Journalists honor Walter Cronkite's legacy
© Courtesy of The Newseum

The nation's top journalists gathered Thursday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Walter Cronkite's legacy on what would have been his 100th birthday.

The Cronkite Century Celebration featured a panel including CBS News contributor Bob Schieffer, “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley, “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl and “PBS NewsHour” anchor Gwen Ifill, with former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. moderating.

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They agreed that Cronkite's legacy was a unique one and that today's reporters are still "striving" to obtain the trust the iconic journalist had during his career.

Cronkite “never tried to come off as someone who knew more about something than the people he was reporting for. He left the impression that he was just as interested in the news as the people that turned it on that night,” said Schieffer.

Pelley said Cronkite was constantly looking to learn more, remembering he was “a reporter — first, last, and always.”

Stahl recalled Cronkite telling “the most vile dirty joke” to her at a dinner party, during the beginning of her own journalism career. She didn't share the joke with the audience, but added, “After he told it, he said, ‘I call that my clear the room joke.’”

The night wasn't just about Cronkite, who passed away in 2009, and his imposing legacy. The panelists couldn't steer away from the 2016 elections.

Stahl told the crowd she sees no problem with reporters fact-checking candidates.

“If they lie, our role is to tell the truth — the truth is you lied,” Stahl said. “I think it should be part of our reporting, and we shouldn’t be afraid to step out in front of it, including the anchorman, if it’s just not true.”

Pelley cautioned that inserting opinion into journalism is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

“There’s a difference between pursuing the truth and the facts and laying them all out there, good, bad or indifferent, and pressing a viewpoint that you have coming into the story,” he said. 

Ifill also stressed the importance of making sure viewers got the truth.

“We spend a lot of time trying to say, ‘Well she lies and he lies,’" Ifill said. “Well one of them is lying a little more.”

Ifill also praised NBC's Lester Holt for his work on Monday moderating the first 2016 presidential debate. She said he did his job in knowing “when to ask a pointed question and when to sit back and let them engage.”

“The reason why the debates are important, and why it’s important who’s on that stage asking those questions, is not because of the personalities asking the questions,” Ifill said. “It’s because of the answers they elicit from the candidates.

“And whenever we get caught up talking about what the questions are, we forget that the reason why Walter Cronkite turned conversations with him on the street in to interviews, is because that was his way of reporting, that was his way of getting to know more.” she said.

The writer is a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which co-hosted the event.