathy. That, and how I should wear my glasses more often, and take them off for dramatic effect.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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