broadcaster Walter Cronkite shared his views on America, some of
its major historic events of the last 50 years, and the War in Iraq,
and former presidential adviser David Gergen did the same in a number
of special events at Elon University April 8. Here's how the busy
on campus first, presiding over a fascinating question-and-answer
session in Whitley Auditorium at which he shared anecdotes and insider
insights about his years as an adviser to four American presidents
with students and faculty members.
nearly won the war; the question is, can we win the peace?"
he said in response to a question about the current conflict in
Iraq. The Middle East, he added, is "always full of surprises. Our
troops have done extraordinarily well," he said. "It has been an
extraordinary success and is about to conclude. The issue now is
can we do as well as the end of World War II? We're much better
at war, technology and power. Political management is hard."
He told a yarn
about his days as an adviser to President Clinton, just after George
H.W. Bush had left the presidency. There had been an attempt to
take the former president's life as he visited Kuwait just after
the Gulf War. Clinton had promised retribution, and he and his advisers
decided to fire cruise missiles at a target south of Baghdad. The
key method they had to rely upon in determining if the missile strikes
were successful was watching CNN. "We watched CNN, and they
showed nothing - just fashion stuff, things like that," said
Gergen. Clinton had a plan to address the nation live on television
about the U.S. retaliation once he was certain the strike had been
successful. He was counting on CNN, and with no journalists reporting
from Iraq on TV he had no way to tell. Gergen called his friend
CNN chief Tom Johnson in Atlanta and asked him if there was "anything
happening around Baghdad." Johnson informed Gergen that CNN
had pulled its correspondents out of Iraq. There was a bit of a
scramble, and just before Clinton's window of opportunity to address
the nation on TV was about to close, a satellite picture showed
enough evidence for him to go ahead and address the nation about
the attack. Gergen's point was made: the U.S. government counts
on the media for information, just as its people do. He added that
this is evident in the embedded correspondents feeding live reports
of the arrival of troops in Baghdad in what some are calling Gulf
"Do we understand
the rest of the world the way we should or do we only understand
the American perspective?" he said to his Q-A audience. "We need
to understand what the rest of the world is thinking." He encouraged
students to travel often and learn other cultures.
live chat with al-Jazeera
Gergen's arrival, the Arab television network al-Jazeera contacted
Elon officials to arrange a satellite interview with Gergen from
Elon's campus. J. McMerty, coordinator of student television, quickly
made arrangements for studio space and lighting in McEwen television
Studio A. An area Fox News affiliate provided a microwave truck
and a satellite uplink. All the pieces were in place for the 15-minute
broadcast, from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. Al-Jazeera mentioned Gergen was
at Elon University during the broadcast.
legend arrives with a twinkle in his eye
86,was the benevolent superstar at an afternoon press conference
that packed McEwen Studio B to maximum capacity. His eyes twinkled
as he addressed an audience there that included media representatives
from newspapers and TV and radio stations based in Raleigh, Greensboro,
Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Burlington.
said the media is doing well in its war coverage, saying that "Most
- not all - of the reporting has been exceptional." He said
the correspondents who are embedded with the U.S. military forces
are getting the kind of inside view that is necessary to convey
the feeling for the war, but "we're still not seeing blood-letting,
which is an essential part of seeing the horror of war, why we shouldn't
be in war. You have to see the bodies, and we have been spared that."
been voicing his opposition to war in Iraq for some time now, appearing
on CNN's "Larry King" and in other venues to express his
point of view. "I have not changed my mind one iota,"
he said. "We should not be in Iraq without United Nations support."
press conference, Cronkite met with students and faculty members
to chat and pose for photographs, then devoted a significant amount
of time to a special interview he taped with Elon School of Communications
students who are completing a documentary series on the reporters
who covered the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
interviews Cronkite for a packed house
The main event
of the day was "A Conversation with Walter Cronkite,"
at 6:30 p.m. in Koury Auditorium. A sell-out crowd witnessed a wandering
chat led by gracious interviewer Gergen during which Cronkite told
yarns about his days covering the events of World War II, sounded
out a warning that today's TV news has become too shallow and entertainment-oriented,
and voiced his disapproval at the "arrogance" of the American
government in choosing to send its military to Iraq.
spoke with Gergen for more than an hour before an intimate crowd
of 2,900, sharing tales from his days as a United Press International
correspondent in World War II, where he honed his field reporting
"I came back
as one of UPI's best reporters," Cronkite said. "I had a great story;
you couldn't do anything wrong with it." His next journey into battle
would come during the Vietnam War, when millions of Americans relied
on CBS news anchor "Uncle Walter" to tell them "the way it
is." He traveled to Vietnam himself, to get as close as he
could to some sort of "truth" about the conflict.
were terribly confused about that war," he said. When Cronkite returned,
he shared his opinion in a special editorial segment on television
in which he said the U.S. would not win the war; it would end in
a stalemate. Many historians believe Cronkite's opinion was a major
factor in President Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run for re-election
tried to be in the middle of the road with our coverage of Vietnam,"
Cronkite said. "We got a lot of mail criticizing our coverage, but
we always kept two bags of mail, one with the letters praising our
coverage, and the other with the letters against it. I always thought
if those two bags weighed about the same, then we were doing a pretty
Asked to reflect
on some of the U.S. presidents he covered, Cronkite discussed John
F. Kennedy's ascension from the Senate to the Oval Office. "I liked
Kennedy as a senator quite a lot, but then as he got into the presidential
race, I began to understand what others had told me, that there
was a Kennedy arrogance."
But when Kennedy
was assassinated in 1963, Cronkite nearly broke down on live television
as he delivered the news to a stunned nation. He said Kennedy's
assassination "was an exclamation point to the worst decade we've
had in this country, except perhaps for the Civil War."
had high praise for President Johnson, who abandoned his segregationist
stance once elected to the White House. "I admired LBJ. Here was
a man who was a Southwesterner, a Texan, who led the fight to maintain
segregation until he became president of all the people," Cronkite
said. "I thought that political courage, to change his field, was
the likes of which we have seldom seen."
WRAL-TV of Raleigh covered the event and aired a package that included
footage of Elon School of Communications students taping their Civil
Rights interview with Cronkite. WRAL relayed the package to the
CBS national news feed, and the story from Elon was aired on stations
across the United States, including KYW-TV, Philadelphia; WUSA-TV,
Washington, D.C.; WTKR-TV, Norfolk; WOFL-TV, Orlando; WBTV-TV, Charlotte;
WBNS-TV, Columbus, Ohio; and KSAZ-TV, Phoenix.