By: DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer
(AP) Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, whose 1968 conclusion that the Vietnam War was unwinnable keenly influenced public opinion then, said Sunday he’d say the same thing today about Iraq.
“It’s my belief that we should get out now,” Cronkite said in a meeting with reporters.
Now 89, the television journalist once known as “the most trusted man in America” has been off the “CBS Evening News” for nearly a quarter-century. He’s still a CBS News employee, although he does little for them.
Cronkite said one of his proudest moments came at the end of a 1968 documentary he made following a visit to Vietnam during the Tet offensive. Urged by his boss to briefly set aside his objectivity to give his view of the situation, Cronkite said the war was unwinnable and that the U.S. should exit.
Then-President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told a White House aide after that, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
The best time to have made a similar statement about Iraq came after Hurricane Katrina, he said.
“We had an opportunity to say to the world and Iraqis after the hurricane disaster that Mother Nature has not treated us well and we find ourselves missing the amount of money it takes to help these poor people out of their homeless situation and rebuild some of our most important cities in the United States,” he said. “Therefore, we are going to have to bring our troops home.”
Iraqis should have been told that “our hearts are with you” and that the United States would do all it could to rebuild their country, he said.
“I think we could have been able to retire with honor,” he said. “In fact, I think we can retire with honor anyway.”
Cronkite has spoken out against the Iraq war in the past, saying in 2004 that Americans weren’t any safer because of the invasion.
Cronkite, who is hard of hearing and walks haltingly, jokingly said that “I’m standing by if they want me” to anchor the “CBS Evening News.” CBS is still searching for a permanent successor to Dan Rather, who replaced Cronkite in March 1981.
“Twenty-four hours after I told CBS News that I was stepping down at my 65th birthday I was already regretting it and I’ve regretted it every day since,” he said. “It’s too good a job for me to have given it up the way that I did.”