Legendary broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, visiting Annapolis yesterday to receive an honor from the new National Sailing Hall of Fame, voiced support for new CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric and said he hopes the recent retooling of the show is successful.
"I think she is doing a great job," Cronkite said of Couric, who last week took the anchor chair that Cronkite occupied from 1962 to 1981.
Cronkite, 89, who has been critical of what he views as increasing sensationalism in broadcast news, declined to discuss his views on the state of the industry during a brief interview at Annapolis' City Dock. But he described the changes to his former news program, which include longer magazine-type segments and citizen commentaries, as "somewhat revolutionary."
After pausing for several seconds, he said: "I hope that the daring new presentation, I guess, is successful, as to me, they deserve to be."
Cronkite, the recent subject of a PBS documentary narrated by Couric, was once one of the most recognizable and most trusted figures in the country. He was known as "Uncle Walter" and was voted in a poll as "the most trusted man in America." Yesterday, he repeated his famous sign-off: "And that's the way it is."
He is widely remembered for the way he paused, removed his glasses and seemed to choke up when delivering the news that President Kennedy had died. He roared, "Go, baby, go" at the launch of Apollo 11, carrying astronauts to the moon, and his critical news reports on the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal are credited with helping to sway public opinion on both.
It was his gravitas, rather than any specific sailing victory, that led Sailing Hall of Fame organizers to tap Cronkite as the chairman of their advisory board. "He is one of the most important people in the country," said Dick Franyo, the president of the not-for-profit group that is organizing the hall.
Cronkite said that he discovered sailing in 1947 - later in life then he would have liked. But he gushed about cruising in the Chesapeake Bay. "Every boat that I've ever had I have not christened until it fully toured up and down the Chesapeake," he said.
Yesterday afternoon, Cronkite watched as his 64-foot sailboat Wyntje (pronounced win-tee), slid into the dock at the Maryland Natural Resources Police building at City Dock. Wearing a yellow rain slicker and a red baseball cap, he boarded the yacht briefly despite the drizzle that would have made the decking slick.
Afterward he toured the temporary tent housing the National Sailing Hall of Fame. "This is quite elaborate. This is terrific," he said. Cronkite made a point of removing his cap before entering the enclosed hall.
Organizers hope the hall will eventually move to the nearby Natural Resources Police building. The hall's interior is now split into three rooms and the walls have images of top sailboat racers. Flat-screen televisions mounted from the ceiling roll dramatic footage of famous sailboat races.
The structure is set to be dismantled today to make room for the Annapolis Boat Show, which begins Oct. 5. Organizers expect to put up the tents again after the boats are gone.
Some outside the Annapolis sailing community have questioned whether another city - such as Newport, R.I., or San Diego - would be a more appropriate place for a sailing hall of fame.
Cronkite dismissed such concerns. "I know of no harbor that is more lively in sailing and racing," he said. "I think [Annapolis] is one of the greatest sailing communities in the whole world."
At a private reception yesterday evening, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer read a proclamation declaring Sept. 14 "Walter Cronkite Day" in Annapolis.
He spoke for about 10 minutes - getting a laugh from the audience when he explained that he was not sure if his new role meant he was supposed to raise money for the hall or if it meant he did not have to give any.
"Everybody get behind it and make this thing go," he said. "And if you don't, I'm going to whip you."