Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Walter Cronkite and My Mother

cronkite and mom.jpg
This photo has been running in newspapers and on websites throughout the country along with stories about legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite. The caption says it’s Cronkite and someone named Sandra Nemser broadcasting the CBS radio show Answer Please in 1958.
The caption doesn’t say who Sandra Nemser is, but I know: that’s my mother. In fact, that photo is one that we had hanging on the living room wall when I was growing up.
Through all of our childhood, mom, who later became Sandra Waldman, was blasé about her association with Cronkite. “Oh it was very early in his career.”
But of course as kids, my brother and I thirsted for any bits of information mom could give us about Cronkite during those early radio days. What was he like? “Very professional, very smart, and extremely friendly and nice,” she recalled this weekend. The daily show ran on the CBS radio network at 6 pm (as best she can remember), answering reader questions about the news.
Though my mom lost touch with Cronkite over the years, they were colleagues at the time of her marriage to my father. Cronkite was the witness at their wedding. This led to some interesting family speculation about one arcane matter of Judaism. As I recall, when orthodox rabbis started exerting more control in Israel some time in the 1970s, they frowned upon marriages that didn’t follow proper Jewish procedures. Orthodox Rabbis were needed, and certainly the key witnesses to the wedding had to be Jewish.
We thought: what a fun test case we would make! Let’s take my parent’s Jewish wedding certificate to Israel and dare them to declare that it was invalid because the witness wasn’t Jewish — just go ahead and say that the Most Trusted Man in America wasn’t good enough for this marriage!
When I see this familiar photo, though, my stronger emotions are not about Cronkite but about my mother. We were always intensely proud that she was pioneering journalist at a time when few women were. Before CBS, she worked Associated Press, in Boston and at the United Nations. Though she eventually left that profession, she never stopped teaching me good journalism’s core values.
Mom, like Cronkite, practiced journalism in an era when commentators didn’t sniff at the notion of “objectivity.” Nowadays, some bloggers and advocacy journalists declare, “there’s no such thing as objectivity” and chide reporters who practice brainless evenhandedness. My sense is that most old timers had no illusions that objectivity was achievable in the purest sense but they believed that they had a moral obligation to aspire toward objectvity and fairness. That was just what mainstream journalism meant, and if you didn’t think it was important to try, you had no business being that kind of journalist.
Thank you mom, and Walter, for teaching me what great, classic journalism is.

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posted July 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Everybody must be presumed to be Jewish, until proven otherwise. So Walter Cronkite is presumed to be Jewish!!

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posted July 23, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Steve–This is so cool! What a remarkable heritage for your family, and what an amazing mother you have. She looks a lot like you (or you like her).

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posted July 26, 2009 at 10:51 am

when i was little my dad made us sit together and watch walter on the news. thank u for today tomorrow and yesterday. when dad came back from vietnam he would watch him once, sometimes twice a day. now that they are both gone, i miss them so much. walter was a part of my life. thank u so much for life u gave me.

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AR Hogan

posted June 22, 2011 at 7:28 pm

An NYC taxicab driver, after offering a Jewish holiday greeting, once insisted to Walter Cronkite that the CBS News correspondent HAD to be Jewish, and would not be persuaded otherwise. Thank you for this nice anecdote.

I am a science joiurnalist–inspired by Mr. Cronkite as a young lad–on an extended health leave from a PhD program for which I am putting together a dissertation on TV space coverage, especially by CBS News. During my “down time,” I am among other things managing to assemble a detailed “broadcastography” of Mr. Cronkite for Prof. Douglas Brinkley’s forthcoming definitive biography book on Mr. Cronkite. I am wondering if you can supply any more details about “Answer, Please”–schedule of day(s) broadcast, length, when it debuted and ended, the program format, was it done live, and so on. It seems to have started circa late January 1958, from what I have learned. I presume it probably always originated from NYC. Did your Mother work for CBS News? Interestingly, a good many of the top people who worked with Mr. Cronkite at CBS News were/are Jewish–Joel Banow and Joan Richman, for examples.

I sent Prof. Brinkley a link to the photo and your related posting.

Shalom and mazeltov, AR Hogan, 301-277-7152

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Charlotte Siegel

posted December 21, 2011 at 8:48 am

Through the most circuitous, convoluted way, I found your blog entry.
Your mother and I were at NYU back in the early 50’s and both of us spent quite a lot of time on 3rd Floor South, which housed the offices of the NYU newspaper as well as those of various service organizations. I remember her as being brilliant, energetic, and very much a presence even in those early college years. I thoroughly enjoyed your article.

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