Walter Cronkite had such a profound impact in so many ways that one might overlook an important part of his legacy--his long efforts on behalf of international press freedom and his advocacy on behalf of local journalists around the world. Cronkite was a vital participant in the launch of the Committee to Protect Journalists 28 years ago and, though his title here may have been honorary co-chairman, he was an active force throughout the years.
In 1981, Michael Massing, then executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, and CBS News writer Laurie Nadel formed the Committee to Protect Journalists to fight for the rights of journalists around the world. Dan Rather, who had just taken over from Cronkite as anchor of the CBS Evening News, summoned Nadel into his office demanding to know more about the Committee. Rather not only offered to join the board, he offered to help recruit Cronkite.
Massing and Nadel drafted a letter and sent it through CBS inter-office mail. Cronkite wrote back saying that he didn't generally lend his name to organizations in which he could not play an active role and, given his schedule, he knew he could not be active. But because of the importance of CPJ's mission he would make an exception and serve in an honorary position. But there was nothing honorary about Cronkite's involvement with CPJ.
Not only was Cronkite
In April 1982, for example, after
The next year, when CPJ sought to visit apartheid
Minister of Law and Order Louis La Grange was unabashed
about procedures that clearly lacked due process and indignant that they were
being challenged. Yet later in the meeting,
For Neier, the interaction was a lesson in the power of the
Cronkite's involvement continued through the years. He continued to write letters, host fundraisers, and attend our annual International Press Freedom Awards. In 1995, Cronkite helped persuade Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller to drop charges against Reuters correspondent Aliza Marcus, who faced prison for reporting on counterinsurgency strikes against Kurdish rebels.
In a 2006 interview for our magazine, Dangerous
Assignments, Cronkite recalled CPJ's efforts on behalf of Turkish
journalists: "The committee's long-running efforts to persuade several
consecutive governments in
Michael Massing recalls Cronkite's contributions as invaluable:
In its nearly 30 years, the Committee to Protect Journalists has undergone many changes, growing from a tiny group of volunteers in New York to a global network working on behalf of beleaguered journalists around the world, but throughout its existence one thing has remained constant: Walter Cronkite's position as its honorary chairman.
Walter's association with the organization proved invaluable. Indeed, without it, the Committee might not have survived. His name has remained prominently linked with the Committee's--a seal of integrity and trustworthiness. On the occasion of the Committee's 25th anniversary, Walter appeared at a private dinner held in his honor and attended by executives from national news organizations whose backing CPJ was seeking. He spoke with great feeling about the Committee's work over its first quarter-century and about the gratitude he felt for being associated with it. The real gratitude, of course, is the Committee's, for the unwavering support he showed for its work over all these years. CPJ remains committed to continuing that work in the spirit of the ideals he so faithfully embodied.
As CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger said in remembering Cronkite's enduring contribution to press freedom, "From putting his own life on the line to cover the battlefields of World War II to challenging the 'thugs' who physically harassed his reporters on the floor of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Walter Cronkite knew firsthand the challenges journalists face bringing news to the public, and he never forgot them. Whenever press freedom needed a champion, he was there. We will miss him."