Jon Bowermaster: Walter and Me

While most of my time these days is spent documenting the health of the world's ocean and the lives of people who depend on it, I've had a long and varied career (Rolling Stone editor, National Geographic explorer, TV commercial maker and more). Early on I even had the pleasure of working a long, cold weekend with Mr. Cronkite, which is what the one hundred and thirty five CBS employees who flew into Des Moines for the month of January 1980 to cover the presidential caucuses called him.

I was the editor of the weekly alternative newspaper in Iowa and was hired as Cronkite's aide de camp for four days, handed the keys to a brand new Cadillac and a mobile phone the size of a brief case. CBS, then the nightly news leader, spared no expense covering the first-in-the-nation vote, shipping in a gross of workers, renting the Des Moines Civic Center for its broadcasts and out-spending by double what the candidates were then allowed to spend on the Iowa caucuses ($450,000).

When I picked Cronkite up at the airport he was not alone; he walked off the plane side-by-side with colleague and NBC competitor John Chancellor. "There must be only one plane a day to Des Moines," he joked. Though hidden behind dark glasses, he was recognized immediately. Polls at the time showed him running neck and neck with the Pope as the most trusted man on the planet, others suggested he should run for president himself.

Cronkite's wish was for some old-fashioned reporting, so we spent the afternoon visiting Democrats in their rented headquarters, first Jimmy Carter's, then the usurper Ted Kennedy's. Cronkite was invited to back rooms where he pulled a reporter's notebook out of his suit pocket for off-the-record briefings; between stops he and producer Ernie Leiser would compare notes in the backseat of the Cadillac. ("I'm surprised Carter's still working the phones this late," said Cronkite, "and can you believe what a hick that campaign guy was?")

Early evening found us at the Adventureland Palace on the outskirts of town to watch a Ronald Reagan speech. Chancellor was there too, and the two anchors stood side by side as the front-running governor of California pitched himself. Afterwards Cronkite said it appeared Reagan had "lost the wind from his sail." "He couldn't even read a good speech," he said.

The next morning began early on the stage of the Civic Center, where "Face the Nation" host George Herman was interviewing George H.W. Bush. Afterwards, leaning against vending machines, Cronkite and Bush watched Jimmy Carter on "Meet the Press." In the car afterwards Cronkite would predict the race a shoe-in for Carter and pick Bush over a "tottering" Reagan.

That Sunday afternoon it was the Republican's turn for visits from the King of Television, so we dropped into Reagan and John Connally headquarters' before hitting the Ramada Inn to watch a Howard Baker's stump speech.

Cronkite had considered inviting all of the CBS workers to watch Super Bowl XIV but when he was reminded there were more than 100, he limited it to a half-dozen: A pair of "Evening News" writers, Leiser, statistician Warren Mitofsky (who in the years to come would be credited as the creator of voter sampling used by all the networks), reporter Morton Dean and me. Cronkite sat in a burgundy chair, his feet propped on an ottoman, drank scotch, ate pork rinds and lost $5 to me when the Steelers trounced the Rams 31-19. After the game he was off to play tennis with the governor of Iowa. (He was disgruntled the next morning when the Des Moines Register reported that the governor's doubles team had beaten his twosome "handily." "I don't call 6-4 'handily,' " Cronkite joked.)

Early the next morning, in warmish January temperatures of twenty degrees, he taped stand-ups for the election night show in front of the Iowa capital and spent the afternoon preparing for his 10:30 special. He was a clearly a story while in town, more recognized than most of the presidential candidates, thus sat for interviews several times that day. "I really don't like all the attention," he said later, "I wish we didn't have to work under the kind of structure that makes 'stars' out of anchormen."

The major concern for Cronkite and his team was calling the race first, and correctly. Which they did, at 8:51 CST, Cronkite busting onto air declaring a certain Carter victory and a dead-heat between Bush and Reagan, each with 31 percent of the vote. CBS was the first network to call the races and once off the air Cronkite tipped his hat to Mitofsky.

By 11:30 p.m., Cronkite's duties were over. "We should have stayed at the Hotel Fort Des Moines," he said, "that's where the action is." So that's where we went. Bush was giving his victory speech on the second floor of the hotel (suggesting he now had the "Big Mo") and it was so crowded even Cronkite couldn't squeeze in, nudging past a dour-looking Bob Dole during the effort. Until 2 a.m. we went between bars at the Fort Des Moines and the Hotel Savery, Cronkite smoking a foot-long cigar and drinking scotch. During the course of the night several women asked his friends for the 63-year-old anchorman's room number.

The next morning, the New Hampshire primary just a week away, in the car to the airport Cronkite was still taking satisfaction in CBS's early calls. "Right on top," he said. (Carter trounced Kennedy, capturing 37 percent of the vote to 12 percent; Bush squeaked past Reagan, 31-29.)

"Walter, you know, you really should run for president yourself," said then director of CBS News Burt Benjamin, who'd flown in the day before from Los Angeles.

"Well Burt," came that all-familiar tone, from the back of the car, "I think we'll wait and see how many uncommitteds there are after New Hampshire. And then maybe we'll go after them."

Lou Dobbs: “[L]imp-Minded, Lily-Livered Lefties” Attacked Me Because I Had The “Temerity To Inquire As To Where The Birth Certificate Was” (VIDEO, AUDIO)

On Tuesday, we noted that CNN host Lou Dobbs was doing his part to keep alive the conspiracy theory that President Obama is not an American citizen (AKA the "birther" movement). On Dobbs' radio show, he speculated: "I'm starting to think we have a document issue. You suppose he's un... no, I won't even use the word undocumented, it wouldn't be right."

Today, Dobbs hit back at his critics, calling them "limp-minded, lily-livered lefties" who attacked him only because he "had the temerity to inquire as to where the birth certificate was and why the president of the United States would not turn over that birth certificate to the national media and end the noise." Listen below:

The progressive watchdog group Media Matters today blasted out a press release to reporters charging that "CNN has a very serious Lou Dobbs problem":

CNN has a very serious Lou Dobbs problem on its hands," said Eric Burns, President of Media Matters. "All eyes are on CNN to see how the network will handle a host who has clearly become a stain on its journalistic credibility.

“Nightline” Wins 4th Week In A Row, Letterman Tops “Tonight” For Second Straight Week

The week of July 13 turned out to be something of a historic one for late night TV, as both "Nightline" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" achieved ratings they hadn't reached since the 1990s.

"Nightline" enjoyed its fourth consecutive week with the most total viewers for the first time since 1995. It averaged 3.743 million total viewers, ahead of Letterman's 3.454 million and 2.713 million for "The Tonight Show." "Nightline" grew 21% in total viewership over last year's mark for this week.

"The Late Show" beat Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" for the second straight week for the first time since 1998. "The Tonight Show" also experienced its lowest total viewer ratings since 1991/1992 and lost to "Nightline" in the Adults 25-54 demographic, which is considered a strength for O'Brien.

CBS beat NBC in the 12:30 AM slot as well, with "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" beating "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," 1.478 million to 1.269 million, the largest margin since Fallon took over as host in March.

Andy Rooney Breaks Down At Cronkite Funeral (VIDEO)

Andy Rooney had an emotional moment at Walter Cronkite's funeral Thursday afternoon.

The "60 Minutes" correspondent abruptly ended his eulogy of his friend and CBS colleague as he was overcome with emotion.

"I just feel so terrible about Walter's death that I can hardly say anything," Rooney said. "He's been such a good friend over the years."

Rooney then paused, took a moment, and looked up from the podium and said "Please excuse me. Thank you," and walked off, presumably too overcome to go on.


Dan Brown: He Showed the World Through Teachers’ Eyes: Thank You, Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt, a career teacher, changed an uncountable number of lives, and so many came after his retirement from teaching.

What really goes on in classrooms--the rhythms of the school year, the cutting disappointments, the tiny, redemptive victories-- too often lives and dies in that unique classroom space. In June, the teacher and students scatter with (often well-grounded) faith that they all gained and grew from their shared experience. Then September comes again and it's another hard-fought lap around the track.

Occasionally, though, a teacher can cross over from the all-consuming teaching sphere to tell the tale to the masses. No one in recent memory did this more successfully than Frank McCourt, who passed away this week at 78.

Mr. McCourt, who toiled for nearly three decades in New York City public schools, was an irreverent and brilliant English teacher. He argued that everyone's stories had value, and that everything--even something as seemingly banal as a grocery list-- could be perceived as a work of art. His students benefited from his embracing, open-minded style, and his unbridled passion for Shakespeare.

However, perhaps Frank McCourt's greatest contribution to teaching came after he retired, when he published three autobiographical books. The first and by far most widely read and celebrated, Angela's Ashes, is a masterpiece in its own right. His recounting of growing up in dire poverty in the lanes of Limerick, Ireland is unforgettable. However, his latter two volumes, 'Tis and Teacher Man, sent authentic classroom narratives to mass audiences, a truly rare and important feat.

On the most fundamental level, learning someone's stories is the most direct path to building empathy, a resource which is always in need. Mr. McCourt's deeply personal books have contributed to filling an empathy void for teachers in a mainstream media culture that feasts on scandal and reductive stat-crunching. Too few genuine classroom narratives break through to broad audiences, but Frank McCourt bust the dam wide open. In achieving this, Mr. McCourt, while creating his works of art, performed a great service to educators, students, and parents.

His legacy of telling the teaching tale lives; he inspired me, as well as countless others, to step out of our isolated classrooms and share with the world the great human drama playing out in schools every day. The reflection demanded by the writer, and the discourse activated with the reader are important and enriching. Thank you, Mr. McCourt.

Dan Brown is a teacher in Washington, D.C. and the author of the memoir The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle. His book would not exist without the author's reading of Frank McCourt's 'Tis during his first year teaching.

This is an NPR Fresh Air interview between Frank McCourt and Terry Gross in 1996, following the release of Angela's Ashes.