If you’re lucky enough to get to Austin, Texas, before the end of the year, make sure to visit the Walter Cronkite exhibit at the LBJ Library. For anyone who cares about broadcast journalism, it’s not just a recap of some great moments in the medium’s history, it’s also a reminder that the “good old days” weren’t always so great.
Cronkite, who died last year, left his personal archive to the University of Texas where he studied in the 1930s. The exhibit includes memorable and mostly predictable video from CBS News: Cronkite announcing the death of President John F. Kennedy and the moon landing, among other signal events of the 20th century. Most people under 40 have no memory of watching “Uncle Walter” anchor the evening news, sothe clips are essential to share some of that experience.
For those of us who do remember when Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America,” what’s more significant about the exhibit are the artifacts. His Minerva stopwatch, complete with the original box. We didn’t have computers to time our scripts back then, nor to write them. So there’s the portable Minerva typewriter Cronkite used to cover the Nuremberg trials after World War II and his reporter’s notebook from Vietnam with Tet 1968 on the cover.
The exhibit doesn’t just remind us that news moves much faster now. There’s also evidence of what we’ve lost along the way. You can see how Cronkite edited his scripts on paper, removing needless words, correcting a fact here and there, improving the final product.
And the not-so-great parts? How about the shameful loyalty oath CBS forced employees to sign during the McCarthy Era in the 1950s? Cronkite’s blank copy is in the exhibit. No other network went to such lengths to respond to the so-called Red Scare.
There’s also a one-page outlook of stories planned for an evening newscast in 1966. The options included color film and black-and-white tape, on the same broadcast. The list of reporters is a who’s who of the old CBS: Collingwood, Fromson, Safer, Threlkeld. All male. All white. And so it went.