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FBI files discuss Cronkite aiding Vietnam protesters

A display showing Walter Cronkite broadcasting from the back of car is seen in a display at the Walter Cronkite exhibit at the LBJ Library, Wednesday, AP – A display showing Walter Cronkite broadcasting from the back of car is seen in a display at the Walter …

Legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite allegedly collaborated with anti-Vietnam War activists in the 1960s, going so far as to offer advice on how to raise the public profile of protests and even pledging CBS News resources to help pull off events, according to FBI documents obtained by Yahoo! News.

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, say that in November 1969, Cronkite encouraged students at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., to invite Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie to address a protest they were planning near Cape Kennedy (now known as Cape Canaveral). Cronkite told the group's leader that Muskie would be nearby for a fundraiser on the day of the protest, and said that "CBS would rent [a] helicopter to take Muskie to and from site of rally," according to the documents.

The claims are contained in an FBI memo recounting a confidential informant's report on a November 1969 meeting of a Rollins College protest group called Youth for New America. The group was planning rallies near Cape Kennedy on Nov. 13 and 14 — the latter being day of the Apollo 12 launch from Cape Kennedy, which President Nixon would be attending — as part of a nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. That protest action culminated in a huge march on Washington on Nov. 15.

According to the informant, the group's leader (whose name is redacted in the documents) told the attendees that during a visit to a local CBS News station to drum up publicity for the protests, he ended up in a 45-minute phone conversation with Cronkite.


"[Redacted] told group he had been to CBS Channel Six in Orlando prior to meeting to speak to newsmen about Vietnam moratorium activities. [Redacted] related that while at TV station, Walter Cronkite, nationally known radio and television commentator, spoke to him by telephone for approximately forty five minutes and that Cronkite reportedly told [redacted] that CBS would have thirty six hours of coverage on Vietnam moratorium with 'open mike' to give demonstrators a chance to be heard. Cronkite noted, according to [redacted], that Senator Edmund Muskie would be in Orlando, Fla., November 13 instant for Democratic fund raising dinner. According to [redacted], Cronkite suggested that [redacted] attempt to Muskie to come [sic] to Cape Kennedy to speak at Kelly Park rally to be held November thirteen instant. Cronkite allegedly told [redacted] that CBS would rent helicopter to take Muskie to and from site of rally at Kelly Park."


Just nine months before, Cronkite had delivered his famous on-air judgment that the "bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate." Even so, such tight collaboration between a news organization and the anti-war movement — particularly the offer of CBS News resources to help ferry a sitting senator and future presidential candidate around in opposition to the war — was highly unusual and would presumably have been explosive if known widely at the time. It's unclear whether Muskie ever actually attended the event.

Chip Cronkite, Walter Cronkite's son, told Yahoo! News it's highly unlikely that his father would ever have made such an offer. "It doesn't have the ring of a reliable story to me," he said. "Particularly at a time when FBI informants often told the FBI what they wanted to hear. I think it would be outside of what we know about Walter Cronkite and CBS News' practices."

A CBS News spokesman declined to comment.

The memo is included in 72 pages of FBI files pertaining to Cronkite that were recently released by the bureau. The FBI claimed late last year, two months after Cronkite's death in July 2009, that all its records on the newsman had been destroyed in 2007 — which raised suspicions that the FBI may have deliberately shredded embarrassing files on its surveillance of journalists during the Cold War. The new records appear to be from files that didn't focus specifically on Cronkite's activities but that included mentions of the newsman. Among the other incidents in the newly released documents are a 1966 criminal investigation into CBS News for allegedly airing obscene language during coverage of civil-rights unrest in Mississippi; applications for Cronkite and others to travel to Cuba and China; and surveillance files on subjects who met with or were interviewed by Cronkite.

Here's a screen grab of the document in question:

— John Cook is a senior national reporter/blogger for Yahoo! News.

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