The anchorman of the “CBS Evening News” from 1962 to 1981 did his last interview before a Commonwealth Club audience on Feb. 27, 2004 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco.
A link to the 58-minute interview is not on the club’s Web site (or at least we couldn’t find it), but KGO 810 host Ray Taliaferro, who conducted the interview, replayed it early Monday morning. Here are the links (part 1 and part 2), which will disappear in about a week. KGO does not keep replays of its broadcasts up for more than a week. (Hint, hint, download it now if you’re a history buff.)
Taliaferro said that this was Cronkite’s last interview. (Update: Two readers have told us that Cronkite was interviewed after this, by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Feb. 26, 2007 in Universal City, and Nov. 6, 2006 at the University of the Pacific in Stockton). Taliaferro said that Cronkite was asked by the Commonwealth Club to give a speech, but he didn’t want to do that. Instead, he wanted to be interviewed. So Taliaferro, a club board member, was asked to do the interview with little advance notice. (The Chronicle appears to have missed this milestone, reporting it almost a week later on March 2, 2004.)
Cronkite was as sharp as a tack in this interview, though he admitted he was almost deaf. But when he was questioned about a manned mission to Mars, he explained that we had to colonize the moon first, and use it as base for Mars missions.
He also talked about his famous commentary in 1968 against the Vietnam War following the Tet Offensive. He said it wasn’t his idea but rather was convinced by his boss to editorialize about the war in an attempt to bring American together. He said he didn’t find out until later that Lyndon Johnson felt that if he had lost Cronkite, he had lost middle America.
But perhaps the most provocative soundbite from this interview was his endorsement of gay marriage, which came at the very end:
- Taliaferro: Walter, we have just a couple minutes to go. … As you know, there is quite a question about the sanctity of marriage … What is the secret of the longevity of your marriage, 64 years, to Betsy?
Cronkite: I don’t want to take a position on the thing. I think that one of the factors was that we were of different sexes. (Laughter)
Now that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be happy to be married to several friends I had of the same sex. But it never came up in our particular relationship.
I do want to say, seriously, though that I think this position of the president’s (George W. Bush) and of the Christian right conservatives is as about as obnoxious a thing that has ever happened. (Applause drown out his words.)
And I’m not just saying that because I’m in San Francisco. (Laughter.)
But the mere idea, the mere suggestion that people should think that they can invade the private lives of their fellow citizens on a matter of this nature — and even to the extent to an amendment to our Constitution, which violates every principal of this democracy, of freedom of speech and press and personal performance, if you please, in this democracy — that just doesn’t read. It is impossible. It doesn’t hold water. It is being threatened on us, and how devicisive (it will be) in our society.
And one of the things I can’t understand is that these Christian conservatives believe that they can not only dictate to the nation, but dictate to their fellow churchmen. How can they be so audacious about that, when an individual church ought to be able to make that decision (on their own)?
But the idea of enforcing that as a law, gosh, I don’t think Canada can hold all of us.”
(Photo credit: Bill Adams)