Seamans: Remembering Cronkite

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(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans once worked with the late Walter Cronkite. He remembers a man of great energy, integrity and expectations.   

(SEAMANS) My relationship with Walter Cronkite began as his producer and writer when he became the anchorman of "Sunday News Special" which aired at 11pm. ‘way back in the early 60’s.  I wrote the routine news stories while he focussed on his special interests – political and diplomatic stories infusing them with inside information he often got from his Washington sources.  I also wrote the film scripts which relieved Walter of a time consuming diversion.

Up close and personal, we experienced Walter’s cool and creative control even under the most extreme deadline pressure.  He welcomed suggestions but demanded solid facts, not rumor or speculation.  I can hear him ask, "Why?" "How come?" "Well, let’s find out!"  He did not, as the old cliché says, suffer fools gladly and he was not gentle letting them know it.  Walter’s relationship with key staff members like myself was cordial and friendly but there always was a kind of unspoken tension.  After a particularly strenuous program Walter was not inclined to suggest that we all go over to the local oasis and relax over a beer as some other well-known anchormen did.  His bar time was devoted to his VIP sources.

Beyond the usual producer’s problems, I had an additional very large and unique one.  Relatively few of his fans knew that Walter was an accomplished amateur race car driver.  Like his journalism efforts, he threw himself into racing a thousand percent.  Walter became such a competent and competitive driver that he was invited to join the Lotus amateur race car team at Lime Rock, CT and the Lancia team at Sebring, Fla.  Sebring was his favorite track – and my magna aspirin headache.

Sundays were Sebring racing days and Walter flew back to New York in the evening – sometimes so late that we had to call in a standby anchorman in case he did not slide home on time. As his ratings rose so did management’s worries about the welfare of their rising star so they persuaded Walter to cool his dangerous race car activity and my problem of Sunday News Special’s late arriving anchorman was solved.  He then turned his enthusiasm to trimming the sails on his splendidly equipped yacht.  He became so seaworthy that he was named Commodore of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Coast Civilian Auxiliary who were voluntary yachtsmen ready to help in a national emergency.

Because of my experience working with Walter Cronkite, whenever I have run into editorial trouble, I have often recalled how he demanded accurate facts with no caveats, which some call the Truth, and how regarding Vietnam, he stood firm no matter what the odds were against his judgment.

And a small footnote, I still use the letter opener Walter brought me from one of his overseas trips – a token that’s as sharp as ever.

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