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December 10, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Author of “Cronkite”

  |   Video
  • A discussion about “the most trusted man in America” with Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University and author of the book “Cronkite”.
  • Douglas Brinkley - Author, "Cronkite"
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: cronkite, author, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Walter Cronkite was a regular and welcomed guest in the living rooms of many Americans during the 1960s and '70s, but few got -- Who got their news from the most trusted man in America knew much about Cronkite’s life. Author and historian Douglas Brinkley has written a biography of Walter Cronkite, the book chronicles the life and career of a journalist whose personal philosophy according to Brinkley, had a huge impact on public policy. Joining us now is historian Douglas Brinkley. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Douglas Brinkley: It's a privilege to be here.

Ted Simons: This is quite a biography, and it's a biography after very public figure that while we don't -- A lot of us don't know much about him, we think we do because he was in our living rooms so often.

Douglas Brinkley: And we called him Uncle Walter. He was really a pioneer of television broadcasting. I argue along with Edward R. Murrow, that it's Cronkite got on TV in 1950, and stayed on until '81. In '81 the internet exploded, cable television, but from '50-81, when Cronkite was working for CBS news, that was all you got, some places only got CBS and some NBC and ABC, but it was the big three at best, and Cronkite was the dominant figure. So I wanted to look at American history through Cronkite, Watergate, on and on.

Ted Simons: How do you find, though, something new about an icon like this? Where did you go for information?

Douglas Brinkley: Excellent question. All of Walter Cronkite's papers were donated to the Brisco Center at the University of Texas. He was a drop out there. He was there for two years and his big love was here in Phoenix working with Arizona State University, building this extraordinary journalism school. That became his passion later in life, but he gave his papers, by that I mean diary and photos and all, to his quasi alma mater U.T. So I was the first scholar to go through all that material, which helped me write the book, and I interviewed everybody, from Neil Armstrong to john Glen, to Andy Rooney, to Barbara Walters, just a host of people to get the portrait I wanted, including all three of Walter Cronkite's children.

Ted Simons: What kind of guy was Walter Cronkite? Was he curious, was he optimistic? Who was the guy?

Douglas Brinkley: Both. Hugely curious. I would say that's his -- the number one word I'd put for Walter Cronkite. He would ask anybody anything. Where are you from, where -- Great reporter that way. Then he learned early on the old fashioned, you know, who, what, where, when, and why, the five W’s of journalism. He started as a print reporter, and in the wire service you had to get to the crux of the story. So Cronkite wasn't just a broadcaster on TV, during the World War II he had embedded with the eighth Air Force and was at the battle of the bulge and D-day, he opened up united press bureaus in Belgium, he was there at the Nuremberg trials. So by the time he found television, he has all of these clipping and all these great street credentials as a real gumshoe reporter.

Ted Simons: As far as the guy personally, it sounds like he might have been tight with the dollar? Might have enjoyed a drink or two now and then? Again, maybe enjoyed jokes that people would be surprised that Walter Cronkite would enjoy? He was a human being, after all.

Douglas Brinkley: Very much a human being. Loved cocktail hour, as you mentioned, and was unbelievably frugal. He wouldn't pick up tip. Part of it was growing up poor during the great depression. His father was an alcoholic and his mother raised him, they had a shoestring budget. He was very frugal, but he took it to hyper frugality with his money. And dirty jokes was part of his stock and trade. He loved the illicit joke that you could do to disarm people. I think that kind of humor, everybody thought oh, my gosh, Walter Cronkite. One dirty joke made people realize he was no different than somebody working in a restaurant or giving him a cab ride.

Ted Simons: I know he says he refers to himself as a ham. How much of an ego did he -- Was it out of bounds, in control, was he more humbled than people would realize? Where was that ego?

Douglas Brinkley: He was extremely humble, had no sense of elitism. He did have a big ego, and had sharp elbows. He recognized that in TV, the key was face time. That a lot of people won't even remember what we're talking about now, but they'll see you on the street and say "I saw you on that show! Good job!" So he was an air hog. He liked to stay on. He wasn't good at the toss, turning it over to somebody else. On the other hand, he compensated for this impeccable ability to not make mistakes. He would not go on air if he didn't have a triple source. So you detective get these retractions like you do today. So he was sort of a gold standard and people picked up on that with the Kennedy assassination, when he took the glasses off and looked at the clock and guided us through that tragedy in Dallas for that whole long weekend.

Ted Simons: You mentioned I think one of your quotes was I've never come across a man as hyper competitive as Cronkite, yet he seemed to be as so many journalists are, always worried about unemployment, even Walter Cronkite.

Douglas Brinkley: Always.

Douglas Brinkley: The unemployment factor was big. It gave him great depression because he didn't know what his job was at CBS in the 1950s. Edward R. Murrow was the big guy, TV was new, it used to be in a broom closet. His first job at CBS in Washington, DC, it was just Cronkite and a little camera. They had 4,000 people watching and he had to get his own sponsor. And nobody knew TV was going to be what it was in '51, '52. But they gave -- MURROW didn't want the conventions and Cronkite covered political conventions, gavel-to-gavel. And he did it in '52, '56, and he started carving out a niche as a go-to guy on American political history.

Ted Simons: And he -- Many respects he invented TV news to a great degree, don't you --

Douglas Brinkley: Yes. He invented that half hour news format that all local news does. He's the patron saint really of local news. They all love him around the country, not just CBS affiliates, but more than that, he's the one that turned television into being able to carry out these long dramas and follow -- Once he went from 15-minute news to 30, you could cover civil rights on the back end, Vietnam war, earth day, all these other things. So CBS during Cronkite's heyday would follow a story and it would affect history. Martin Luther King would do things, where is the CBS camera? So I can get on the Cronkite show and I'm reaching that kind of box office.

Ted Simons: That's interesting, you mentioned civil rights and women's rights, and Vietnam, and ecology and all these things, but you also mention that he seemed to have a knack for the next big thing. He seemed to know are that these things were going to hit. We better get on board this first. Was that a talent, luck? What was that?

Douglas Brinkley: Talent. There's always an element in luck in life. In World War II I mentioned he was in Europe, he had embedded with military aviation. Well, '57 the Soviet sent Sputnik up, NASA gets created, and Cronkite had a Rolodex filled with Air Force contacts. He got down to mosquito-laden cape Canaveral, Florida to watch these rockets shoot out of the ground and he recognized space is the future and also satellites. And also doing the feeds from here to Europe through telestar. Just as Kennedy learned how to use TV as medium, Cronkite knew to do it too. They're very attached on a lot of things, not just the assassination or space.

Ted Simons: I know you wrote his personal philosophy had a huge impact on public policy. Some would debate whether that's a good thing, but the fact is, he didn't just -- he wasn't just there for all these things. He impacted all of these stories.

Douglas Brinkley: Look, he had to be Mr. Center back in those days. You had to be the objective journalist down the middle. In truth, he was a new deal FDR democrat personally. But he did not want that to bleed into the nightly news. And he did an extraordinarily job of not showing his hand. Why? Because sponsors, many CBS affiliates were conservative owned. So he had to do this tricky balancing act. I talked to a lot of old-time conservative owners of CBS affiliates, Republican owners and said, we'd be mad at Walter for running something, but he'd show up and we'd go out for lunch, and we just couldn't dislike him. And that was part of his charm. It was very hard to find anybody that had attention with him except Dan rather and a few other names, but basically everybody loved Walter Cronkite. He was a nice guy to be around.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though he called himself a reluctant big shot, but you mentioned Dan rather, Edward R MURROW, it sounds like there was tension there as well. It just -- I think about the Vietnam -- Why in the world didn't the country turn against Walter Cronkite as opposed to turning against the Vietnam effort?

Douglas Brinkley: It's a little bit of a longer story, but I will tell you, Cronkite worried about that. He did a nightly news program, saying basically it's the best to stalemate, we need to get out of Vietnam. That was in February, February 27th, 1968. The fear was all of this conservatives and pro-Warhawks would turn on CBS. Instead, Lyndon Johnson steps down a few weeks later and the Republicans, Goldwater Republicans said, you know, Walter is helping us, he's criticizing Johnson's Vietnam policy, so it's sort of -- They were defanged. And the liberals thought, yeah, you're right, so the people that were left to complain were some kind of conservative democrats that were for Hubert Humphrey, a small group of people. So he was able not just to get around that, but by the end of 1968, Richard Nixon and Walter Cronkite were the two kind of Titans that had survived that year.

Ted Simons: As far as what you had expected when you started the book and what you got when the thing was finally done, did anything surprise you?

Douglas Brinkley: I was surprised how much I liked him. He just grows on you all the time because of that humor and the jokes, and how much of it. And everybody has that I interviewed had a Walter Cronkite joke. Also got a little melancholy for the era of where today where entertainment is news, what Lindsay Lohan does, or this is -- Cher's got a new boyfriend or whatever it is. It gets equal coverage of Afghanistan, or what's going on, you know, in Libya. And that saddens me. I think there's been a decline in news standards on broadcast news. Not on a program like this, not on LEHR news Jose Herrera, PBS, certainly not -- Even the half hour news broadcasts are pretty good, but the cable in some ways has cheapened news delivery.

Ted Simons: We've got about 30 seconds. How would a Walter Cronkite, a young Walter Cronkite fit into this environment?

Douglas Brinkley: He would have to -- I am going to talk, I am talking at the Cronkite School. You've got to want it, and you got to do like Walter Cronkite did, be willing to not make a lot of money, believe journalism is a calling and get out there and get your own beat. Follow something if it's climate change, get into it, if it's immigration reform, get into it. So your name gets known, you start getting your clippings, now the clippings are blogs or things online, internet. But get your byline throughout and make sure you can stand by the facts in the article.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Congratulations on the book. Thank you so much for joining us.

Douglas Brinkley: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

Ted Simons: Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll learn about the every controversial killing of the only known Jaguar in the United States. That's Tuesday evening, 5:30 and again at 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Phoenix City Manager Pay Raise

  |   Video
  • The Phoenix City Council recently voted to give City Manager David Cavazos a $78,000 pay increase. Arizona Republic Columnist Laurie Roberts explains why she thinks the 33% pay raise should be reconsidered.
  • Laurie Roberts - Columnist, The Arizona Republic
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, money, phoenix, city manager, raise, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: The Phoenix city council recently voted to give city manager David Cavazos a $78,000-a year raise. That's a salary increase of 33%, and it's led to quite a bit of controversy. Among those, none too pleased with the pay increase, is Laurie Roberts, a columnist for "The Arizona Republic." Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Laurie Roberts: Glad to be here.

Ted Simons: OK. Let's get some facts out here. A 33% raise, takes him to what?

Laurie Roberts: His raise will take him to $315,000 a year in base pay. But don't forget, he also as one of the executives in the city, has a deferred pay program, which is based on a percentage of his base pay. So it will also mean an additional $8600 maybe give or take $50 in there, about $8600 more in deferred pay. It is really more like a raise of my math is not that good, journalist here, $86,000 total. That's the amount of the increase.

Ted Simons: And this doesn't include, we have a car allowance as well?

Laurie Roberts: He gets $600 a month in a car allowance, about $7200 a year. A yearly longevity bonus.

Ted Simons: What does that mean?

Laurie Roberts: That's what they say when you're at the top of your pay scale and they can't give you any more, though I didn't know a city manager evidently is never at the top of his pay scale, but for other employees, for mere staffers, they will give them a once a year bonus what they call a longevity bonus to keep you. So you don't -- Once you've topped out. He gets a $4,000 longevity bonus, the $7200 car allowance and now with this raise it will be about a deferred paid plan of about $35,000 a year.

Ted Simons: OK. Why do you think this pay raise is wrong?

Laurie Roberts: I think it's wrong on a couple of levels. A couple years ago the city employee groups were all asked to take pay and benefit cuts totaling 3.2%, and they went along with that to help the city because they had budget problems. Things got better about half of that was increased. But they still haven't gotten the rest of that back of the it seems wrong to me you're giving raises of this magnitude when you have not yet restored fully the pay and benefits of your employees. The people you and I see on the streets, the guy that picks up the garbage, the person who fills the potholes. The police officer that comes when I call 9-1-1. Let's make those people whole first. Secondly, the city of Phoenix, if you remember, told the city's citizens they were going to pay a 2% food tax. Until you get rid of that food tax, you have no business, none, giving a raise of this magnitude.

Ted Simons: OK. The city says Mr. Cavazos's reforms have already saved the city about $59 million.

Laurie Roberts: That is apparently true. And I say good for him that. Was his job. Good for you, you did it and you did it well.

Ted Simons: And the same thing with now your editorial board, the paper came out with an editorial saying that Cavazos's earned this increase because he led the city from a multimillion dollar deficit to a surplus and that he met performance goals, and that's how you deal with these things.

Laurie Roberts: I might add that I don't think he led them alone. I think there were a few rank and file employees right there with him doing what they could. I have no criticism of Mr. Cavazos's -- The way he does his job. My problem is with the scope and scale and the sheer magnitude of this raise. Keep in mind, the average -- The median household income in the city of Phoenix is just under $44,000 a year. His raise, the increase that he got is twice that. It's just unbelievable.

Ted Simons: So for those like the city, like the "republic" editorial board who say you have to pay these people commensurate with what they could maybe find on the open market, or at least pay them what they're worth in order to keep good people.

Laurie Roberts: Then I say let him go test that open market. See how many jobs out there offer this sort of pay and benefits. And remember, not -- We didn't even talk about this, but along with this pay increase that will boost his year -- His lifetime pension. By a great deal. Tell me another place other than CEO of a major corporation where you're going to get that kind of money. If he needs to test the market he should test it. I would certainly say in better times, when there's no food tax, when you're not taxing people for their groceries, when employees have been made whole, then there's a time to say are we paying a competitive rate to keep this guy? Certainly I think we should pay a competitive rate. But we're going to be paying more than to my knowledge, any other city with this form of government with a council city manager form of government, other than San Antonio.

Ted Simons: So you see this both as the wrong move at the wrong time, A, and B, maybe a little bit of tone deafness going on here?

Laurie Roberts: Complete lack of tone deafness. One of the things they told me -- I even underestimated these people. That's hard for me to do. Last week Sal Diciccio, I asked, when did this pay raise take effect? He said it takes effect in July. I assumed they meant the coming fiscal year July 1. No. They made it retroactive to July of 2012.

Ted Simons: I was not aware of that. Interesting. Another argument is, yes, he could test the open market, but if he were to leave, the cost of replacing him, considering what this position pays, might be more expensive than going ahead and paying him retroactively or nonetheless, paying him now.

Laurie Roberts: There's right and there's wrong. I'm really surprised Mr. Cavazos is this tone deaf, that he doesn't see. Go out to west Phoenix and see how people are living. Go down to south Phoenix and see how your residents are living. It's a time and a place thing. And a 33% raise is just outrageous. If he is below market, let's bring him up in an appropriate fashion. I don't know that you have to be the number two highest paid city of our size cities with the kind of government we have, but sure, I don't begrudge the man making more money, but you can't tell me you're going to be giving 33% raises to the rank and file this year. And you can't tell me they're not doing a good job.

Ted Simons: So, in other words, should the city handle this in a different -- Stair-step the up crease, gradually bring it in? Are you saying 33% is 33% too much?

Laurie Roberts: I think it's 33% too much right now. When you have people paying that food tax. I would say whatever raises are anticipated for city employees this year, he should get the same. The city of Peoria, I think it's Peoria, just raised their city manager's pay, they raised it 2.5%. Who's getting 10% raises anymore?

Ted Simons: Not me.

Laurie Roberts: Not me.

Ted Simons: The city of Mesa is looking at increasing the mayor's salary from $38,000 to 70,000. That's a healthy increase, though some would argue 70,000 for the mayor of a city of size of Mesa is still not all that competitive. And the council is going from 19,000 to 35,000. So in terms of percentages, there's a lot of government workers getting some increases out there.

Laurie Roberts: I really want to get a job where I can vote to raise my own pay. That's my dream job. Because I think I'm worth a whole lot more than I'm paid now. The city of Mesa got this idea that since nobody ran for the Mesa city council, clearly this is a job that nobody wants. Therefore we better raise our own pay. The legislature would do the same thing if they could, they're just precluded from doing it by state law. I would agree that for a part-time city council position, maybe they should be paid more. I'm not convinced. Maybe the mayor, but these are all strong city manager forms of government. I don't know what Greg Stanton makes in the city, I shudder to think, but I don't know I would say it would be much more than 70 or 80.

Ted Simons: Not in the 300,000 range we're talking about now. And again, correct me if I'm wrong, this was the same gentleman that was disciplined at one time for travel expense curiosities, correct?

Laurie Roberts: He was. He was disciplined because he was overseeing a manager in a department where they just had all kinds of crazy things going on with people, you know, taking management trips, safari and other trips as part of the aviation department. He was one of several who were suspended for five days and like three months later he was promoted to deputy city manager. So go figure.

Ted Simons: Last question here -- Are you surprised, and don't go too far with your editorial board, but we can talk about that if you want, the paper, a guy like Sal, who is supposed to be such a fiscal hawk, that city council seems enthralled with Mr. Cavazos. Are you surprised so many folks think this is a swell idea?

Laurie Roberts: I don't think that many folks think it's a swell idea. I think the newspaper's editorial board thinks it's a swell idea. I think Sal Diciccio and seven other members -- Sal and seven other members of the city council think it's a swell idea. But the people I'm hearing from, they don't think it's a swell idea at all. I think it's outrageous, and I agree.

Ted Simons: It's good to see you again.

Laurie Roberts: You too. Merry Christmas.