Walter Cronkite’s Legendary Gravitas

Being a well-respected journalist, Walter Cronkite was able to make a name for himself in the early stages of his career. His interviews were always honest and fair, leaving no room for doubt about what he would say next.

Approximately 10,000 words Reading time: 45 minutes 

Pietas (duty, religiosity, loyalty), dignitas (dignity, status, influence, prestige), virtus (valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character), and gravitas (gravity) were the four pillars of excellent manhood and worthy leadership in ancient Rome, none of which have a single word in English that fully encapsulates their full meaning (weight, seriousness, dignity, importance).

The final of these four recognized traits is the only one that has survived intact in our current language – we still refer to such and such a guy as possessing true gravitas.

This is most likely not a coincidence, since the attribute covers the other three in many ways and is especially important in times of insecurity, uncertainty, and superficiality. Gravitas was a metaphor for a man’s figurative “heaviness” — a feeling of purpose, sense of authority, depth of character, and devotion to the work at hand, all of which combined to produce a robust structure capable of bearing the weight of his important obligations. A guy of gravitas held a powerful position and utilized his clout to benefit the greater good. His seriousness, his substance, served as a counterweight to all that was fickle, cheap, vulgar, ephemeral, and flighty – currents that have only gotten stronger in Western civilization over time.

Despite the fact that we still use the term gravitas and want for it to be more prevalent in ordinary individuals and public personalities alike, it remains a difficult attribute to define. You’ll recognize it when you see it, just like you would with any other important notion, and it’s simplest to absorb when shown by someone else’s example.

So, who is an excellent gravitas model to study? Walter Cronkite is usually the first person who comes to mind when I think about Walter Cronkite.

Cronkite covered international events for almost six decades as a radio reporter, print writer, television presenter, and special correspondent. But it is for his almost two-decade tenure as anchor of the CBS Evening News that he is best known. His fatherly appearance and authoritative, reassuring voice broadcast into millions of homes throughout America every night for over two decades, soothing families’ pain following JFK’s murder, calming their anxiety when astronauts first landed on the moon, and addressing their worries about Vietnam.

After a study revealed that Cronkite was the most trusted public person in America, he was dubbed “The Most Trusted Man in America.” He was that uncommon character whose name people preface with “Uncle” because his presence was so consistent, his manner so even-keeled, his kindness so genuine and paternal. Uncle Walt was regarded by people of all ages, from WWII GIs to Vietnam demonstrators, and by people on all sides of the political divide. Many people throughout the nation could identify with Jack Paar, a television broadcaster and former adversary of Cronkite, when he said, “I’m not a religious guy.” But I’m a big fan of Walter Cronkite.”

 

What was Uncle Walt’s key to his particular gravitas? Why did his solemn presence have such a calming effect? How did he manage to win the admiration of such a diverse group of people?

Today, we’ll address these concerns and examine Cronkite’s life as a model of the gravitas that every man should aspire to and seek in his leaders.

Gravitas = An Untainted Core of Integrity Surrounded by Tempered Rock Layers

“At a time when everyone looked to be lying — dads, mothers, teachers, presidents, governors, and senators — you [Cronkite] seemed to be telling them the truth night after night.” They didn’t like the truth, but they trusted you when they needed someone to trust them.” –CBS News President Fred Friendly (1964-66)

A contradiction resides at the center of gravity’ nature. The attribute suggests heft and weight, evoking the picture of a rock. And a guy who has this feature — a pillar of integrity established at the center of his character — must have something unyielding about him. Gravitas, on the other hand, cannot be constructed completely of thick, impermeable stone. The link between seriousness and gravitas does not follow a J-curve, but instead approaches a point of decreasing returns over time.

A rigid man becomes more brittle; his rigidity makes him more prone to shatter; his one-dimensionality reduces his weight, increasing his shallowness rather than his substance. A guy who devolves into sheer solemnity, who takes himself too seriously to the point of losing all self-awareness, will ultimately become silly.

The most important takeaway from studying Walter Cronkite’s gravity is this.

His character was defined by a strong sense of honesty and integrity — a moral compass that never strayed — as well as an aura of dignity and gentility. He was polite and even courtly in his demeanor. And this was true of both his on-screen and off-screen personalities; people who knew him said he was the same guy in every setting.

“I found Walter to be a genuine fine, straight-up guy,” Cronkite’s buddy Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead (as we’ll see, his surprise friendship with Hart hints to the fact that Cronkite was more than the serious newsman) remarked of Uncle Walt. My father was a regular thief. Walter grew up to be the father I never had… Walter not only spoke the talk, but he also lived the walk.”

“A type of natural, Calvinist honesty that can’t be created or altered, and definitely not twisted,” according to Texas Monthly.

“He’s exactly the way you imagine he is,” one of his close friends would invariably say when asked what Cronkite was actually like.

When comedian Dick Cavett was charged with roasting him at an event, he confessed that the assignment was tough due to a lack of material to deal with. He addressed the crowd, “I’m taking the easy way out.” “All of the jokes I used at the Mother Teresa roast will be utilized.”

 

Cronkite wasn’t a saint, to be sure. He wasn’t a pillar of seriousness either. And it was this that gave him his special gravity. Other layers of substance surrounded his principled, ethical core, but they were tempered with attributes of lightness, humility, and flexibility, qualities that ironically, as we shall see, contributed to his weight and clout rather than detracted from it.

Let’s look at the two sets of counterbalancing features that must each be present for gravitas to emerge.

Take Your Role/Job Very Seriously…

Walter cronkite at news desk on tv.

“Cronkite can be really passionate, and he takes his broadcasts extremely seriously.” He’s not the kind to have a good time.” Walter Schirra (Walter Schirra)

“There are better authors, reporters, presenters, individuals with better looks, and interviewers than myself.” I’m not sure what I’m trying to say with my plea. It all boils down to some unidentified trait, maybe honest communication. I have a strong feeling of purpose. That may come out as arrogant, but I enjoy the news. The truth is sacrosanct. People, in my opinion, should know as much as possible about the world and the truth. I am concerned about the globe, people, and the future. “Perhaps that comes through.” –Walter Cronkite, in response to a question about his appeal

Gravitas is defined by the weight and depth of one’s intellect, character, and purpose. Gravitas is a quality that a man has when he is faced with significant obligations.

Walter Cronkite’s career as a newscaster was marked by its “heaviness.” He conducted himself as a true professional, with honesty, a strong work ethic, and a drive to do things right. He recognized and appreciated the importance of his position in society, and he worked hard not just to gain more power, but also to direct that power in a beneficial way.

He accomplished this in a number of methods, including:

Have a goal or objective in mind. Cronkite learned journalism skills in economy, efficiency, and most importantly, accuracy from a teacher and former reporter who made an unforgettable effect on the young newsman while he was a high school student and the sports editor of the campus newspaper. “Whenever I was in his company,” Cronkite recalled of this mentor, “I got the feeling he was commanding me to don my armor and belt on my sword and ride off in an endless fight for the truth.”

Cronkite regarded the “fourth estate” industry through equally idealistic glasses throughout the remainder of his life, seeing it as less of a business than a form of civic duty important to the upkeep of a well-functioning democracy. Journalists, he believed, had a significant obligation to serve as a bulwark against tyranny by providing people with impartial, reliable, and well-researched information.

Cronkite thought that the media had to preserve high standards of decency, truth, and intellect in order to achieve this goal. And he regarded his role to achieving that goal as the pinnacle of his long and illustrious career.

Cronkite worked as a reporter in print, radio, and television, all of which were in their infancy at the time. As new media, it was unclear how they would be utilized or what forms and standards the news would take via them. The early news broadcasts on both television and radio tended to be brief and superficial, a simple parroting of the headlines made by the “real” journalists working at the newspapers, and each was welcomed with a considerable measure of not unreasonable cynicism.

 

Cronkite made it his duty to inject print journalism’s long-established norms into these new channels, helping to guide first radio, then television, in a more meaningful direction, after spending over a decade cutting his journalistic teeth as a wire reporter for the United Press.

He attempted to change the stereotype of anchormen as attractive boy ventriloquists who just regurgitate the news that had been collected by paper journalists and provided to them to read in his pioneering position as a television broadcaster. Cronkite insisted on having more control over his broadcasts than his NBC counterparts; as both anchorman and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, he not only voiced the program’s content, but also stayed involved in its gathering and editing, allowing him to push for longer and meatier coverage of important stories.

Cronkite served as a war reporter on the ground in Europe during WWII, and if there was one thing he learned from the experience, it was that the news could be used for good or bad — as a vehicle for authoritarian propaganda or a tool for civic education. Cronkite devoted his life to attempting to reposition journalism, including television journalism, towards the latter goal.

Prioritize ideals above popular opinion. Cronkite’s biographer, Douglas Brinkley, claims that “competitiveness” was the anchorman’s “defining attribute.” He was motivated to make the CBS Evening News the number one evening news show in the nation, and he wanted to be the first to break stories.

At the same time, he was adamant about not allowing a desire for ratings and profit to become a justification for compromising principles.

“Get it first, but get it right first,” he said when it came to breaking news.

As seen by an incident Brinkley relates from Cronkite’s days as a 19-year-old radio reporter, Cronkite took the choice to fiercely adhere to this code from the outset of his career:

“One day, his boss’s wife, Jim Simmons, contacted the station to tell that three firefighters had died in a fire in her area. ‘Get on the air in a flash!’ Simmons ran to Cronkite’s desk. The new city hall is on fire, and three firefighters have just died!’ Cronkite, full of protests and litanies, insisted on calling the fire department personally to double-check the facts. Simmons yelled at Cronkite, ‘You don’t have to check on it.’ ‘My wife informed me on the phone.’ ‘I have to check on it as well,’ Cronkite added, recalling the principles of journalism he learned at San Jacinto High School, The Houston Press, and INS. ‘Are you calling my wife a liar?’ Simmons said of the young Lone Star hotshot, enraged. Cronkite invoked the Standard Model of Professional Journalism when he answered, “No.” ‘I’m not accusing your wife of lying, but I don’t have all the facts.’ Simmons was furious at this point. ‘I’ve told you all you need to know. The new city hall is on fire, and three firefighters have leaped to their deaths.’ With Cronkite adamantly refusing to go on the air, Simmons, enraged, took to the microphone himself. He went on the KCMO airwaves, playing the fool, and improvised a breaking news report on the allegedly burnt fireman. Cronkite’s investigation later revealed that the fire was minimal. There were no fatalities in this incident. Despite this, Cronkite was dismissed the following day by an ego-bruised Simmons.”

 

Rather of being disappointed, the aspiring reporter was pleased of being fired for keeping to his ethical ideals, and he took these values with him throughout his career. Cronkite chose prudence above adulation from then on, even if it meant that another network beat him to a scoop.

Even though it was one of the greatest stories of the century.

The CBS newsroom received information that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by an assassin in Dallas on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. Despite Cronkite’s anxious desire to enter the studio and begin airing the news, the camera would not be ready for at least twenty minutes. So, while the camera was being installed, CBS planned to interrupt As the World Turns with “bumper slides” indicating a news broadcast, over which Cronkite would deliver an audio-only message.

Around 2:00 p.m. EST, fresh bulletins with more information on President Kennedy’s health came in the newsroom.

Cronkite had taken his position at the newsroom’s anchor desk at this time, and the camera was ready. He provided the stream to a reporter from a local Dallas affiliate station, who offered an unauthorized report that JFK was dead; he subsequently repeated this declaration, claiming it came from a reliable source.

Cronkite, on the other hand, did not confirm the claim.

The anchorman then got word that the president had been given the final rites by priests. The news of Kennedy’s death was followed by numerous additional announcements, including one from CBS’ own reporter, Dan Rather. His story was deemed formal enough by CBS Radio News to proclaim the president’s death.

Cronkite, on the other hand, did not.

More “death flashes” poured in over the wire, including reports from one of the priests who had been at JFK’s bedside as well as government sources in Washington, D.C. According to ABC News, such claims were sufficient to formally declare the president’s death.

Cronkite, on the other hand, resisted.

The CBS anchorman did not make the formal news that JFK had dead until 2:38 p.m. EST, when he got a flash from the Associated Press, a source he judged sufficiently authoritative.

Cronkite’s hesitancy in making the announcement stemmed from his belief that facts should be vetted at least three times — and in the case of such a major news, much more than that. Cronkite did not want to contribute to the commotion by broadcasting potentially false information; his duty was to cut through the confusion, not exacerbate it.

Cronkite’s dedication to secrecy was maintained in the days that followed. Cronkite also nixed the idea of airing footage from the blood-soaked operating room where surgeons tried to save Kennedy’s life, which a CBS reporter staged by purchasing a rifle similar to Oswald’s and positioning himself in the same Book Depository window in which the assassin had fired his fatal shots. Both planned stories struck him as extremely dramatic, macabre, inconsiderate to the president’s mourning family, and inadequately noteworthy.

 

Following his retirement as an anchorman in 1981, Cronkite spent the following two decades watching in disbelief as such lurid gimmicks became commonplace on television news broadcasts, and the standards he had fought so hard to establish progressively eroded.

In his later years, he regularly railed against the burgeoning world of “newstainment,” which he defined as the relentless pursuit of ratings and its attendant trafficking in gossip over real facts, feel-good stories over hard news, editorializing over objective coverage, dumbed down snippets over meaty features, and angry shouting over dignified delivery. “What I rail against is the Action news, Eyewitness news,” Cronkite remarked, referring to a “format that lessens the value of the subject itself in favor of presentation.” “Naturally,” the veteran anchorman observed, “nothing of any significance is going to be said in 9.8 seconds.” He also bemoaned the impact of such a format on public discourse, citing how politicians had increasingly begun to speak in soundbites that would play well on such superficial “news” programs.

Cronkite argued that the issue was that contemporary news companies were subject to their stakeholders, who were only driven by profit rather than any feeling of larger public obligation — or any sense of higher purpose.

Walter cronkite working sorting through papers at news desk.

Make sure you finish your assignment. A guy with gravitas doesn’t talk out of his arse; instead, he understands what he’s talking about. Furthermore, he has such a strong grasp of knowledge that he can effectively extract, analyze, and explain crucial facts to others.

Cronkite advised would-be television journalists to “read, read, read” when they asked him for guidance on how to succeed in the industry. He believed that every newscaster should be very well-informed and knowledgeable about a wide range of topics, from politics and science to music and sports. He was an avid reader who was especially knowledgeable about American political history.

Cronkite, on the other hand, focused on military aircraft and aerospace technologies. He chose to make the space race his beat and establish himself as the world’s expert on jets, missiles, and rockets in media. To that end, he solicited information from government sources, accepted the guidance of meteorologists and aeronautical engineers, scouted Cape Canaveral, and even read science fiction novels in order to grasp not just the nuts and bolts of aerospace, but also a vision of its future potential and cultural significance. Cronkite engaged himself in the intricacies of the Apollo 11’s extraordinarily unprecedented voyage to the moon, especially before to its launch. “I’d never seen Dad with such thick binders before,” his kid remarked. “We could all see he was studying like he’d never studied before.”

Walter cronkite at nasa with space engineer.

Cronkite’s autodidactic education gave him such a deep understanding of the mechanics of space-bound rockets that he was able to impart his hard-earned knowledge to the American public — who struggled to grasp the intricacies of this almost miraculous feat of human engineering — in a thoroughly accessible way, despite the fact that he never graduated college (dropping out after his sophomore year) and in fact failed physics while a student at the University of Texas. Even the passengers aboard those spaceships admired this skill. According to astronaut John Glenn,

 

“Space flight was so novel at the time that most people had no idea how to connect to it.” They knew how to move a steering wheel right or left, so they could understand an Indy driver. Walter’s talent was in assisting the general people in comprehending space science. He was a professor. The public’s knowledge of my purpose was largely due to his CBS broadcasts.”

“Cronkite was able to lay down aeronautical ideas for the common American without dumbing them down,” as Brinkley puts it. He was also able to provide explanations on the go, improvising as rockets launched in real time. Cronkite said to the Chicago Daily News in 1965 that his talent stemmed from intensely completing his homework:

 “I don’t try to commit anything to memory, but it always manages to find its way there.” I learn by doing rather than reading. I went to the primary sources and attempted to speak with project participants. I’ve visited McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, Houston, where the astronauts reside, the Martin Company in Baltimore, where the rocket was produced, and NASA’s Goddard Space Center. And I’ve spent this week in Cape Kennedy, talking, taking notes, and reading. Then I sit down and scribble page after page of notes for my background material, arranging them in chronological order — pre-launch, launch, orbit, and so on. Then, when I’ve done all of that, it’s all there in my thoughts.”

Act and look the part. A care for appearance may seem to be diametrically opposed to gravity. Isn’t it, after all, a matter of depth vs. superficiality?

However, gravitas is a feature that only exists in the eyes of others, and externals are the vehicle through which interior values are transmitted. Consider how a doctor’s coat or a police officer’s uniform may improve or detract from the “weight” one desires to express; consider how a doctor’s coat or a police officer’s uniform can help create an appearance of authority. People just do not take a guy seriously when he is dressed like a schlub or an adolescent.

Cronkite came to this view early in his career. He kept his beard well-trimmed, his outfits properly fitted, and his shirts well starched — their French cuffs embroidered with his initials and fastened together by cufflinks intended to appear like the CBS “eye” — to give the gloomy news.

Cronkite purposefully created his demeanor in order to exude seriousness. He understood how to employ tics to achieve a desired impression, whether it was the lowering and lifting of his distinct eyebrows or the removal and replacement of his spectacles.

This was particularly true of Cronkite’s delivery. Uncle Walt taught himself to speak at a deliberate 124 words per minute during his broadcasts, whereas the typical American speaks at 165 words per minute (and rapid talkers at 200 words per minute). This planned rhythm gave his statements more weight and made them simpler to understand for the audience. He also mastered the purposeful pause; rather than feeling compelled to fill every instant of dead air with the sound of his own voice and the clamor of thoughtless criticism, he recognized that quiet might be the most effective seasoning for speech. Cronkite realized that the greatest way to showcase the importance of an event, whether it was an inauguration or a rocket launch, was to let it speak for itself.

 

Cronkite understood how to establish the impression of presence that is so important to gravitas, from his attire to his inflections. “He was a voice shaman,” his buddy Mickey Hart described it. He had a commanding presence. The voice, spectacles, and pipe were all ideal totems.”

…But not you.

Walter cronkite black white smiling.

“Walter had a reputation for being the class clown. We were all laughing because of him. He was serious when he said we couldn’t be too serious about ourselves.” Andy Rooney is one of the most well-known football players in the world.

All of the ways described above that Walter Cronkite took his job/role/influence seriously would not add up to gravitas on their own. Because, as previously said, sheer seriousness has the odd consequence of making a guy seem not uber-heavy, but exceedingly stupid. A man should be devoted to struggling with life’s more serious issues, but if this grappling isn’t accompanied by the capacity to understand and enjoy life’s transience, absurdity, comedy, and pleasure, it’s difficult to take him seriously. It’s difficult to trust a man who can’t seem to see and appreciate a wide swath of the human experience, who can’t see his own foibles, and who doesn’t carry the sense that all things, no matter how seemingly important in the present, will one day pass away; it’s hard to trust a man who can’t seem to see and appreciate a wide swath of the human experience, who can’t see his own foibles, and who The hefty guy sinks like a stone without a smidgeon of lightness.

Consider a current television newscaster on FOX or MSNBC who is likely to be laughing at themselves. You won’t be able to accomplish it. Modern news networks are virtually entirely anchored by people who take themselves too seriously, and so lack gravitas.

Cronkite, on the other hand, didn’t have to worry about being engulfed by his own weight. He was far from an uptight prig, despite the seriousness he brought to his broadcasts; away from the cameras, he projected an effervescence that kept him joyously floating through eight decades of existence, as well as a humility that softened his weightiness.

He followed President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s insightful advice by fostering the following two characteristics: “Always take your work seriously, never yourself.”

Humility. Cronkite, unlike many of his fellow newscasters, never allowed his ego become too big. He was “rigorously unpretentious,” according to Brinkley, and he felt journalism was a serious job, but he didn’t confuse the seriousness of his profession with his own personal importance.

Cronkite’s CBS colleagues dubbed him “the eight-hundred-pound gorilla” because of his size, which enabled him to obtain just much everything he wanted, and because he was undoubtedly one of the most influential men in journalism and culture. But, despite his enormous power and trophy cabinet, he never allowed it get to him; prone to self-deprecation, he was fond of emphasizing that he was “only a newsman” — just a channel for communicating current events. “He was the uncommon TV reporter who never sought to place himself above the news,” Brinkley says. When Cronkite resigned, Kurt Vonnegut penned “A Reluctant Big Shot,” a homage to the anchorman in which the author said, “A subliminal message in every one of his broadcasts was that he had no authority and desired none.”

 

Cronkite’s humility stemmed in part from his acceptance of his own limits. As a college dropout, Cronkite saw himself as a type of artisan, someone who had to work at his job to remain on top, while many other journalists appeared to be carried along by inherent skill and intelligence. “I never spent any time probing my navel,” he said. He adopted a practical, nuts-and-bolts approach to his profession and life, thinking more about how to execute the task at hand than about himself. And I’m sick of folks that do it.”

He was proud of how he had begun at the bottom of the journalistic ladder and worked his way up, and he retained a blue collar attitude toward his profession. In Time magazine, Tom Brokaw wrote of his friend:

“I’ve always got the impression that if someone had tapped him on the shoulder later in life and said, ‘Walter, we’re a bit short-handed this week,’ he would have said something like, ‘Walter, we’re a little short-handed this week.’ Are you available to assist us on the police beat for a few mornings?’ ‘Boy, oh boy, when and where do you want me?’ he would have said.

Cronkite’s down-to-earth demeanor kept him open to criticism; he appreciated it when CBS executives gave him candid feedback, and he insisted on reading all of the mail he received from viewers himself; when such a letter revealed a mistake or a valid point of criticism, Cronkite would write back and apologize. As this example from his biography demonstrates, he was quick to give the same courtesy to the politicians he interviewed on his show:

“When the CBS Evening News misconstrued a remark made by Michigan Governor George W. Romney about the Black Power movement, Cronkite swiftly ate crow. Cronkite responded to Romney’s press spokesman, ‘Your criticism was valid, but our handling of the news was wrong.’ ‘The fact that the news service article that conveyed the Governor’s comments concealed the full language of the important sentence and our writer and editor missed it is neither excuse nor logic. I think we made apologies by requesting an interview with Governor Romney, which was used with the full wording of his comment yesterday.’ ”

Walter cronkite dancing laughing with son in living room.

Possessing a sense of humour and having a good time. Those who only know Cronkite as the buttoned-down CBS anchorman may be surprised by his off-camera demeanor. He was a jovial guy outside of the studio, who enjoyed kids, talking (to the point of calling himself a “hangoutologist”), going out on the town, filthy jokes, and having a good time. Walt had a near-constant “infectious chuckle” that “wasn’t rude, hearty, or even exceptionally loud,” but “simply had that awesome ain’t life somethin’ ring to it,” according to his wife, Brinkley.

Cronkite’s never-ending laughing, like that of his circle of friends, does not suit the public picture of him. Uncle Walt was acquainted with Jann Wenner, the creator and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, as well as Andy Warhol, the artist, and Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead’s former drummer. Cronkite and Hart not only hung around, but also jammed on the drums in the anchorman’s living room on a daily basis. Guests at the Cronkite household were almost always asked to take part in these drumming jamborees.

 

Andy Rooney, another of Cronkite’s buddies, wrote an article in which he praised his fellow newsman’s zeal for life:

“Walter Cronkite is the best Old Master in the art of life that I am aware of.” All day, Walter works and plays at full pace. He observes whales, plays tennis, and spends New Year’s Eve in Vienna. He dances till 2 a.m., cruises alone, and graciously collects accolades. He attends board meetings, delivers jokes, and spends a lot of time on his computers. In time for the Super Bowl, he returns from a cruise aboard the Queen Mary. Walter Cronkite would be 500 pounds if life were fattening.”

To have true gravitas, you must be able to perceive and feel the whole range of human experience; you cannot live with one foot already in the grave. There’s a reason a man like Hitler, while having a serious purpose and values (no matter how wicked), didn’t ooze seriousness, and instead came off as that oddest of creatures – the killjoy clown.

Maintain a steady and reassuring demeanor…

Walter cronkite close up of head face serious look.

“A man sets foot on the moon. A president passes away. Anything. Who do you turn on if you only had the chance to hear it from one individual in the world?

Cronkite.”

–Friendly Fred

“Walter Cronkite’s calm and soothing manner and voice, as well as his inner character, have been reassuring to us all when our country has been in crisis or made errors and there was a risk that our people might respond negatively or even panic on occasion.” –President Jimmy Carter, on the awarding of the Medal of Freedom to Walter Cronkite

In a crisis, whether or not a guy has gravitas is most obviously exposed. If he has it, he rises to the challenge; while others crumble, he maintains his composure – he’s the rock in the storm.

Consider a funeral. In such a scenario, the guy with gravitas maintains his cool; he delivers terrible news with compassionate poise; he unflaggingly takes care of what has to be done; he soothes the bereaved with a minister-like mien; he helps the grieving make sense of what occurred with the sagacity of a wise elder. His is the gravitational pull that binds humans. On every shoulder, his is the healing hand. His presence instills confidence and strength, as well as the sense that life will carry on. People instinctively want to flock around him because he is a human hearth.

Cronkite’s best example of this grounding quality of gravity was undoubtedly his coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Cronkite was charged on November 22, 1963, with creating a televised grief center around which Americans may gather to understand and digest the news surrounding their assassinated president. Cronkite was half sea captain at the helm of his anchor’s desk, navigating the event’s unanticipated waves, and part preacher, symbolically reaching through the screen to offer a calming hand on the nation’s collective shoulder.

 

He was tasked with going through the incoming bulletins in real time, judging which could be trusted, piecing together the many elements of the tale into a coherent narrative, and deciding when to give the final pronouncement of Kennedy’s death.

Cronkite tried to retain his calm as he made the announcement; his eyes wet, his voice tight, he took off his spectacles and glanced first at the audience at home, then at the clock on the wall to capture and position the momentous moment in time. He then continued to provide other information as they were learned, replacing his spectacles and his voice still full with passion.

 

Cronkite subsequently reflected on the broadcast, saying that even though he “knew it was coming,” “it was still hard to say.” For a few seconds, it was touch and go before I could continue.”

He did, however, continue to broadcast for four hours before taking a break to console his family. He then returned to hosting the CBS Evening News as usual, and in the days that followed, he continued to occupy the anchor’s position, providing the nation with marathon periods of unbroken coverage and a consistent, centering presence. His endurance earned him the moniker “Old Iron Pants” among his colleagues, which he only topped later when he remained on the air for twenty-seven of the thirty most critical hours of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon. Cronkite, on the other hand, dismissed any accolades for his perseverance, saying that as a professional, you have a “duty to perform and you do the job.”

When the pressure was on, Cronkite always performed his finest job — always demonstrated his most steady gravity.

…as well as empathic and emotional intelligence

“Walter gets hurt when he hears unpleasant news. Walter gets mortified when the news embarrasses America. Walter grins with comprehension when the news is amusing.” –Friendly Fred

Cronkite’s gravity was shown not only by his ability to restore his calm in the face of devastating news, but also by the fact that he battled to maintain it in the first place.

Gravitas isn’t stoicism in its purest form. A guy formed of impenetrable rock lacks depth and is incapable of providing comfort. It’s not comforting when someone who is completely unfeeling assures you that everything will be OK; his words have no weight since it’s evident he doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation or the loss. It’s akin to Aristotle’s assertion that a reckless guy who is unconcerned about danger cannot really be bold. Receiving encouragement from someone who understands your sorrow, who is experiencing it as well, but is still going on, is comforting. He sympathizes, but is currently able to bear the burden a bit better than you, and so suggests the way ahead.

To a T, that was Cronkite. “He had an antenna sensitive to friends’ anguish,” a buddy said of him. It was an antenna that picked up on the agony of the whole nation. When the cameras were on, Cronkite was a model of calm, but when the cameras were off, he allowed himself to feel things intensely.

 

He left this anchor chair and grieved after the broadcast in which he reported Martin Luther King, Jr.’s killing. He had a similar reaction to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. He dashed out the door as soon as he heard the news at home to get to the CBS studio as soon as possible:

“I dashed for a taxi, buttoning my shirt as I went.” The motorist was listening to his radio. I believe we were both dumbfounded as we listened. We sobbed as we listened to the chaos in the hotel kitchen. We both sobbed, that cabdriver and I. We were in tears. And we didn’t feel bad about it.”

Cronkite wept the hardest when astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee – men he regarded as genuine heroes — perished in the Apollo 1 mission’s pre-launch test.

The mix of stability and emotion, control and compassion makes up the weight of gravitas.

In today’s world, the unfettered expression of emotion is seen as a pillar of psychological well-being. Self-expression reigns supreme. Indeed, some argue that the focus on males maintaining a “stiff upper lip” has harmed our health. However, what is often overlooked about the traditional male control focus is that it was never about not experiencing things or suppressing their expression. Rather, having the capacity to select when and when to express one’s emotions is what a healthy stoicism entails. This notion isn’t valued in modern culture since it is founded on another outdated concept: honor. To be a source of strength and support to friends and family, one temporarily sets one’s own needs aside. Gravitas, therefore, is a generous, voluntary sacrifice, a selfless act of devotion to others.

Be a dissenter…

A guy with gravity has strong beliefs. Cronkite, for one, did. Despite the fact that he was registered as an independent, he was a liberal who was a strong supporter of the different equal rights movements of the day, as well as environmental protection.

…Yet Maintain Objective, Fair-Minded, and Flexible Ability

“In his presentation of news, Walter is so impartial, meticulous, and fair that he has been described — if not immortalized — with the oft-heard line: ‘If Walter says it, it must be so.’” William S. Paley (William S. Paley) (William S. Paley) (W

“Walter wasn’t chosen because he was attractive – he wasn’t. We didn’t choose Walter because a focus group that was attached to a machine palpitated when they saw him. We were on our own back then since they didn’t have anything like that. We chose Walter because he was a true professional, a wonderful reporter, and a newsman who always offered his viewers an honest perspective, regardless of his personal convictions. “It was the appropriate job for me.” –CBS News president Richard S. Salant (1961–64; 1966–79)

Despite Cronkite’s strong convictions, he did not believe a news program was the appropriate venue for them to be expressed. Following the motto, “If the World Goes to Hell in a Handbasket, It’s the Reporter’s Job to Be There and Tell What Color the Handbasket Is,” he saw his role as anchorman as communicator rather than editorializer, and unlike some of his colleagues, he did not use the CBS Evening News platform to campaign for pet causes. His only goal was to educate the general populace. “I tried to hew to the center of the road on television,” he added, “and not display any prejudice or bias in any manner.” He was dubbed “Mr. Center” as a result of this.

 

Cronkite was so good at playing both sides of an argument that the audience was sometimes confused as to what his genuine political views were.

Cronkite was originally disturbed when he received letters accusing him of being prejudiced against Eisenhower or biased against Stevenson after chairing his first Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1952. He wrote to a buddy, “Then I came to a beautiful epiphany.” “They were almost evenly split between those who felt I backed Democrats and those who thought I liked Republicans!” Since then, I’ve followed this rule of thumb: “If the charges remain somewhat balanced, I feel myself to have maintained impartiality.”

If the public couldn’t always tell whose side Cronkite was on, political hopefuls were often perplexed as well. President John F. Kennedy believed Cronkite was a Republican and that he had given him unfair treatment during the 1960 election. President Nixon, on the other hand, who had proclaimed in a recorded discussion in the Oval Office that “the press is the enemy,” often called Cronkite out by name in similar tapes.

Even when Republican presidents were aware of Cronkite’s leftist inclinations, they admired his gravity. For the 3-hour show “Eisenhower on the Presidency,” Eisenhower picked Cronkite to do a series of extensive interviews with him, totaling 13 hours of film. Cronkite was also chosen to broadcast “D-Day Plus 20 Years,” in which the anchorman and former general went to Normandy to capture Ike’s memories of the momentous event. Twenty years later, Reagan, who saw Cronkite as a “pro,” granted him an exclusive interview in Normandy in connection with remarks honoring the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Both Eisenhower and Reagan realized that Cronkite, who had long advocated for June 6th to be recognized as the key anniversary of WWII, and who had, of course, covered the war as a reporter, was the only anchor who could appropriately memorialize the event.

It’s no surprise that, according to Brinkley, “politicians of all shades regarded him the fairest of the national newsmen in an informal poll.” Cronkite tended to give them an honest shake in interviews, according to everyone of significance.”

Cronkite was regarded not just for his consistent impartiality, but also for his affection for prominent personalities with whom he disagreed.

Despite his animosity against Nixon, Cronkite felt no need to kick him when he was down, and not only offered him a dignified send-off on his broadcast, but also publicly lauded him on occasion in the decades leading up to his death – conduct liberal detractors found perplexing and repulsive.

Similarly, although Cronkite praised Bill Clinton’s victory, he felt deep compassion for HW and Barbara Bush, whom he knew well and regarded as “among the best, most patriotic people he knew,” according to Brinkley. Cronkite “suddenly went into an unscripted moment” when he emceed the Kennedy Center Honors a month later, when the lame duck president was in attendance:

 

“At the end of the play, he pointed to President Bush and thanked him profusely.” ‘There’s one more honor to be given tonight,’ he continued, turning to face the president, ‘to a person who has served his nation in war and peace for more than a half-century and has returned to pay homage to America’s performing arts.’ We pay him our respect and thanks, and we thank him for his honorable service to his nation.’ President Bush received a standing ovation, with Cronkite being the last to cease clapping.”

Cronkite-style elegance.

Cronkite’s ability to recognize the good in people on both sides of the political divide extended to his personal circle of friends. Of course, he had liberal friends, but he also had conservative friends like Roger Ailes, John Lehman, and George Shultz, and he went sailing with conservative writer William F. Buckley on a regular basis.

Cronkite didn’t have to work hard to bridge the gap; as Brinkley puts it, “rigid dogma and political correctness bored him.”

Cronkite’s objective, middle-of-the-road position was important in establishing his colossal popularity and commanding presence, as well as the universal trust he had among people of all ages and political stripes. He seemed to many to be refreshingly fair-minded, even-keeled, and capable of delivering facts free of personal views and prejudices.

Non-journalists, of course, are not held to the same degree of neutrality, and even Cronkite became considerably more public about his political views after stepping down as anchor. This lesson in gravity, however, should be remembered by every private individual who aspires to be a leader.

Gravitas and shrill, inflexible partisanship are diametrically opposed. No one wants to confide in an obstinate ideologue, turn to them for consolation, or engage in debate with them since everyone knows precisely what they will say on every topic. They repel and separate people with their ideas wielded like a sword, rather than collecting and uniting them.

To be sure, the impassioned political or social crusader has his own set of qualities and may pull a group of people together. Only gravitas, on the other hand, is capable of uniting a diverse group of people who may otherwise be on opposing sides of a debate.

Though he has strong opinions, a guy with gravitas can see all sides of an issue, appreciate another person’s point of view, be open to compromise, and engage in rational, intelligent argument with people with whom he disagrees. He doesn’t pummel others with his beliefs or even wear them on his sleeve, which is ostensibly a sign of enthusiasm but actually demonstrates an inability to manage his emotions. Because of his reputation for fairness and flexibility, such a guy is highly recognized, loved, and trusted by a broad range of individuals, and his influence and significance skyrocket.

Be firmly rooted and stable…

Young walter cronkite with family at piano.

“With the exception of being straight, honest, and normal, Cronkite is not a genius at anything.” Andy Rooney is one of the most well-known football players in the world.

 

“For a full age, Cronkite was there,” psychologists say, “and this is the greatest compliment to a parent.” –The Washington Star’s David Shribman

In many respects, Walter Cronkite was a true square, as the term was used at the time.

He was raised in Missouri and Texas, and he emanated a heartland-bred, truly nice, down-to-earth personality, as well as a Midwestern, aw-shucks folksiness, which was accentuated by his proclivity for using the words “gosh” and “golly” to punctuate his speech.

Aside from his home room drumming and nightlife adoration, he developed a “lifelong reputation” for being a “business guy” at heart, according to Brinkley. He was a solid, stable man who felt devotion to the organizations in which he worked, was married to his wife for 65 years, had three children, paid attention to the details, dressed for work every day in his suit, and had a talent for management and business-like efficiency. He was hailed as “as solid as a mountain” and “as dependable as the sunlight” by the New York Daily News. His life and career were marked not by a series of scandals or controversies, but by the absence of them.

He despised hippies (“I didn’t like their attitude.”) despite his liberal leanings. Their clothing code bothered me. “I didn’t like any of it,” she says, referring to political correctness or overt demonstrations. He was well-read, but had little knowledge of modern pop culture.

Uncle Walt was a traditionalist. Establishment. Unchanging, at least on the surface.

That isn’t always a negative thing.

Cronkite’s consistency is what gave him gravitas’ omnipresence and pillar-like attributes. He was a human institution, a patriarchal person who seemed to have always existed and would continue to exist. When it’s difficult to envisage your life without him, you know he’s got true gravity.

Stable dependability, on the other hand, does not automatically imply “institutional” status. You probably know a few “squares” who are as dependable as rain but lack gravitas. Only when Constancy symbolizes one side of a double-edged sword, with the other side being substantially edgier, can it activate its gravitas-enhancing characteristics.

…Yet willing to take chances, accept setbacks, and put their money where their mouth is.

Walter cronkite with soldiers in front of airplane.

“Because everyone knew Walter didn’t obtain his tan under the studio lights,” says the narrator. He learned it through being on the scene and hearing tale after story. That’s why you enjoyed working with Walter. He was well aware that the news had not arrived by wire service. That some reporter had to go out there and climb to the top of the city hall steeple to see how tall it was, that some reporter had to go out there and do that. Because he had been there, Walter understood how difficult it was to acquire news.” –Bob Schieffer on why Walter Cronkite was so well-liked.

You would not have imagined Walter Cronkite as a man with “a predilection for dangerous pursuits” or as someone for whom “daring was a crucial aspect of being.” However, that is exactly how Brinkley depicts him.

 

So, what is it about Uncle Walt that you are unfamiliar with?

He spent seven years as a war journalist and foreign reporter stationed in conflict-torn and harsh areas before settling into a domesticated anchorman routine.

Cronkite aspired to be a pilot when World War II broke out, but learned that his color blindness not only prevented him from flying, but also allowed him a medical deferment from any military duty.

Walter could have remained at his position working for the United Press in the United States, but he chose to cover the war from the front lines, and he departed home in 1942 to become a reporter on the front lines of Europe. He had to travel light as a freelance reporter, carrying just a duffel bag and a portable typewriter. The lodgings ranged from basic motels to flea-infested dives to open-air camping.

Cronkite leaped at the opportunity to join the crews of B-17s and B-24 bombers on bombing flights over Germany when the commander of the Eighth Air Force invited eight journalists. Despite the tremendous risk, Cronkite jumped at the chance and successfully lobbied to be picked. He and the rest of the crew, dubbed “The Writing 69th,” had a week of instruction in first aid, parachuting, enemy identification, and even how to fire the plane’s weaponry (despite rules barring non-combatants from carrying a weapon into combat).

Cronkite was entrusted with manning the starboard gun of a Flying Fortress during the actual bombing run, and ended up shooting at a German aircraft during the operation. Cronkite’s first bombing trip, unfortunately for him in terms of gathering firsthand material for his reporting, was also his last – after the B-24 carrying a fellow journalist was shot down on the first run, killing everyone on board, all subsequent missions for the Writing 69th were canceled.

Cronkite went on to cover D-Day, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge, landing in a glider with the 101st Airborne. While most reporters, including the famous Edward R. Murrow, returned to the United States during the war, Cronkite stayed in the middle of the action for more than two years, refusing to return to the “normalcy of hamburger cookouts, Clark Gable matinées, and the Andrews Sisters,” as Brinkley puts it.

Cronkite was sent to cover the Nuremberg trials in Germany at the conclusion of the war, and subsequently became the UP’s principal correspondent in Moscow in 1946. Cronkite’s wife, who had been separated from him for some years, was eventually reunited with him there. They lived together for two years on a tight income in a shabby apartment before returning to the United States to raise a family and begin a more stable life, exhausted from the deprivations of living overseas and Walt’s working seven years without a genuine holiday.

Truth be told, Cronkite never really lost his appetite for adventure or his tolerance for adversity.

 

In 1968, he returned to becoming a war reporter as a 52-year-old broadcasting personality with a large pay and a comfortable lifestyle by heading to Vietnam to explore the fight on the ground. Cronkite traveled to a remote U.S. Marine Corps outpost and began his inquiry without expecting special treatment. “Reporters from the Associated Press, The New York Times, UP, and Reuters were taken aback to witness the famed Cronkite striding through the bombed-out neighborhoods of Hué, gunfire booming nearby, with the calm of a war veteran,” Brinkley writes. He slept on the bare floor of a Vietnamese doctor’s home that had been converted into a pressroom, much like the younger journalists. He ate C rations and went to the toilet, which was overflowing. No one believed he was bigfooting or acting like a bigwig.”

After leaving the CBS Evening News, a 60-year-old Cronkite sought out special jobs that took him all over the globe, from the wilds of Alaska to the Amazon River, where he was chewed on by piranhas after abandoning his motorized dugout boat for a brief dip.

Cronkite actually put his skin in the game for his job from childhood to old age. His moments of stability and predictability would have been labeled as just safe and pedestrian if not for these times of danger and difficulty — an involuntary retreat to routine and comfort done out of fear or lethargy. His steady times, on the other hand, constituted “activated” increases to his gravitas since they were “earned.” They displayed a deliberate choice of dependability — a willingness to get down and dirty and undertake more mundane but necessary job — rather than timidity.

If, on the other hand, a guy just demonstrates a capacity for unending travel and adventure but never shows consistency in a commitment, then his proclivity for risk does not contribute to his gravitas. Extreme sportsmen and explorers may be “cool,” but we seldom consider them “heavy.” They’re often of the flighty (pun intended) kind.

It’s the same idea as “you have to be a man before you can be a gentleman.” If you’ve demonstrated you also have a tougher edge, stability and consistency boost your gravitas. And if you’ve honed your flintier side, you’ll still need to prove that you’re capable of being totally present for something or someone.

Keep an open mind…

Walter cronkite in war zone wearing helmet and vest.

“He was quite curious.” If a vehicle accident occurred and Walter saw it, it would be the first automobile accident he had ever seen. He’d want to know everything.” Bob Schieffer (Bob Schieffer)

Gravitas is built on a foundation of truth, which can only be uncovered via careful sifting and impartial evaluation of facts.

Cronkite’s style was to do just that. He was not a guy who put up with idiots easily. A colleague reporter characterized him as having a “sensitive shit-detector,” while Brinkley comments that “No one understood how to separate the chaff from the grain quite like Cronkite.” He was born with the ability to see through shell games.”

 

The chore of sifting through the facts of what was actually going on in the globe, which Cronkite was obsessed with, was at the heart of this filtering process. One of his favorite slogans was “Find the Facts,” and he couldn’t stop when he was on their tail. He had an insatiable need to get to the bottom of things and discover the truth, and was consumed by a “tyrannical demand for answers,” as Brinkley puts it.

The search would not end once one or two sources had been verified. Cronkite’s early journalistic teachers encouraged him to double-check everything and to hold off on making public statements until confirmation came from the most reputable sources, namely the Associated Press and United Press wire services. Don Hewitt said in his biography, Tell Me a Story, that he “took nothing for granted.” “He picked up the phone and called folks he knew would give him a straight response while also throwing in a couple of details that made his reporting superior to everyone else’s.”

Cronkite’s most well-known fact-finding expedition occurred in 1968, when he traveled to Vietnam in the wake of the Tet Offensive. He had maintained a neutral to favorable perspective of the fight in the early years of the war, and he mostly based his findings on official Pentagon reports. However, what he was hearing from reporters on the ground in Vietnam increasingly contradicted President Johnson’s and the military’s more upbeat remarks. Cronkite wanted to see what was actually going on for himself.

He purposefully avoided attending formal news briefings when he landed in Vietnam, as he had done on a prior tour. Instead, he went into the countryside of South Vietnam, putting himself right in the middle of the battle and making his way to isolated military outposts. “He examined everyone, from children to scarred U.S. troops,” Brinkley says, “like a prosecuting attorney collecting information.” He went on a maritime patrol around Hué to check the surrounding roads. He said he was only following a Journalism 101 rule he learned in high school: “the more information, the better the narrative.”

From his extensive on-the-ground investigation, an image of the war that differed from the one being portrayed at home quickly emerged. Cronkite returned to the United States and published a special broadcast titled “Report from Vietnam: Who, What, When, Where, Why?” in which he famously stated that the US was “mired in a stalemate” rather than winning the war.

Cronkite deviated from his promise to perfect neutrality on this occasion (and he intentionally offered his commentary during the special report, rather than on the CBS Evening News, where objectivity was sacrosanct). He subsequently said, “I did it because I believed it was the journalistically responsible thing to do at the time.”

…But It’s Also Sincere

Walter cronkite with dwight eisenhower at arlington cemetery.

“There’s something sincere in Walter’s manner, demeanor, and even his face and delivery.” –NBC news anchor Chet Huntley

 

“[Cronkite] is as enthralled as a kid with a new kaleidoscope by the unfolding of each day’s news.” Kurt Vonnegut (Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Vonne

Cronkite’s innate skepticism never deteriorated into entrenched cynicism, even if he was a stickler for facts.

Cronkite had a real enthusiasm for some of the subjects he covered, which might have made it difficult for him to maintain impartiality, but he worked hard to improve his gravity overall.

To produce the same impression, skepticism must be coupled with sincerity in the same manner that stability must be interrupted by emotion to reveal true depth. Gravitas’ traits of respect and seriousness — attributes that need a touch of pure awe — are maintained by a streak of genuine excitement.

Cronkite’s unwavering support for the soldiers was largely what saved him from altering his views about Vietnam for so long. Though he had faced peril as a reporter during WWII, it was nothing compared to the dangers faced by troops in the trenches and aircraft crews in the skies, and the experience left him with feelings of shame and humility, as well as an unshakable respect for military personnel.

While this conviction influenced his reporting during WWII, sometimes bordering on patriotic propaganda, and may have influenced his early reporting on Vietnam, it also provided him with the emotional depth required to properly commemorate the aforementioned D-Day anniversaries and connect with the many veterans who attended the events. “It may have been the most sad moment of my career,” Cronkite remarked of walking solemnly with Eisenhower through the 9,000 tombs put up at the American cemetery in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.

When Cronkite returned to Normandy with Reagan twenty years later, “everyone [veterans] wanted to keep shaking Walter’s hand,” a colleague recalled. “The sight of the ancient anchorman returning to Pointe du Hoc drove them to tears.”

Cronkite’s patriotism went beyond the military to the whole nation; he was a proud flag waver. Cronkite was able to fully show his affection for America during the country’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976. “When Cronkite heard ‘Amazing Grace,’ his favorite song, performed on bagpipes that particular Fourth of July from the Mall, he sobbed openly,” according to Brinkley. Uncle Walt poured his heart and soul into his broadcasts commemorating the nation’s 200th birthday, thinking that the event might be “the Great National Healing” and “just what America needed after Vietnam and Watergate.” Cronkite utilized the bicentennial to encourage Americans to feel proud of their nation once again.”

Cronkite’s true zeal and awe for the nation’s space program, on the other hand, was reserved for it. He was a “big booster for NASA,” according to Brinkley, and an advocate for what he dubbed the “conquest of space.” “Of all humankind’s achievements in the twentieth century — and all its gargantuan peccadilloes, for that matter — the one event that will dominate the history books a half-millennium from now will be our escape from our earthly environment and landing on the moon,” Cronkite said.

 

Cronkite still believed in heroes, and he lionized the astronauts who were prepared to undertake that daring escape as brave, modern-day explorers.

His broadcasts of mission launches were imbued with the anchorman’s excitement and amazement for the space program. The launch of a rocket may leave him dumbfounded on one hand, or have him yelling with childish pleasure, “Go, baby, go!” on the other.

 

Cronkite spent many seconds in deep contemplation as the Apollo 11 spacecraft departed Earth, before saying exuberantly, “Oh boy, oh boy, that looks beautiful… The structure is trembling. We’re being buffeted like we’ve gotten used to. What a thrilling experience! On his trip to the Moon, a man! Beautiful.” And when “the Eagle” eventually touched down, Cronkite was overcome with emotion and said, “Oh, boy!”

Cronkite’s genuine joy and adoring awe admirably matched the event’s drama and gravity, while his serious understanding of the spacecraft’s mechanical workings and physical dynamics calmed anxieties with authoritative competence. Together, these qualities helped Uncle Walt defeat his much drier anchor rivals and establish himself as the go-to guide for the millions of people watching the Apollo 11 mission around the world — many of whom didn’t take their gaze away from Old Iron Pants’ face for nearly 30 hours of live coverage.

Yes, Cronkite’s sold-out desire for cosmic exploration precluded him from being completely impartial about the usefulness of the space program, and his youthful enthusiasm for it would seem to distract from the mission’s seriousness on paper. But, once again, a tempering factor, in this instance honesty and heart, added weight and depth to what could otherwise have been a stone and shallow recounting of such momentous events.

Conclusion

Older walter cronkite with tobacco pipe.

If Gravitas is conceived of at all, it’s usually as a monolithic entity. However, although the virtue’s core of integrity must remain unblemished, it is made up of several facets — pairs of attributes that give a necessary balancing to one another. You can’t expect to build gravitas by taking things very seriously. Rather, you must balance seriousness with humor and humility, stoic calm with passion and empathy, skepticism with sincerity, stability with risk, and conviction with flexibility.

Gravitas is a mathematical formula that equates weight to depth. You can’t just increase the weight while disregarding the depth, and the other way around. The first scenario would result in an existence that was similar to that of a flat, hefty stone. The second would be as fragile as a hole. A one-dimensional character is brittle, frail, and prone to fracture in any case.

The guy with perspective and self-awareness, warmth and toughness, reliability and bravery — a man who can handle big duties with intentional seriousness — earns trust and respect… Also, he laughs at himself and life’s ridiculousness.

With such seriousness, a guy can’t just sign off on things with Uncle Walt’s slogan, “And that’s the way it is”…

…but when he says it, people will believe him.

 

…but when he says it, people will believe him.

Source

Douglas Brinkley’s Cronkite