Belying the image of Walter Cronkite as an journalist without any political motives, while anchor of the CBS Evening News in 1967 he secretly “pleaded” with Senator Robert Kennedy to run as an anti-Vietnam war candidate for President and he later acknowledged that, if offered, he would have accepted the slot as George McGovern's VP in 1972. Frank Mankiewicz, who worked for both Kennedy and McGovern before serving as President of NPR from 1977 to 1983, revealed the liberal Democratic political activism of Cronkite, who passed away on July 17, in a Saturday Washington Post op-ed, “Vice President Walter Cronkite.”
Mankiewicz, who would have the duty of making the public announcement of Kennedy's assassination, offered this insider account:
In the late 1960s, just after he returned from a long visit to Vietnam, Cronkite had sought a meeting with Sen. Robert Kennedy. I sat in as Kennedy's press secretary. The meeting was understood to be off the record, and no one else was present.
Cronkite began with an acknowledgement of Kennedy's desire not to run for president but pleaded with RFK to change his mind and to announce his intention to seek the White House right away, even though the election was more than a year off. You must announce your intention to run against Johnson, Cronkite urged, to show people there will be a way out of this terrible war.
(George McGovern has recently told audiences about how Cronkite informed him he would have taken the VP job, but I believe Mankiewicz's information about Cronkite's secret meeting with Kennedy is new.)
A few years later, as the McGovern campaign's political director, Mankiewicz recalled: “Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that the senator put forward Walter Cronkite for vice president.” The idea was rejected, but:
Decades later, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. “On the contrary, George,” the senator told me Cronkite replied, “I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war.” At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.
Mankiewicz saw only good things if the offer had been extended:
My suspicion is that if the ticket had been McGovern-Cronkite instead of McGovern-Eagleton, McGovern might well have won that 1972 election, or at least have made it close. Had the latter happened, after the forced resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, McGovern probably would have been triumphantly renominated -- and elected -- president in 1976, with the most trusted man in America at his side.
Well, at least that would have saved us from Jimmy Carter.
For a collection of Cronkite's left-wing pronouncements, check: “Walter Cronkite Review: 'Gawd Almighty,' Shout 'the Truths' of Liberalism.”