It’s one thing to honor the deceased, but it’s another to suggest a mere human anchorman seemed like a god, whose set would be the site of a "pilgrimage" to the "center of the universe." On Friday night’s Larry King Live, NBC anchor Brian Williams oozed that he loved the anchor since childhood: "I have lived such a charmed life that I got the chance to explain that to Walter and tell him that and make it clear. And just was able to breathe the air he exhaled and know him a little bit, as friends."[audio excerpts available here]
Williams told of his childhood home in Elmira, New York, where his mother refused to serve dinner until Cronkite had finished his evening oration.
And I announced my intention to my family, apparently, at the age of 8, that he was the man I wanted to be. And this was the profession I wanted. And I have lived such a charmed life that I got the chance to explain that to Walter and tell him that and make it clear. And just was able to breathe the air he exhaled and know him a little bit, as friends.
I went on a pilgrimage as a young man. I wanted to see that newsroom and that studio in New York where the "CBS Evening News" originated. And you get close to some of your icons, they can tarnish. Walter never did.
But I did discover the globe behind him was just kind of a lime green and a wood model of the -- of the earth, and he sat at a mundane white Formica wrap-around desk. But to me, as a little kid, as a viewer who watched him narrate the cold war, the space program, the Vietnam War, it was the center of the universe from small-town America.
Later, he went back to oozing over how he was able to "occupy the same space" as Cronkite at the center of the universe:
Again, just to have known him, to occupy this same space just means the world. And, of course, for the rest of us now it means upholding what he meant. He hated seeing the pressure against the ramparts. He hated the encroachment of entertainment on journalism values. And he hated to see opinion seep its way into modern-day journalism, as Katie noted.
If Katie Couric and Brian Williams think Cronkite hated opinion in evening news, how can they honor him and then be so opinionated on a nightly basis?
Williams also sounded a bit snobby about America being a "decidedly off-the rack nation," while Cronkite was allowed to wear London-tailored suits and still pose as the common man:
He, in these later pictures, you know, he's wearing suits that he had handmade in London, and we kind of knew that about him as viewers, and he was broadcasting to a decidedly off-the-rack nation. But that was OK. He deserved it, because he was Uncle Walter.
At the end of the show, Cronkite’s longtime assistant Marlene Adler suggested Cronkite was bigger than Jesus:
MARLENE ADLER: Walter Cronkite the man was probably the greatest man that ever lived, and I can say that with total impunity. He was everything that you could ever hope he would be upon meeting him, but he was more, because what people didn't know about him was his enormous, his great and joyful sense of humor.
CNN didn't feature one of the most memorable Cronkite utterances on Larry King Live, when in 2004, he suggested to King that he thought Karl Rove put Osama bin Laden up to issuing a video just before the election: "I'm a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, that he probably set up bin Laden to this thing."