Famous Eulogies: Barack Obama on Walter Cronkite

Some eulogies provide a profoundly meaningful, lasting tribute to the deceased

Walter Cronkite in headphones
American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, circa 1968. Photo © CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Ideally, a well-crafted and -delivered eulogy illuminates and elucidates special qualities about the deceased that enhance the existing emotional and spiritual connections between the person who died and the living, thereby focusing and increasing a listener's appreciation of the life lost. In some cases, the eulogy itself proves a memorable and meaningful embodiment of both the unique nature of the departed and the depth of feeling that endures in the hearts and minds of those who remain.

This article presents the (partial*) text of just such an enduring remembrance speech: the eulogy delivered by President Barack Obama at a memorial service held September 9, 2009, for American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite at the Lincoln Center in New York, New York. Considered "the most trusted man in America," Cronkite died July 17, 2009, at age 92 after spending 50 years as a journalist, including nearly two decades as anchor of the CBS Evening News. During the latter period, Cronkite reported on many of the significant events of the period, including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the first Apollo Moon landing, the Vietnam War, and Watergate.

* Author's note: The text below offers excerpts from President Obama's eulogy. Links to the full eulogy text and a full video are provided at the end of this article.

The Eulogy of Walter Cronkite by President Barack Obama

September 9, 2009

I am honored to be here to pay tribute to the life and times of the man who chronicled our time. I did not know Mr. Cronkite personally. And my regret is made more acute by the stories that have been shared here today. Nor, for that matter, did I know him any better than the tens of millions who turned to him each night in search of the answer to a simple question:  "What happened today?"

But like them, and like all of you, I have benefited as a citizen from his dogged pursuit of the truth, his passionate defense of objective reporting, and his view that journalism is more than just a profession -- it is a public good vital to our democracy.

Even in his early career, Walter Cronkite resisted the temptation to get the story first in favor of getting it right. He wanted to get it first, but he understood the importance of getting it right. During one of his first jobs in Kansas City, Walter's program manager urged him to go on the air reporting a massive blaze... at city hall that had already claimed lives. When Walter reached for the telephone, his boss asked, "What are you doing; get on the air!" Walter replied that he was calling the fire department to confirm the story. "You don't need to confirm it," the manager shouted, "my wife's watching the whole thing!"

Needless to say, Walter made the call, and even as the program manager took to the air himself to broadcast the unfolding tragedy, Walter discovered that it had been nothing more than a small fire that hadn't resulted in any injuries.

He lost his job -- but he got the story right.


So it may have seemed inevitable that he was named the most trusted man in America. But here's the thing: That title wasn't bestowed on him by a network. We weren't told to believe it by some advertising campaign. It was earned. It was earned by year after year, and decade after decade, of painstaking effort; a commitment to fundamental values; his belief that the American people were hungry for the truth, unvarnished and unaccompanied by theatre or spectacle. He didn't believe in dumbing down. He trusted us.


Through all the events that came to define the 20th century, through all our moments of deepest hurt and brightest hope, Walter Cronkite was there, telling the story of the American age.


Naturally, we find ourselves wondering how he would have covered the monumental stories of our time. In an era where the news that city hall is on fire can sweep around the world at the speed of the Internet, would he still have called to double-check? Would he have been able to cut through the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites to shine the bright light on substance? Would he still offer the perspective that we value? Would he have been able to remain a singular figure in an age of dwindling attention spans and omnipresent media?

And somehow, we know that the answer is yes. The simple values Walter Cronkite set out in pursuit of -- to seek the truth, to keep us honest, to explore our world the best he could -- they are as vital today as they ever were.


Walter Cronkite invited a nation to believe in him -- and he never betrayed that trust. That's why so many of you entered the profession in the first place. That's why the standards he set for journalists still stand. And that's why he loved and valued all of you, but we loved and valued Walter not only as the rarest of men, but as an indispensable pillar of our society.

He's reunited with his beloved Betsy now, watching the stories of this century unfold with boundless optimism -- every so often punctuating the air with a gleeful "Oh, boy!" We are grateful to him for altering and illuminating our time, and for the opportunity he gave to us to say that, yes, we, too, were there.

Related Articles of Interest:
Video: President Obama Delivers Walter Cronkite's Eulogy
The Full Text of President Obama's Eulogy for Walter Cronkite
5 Tips for Writing a Successful Eulogy
How to Write a Eulogy or Remembrance Speech

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