Chris Matthews, on Monday's "Hardball," invited on Dan Rather to remember Walter Cronkite and the former CBS News anchor – famously fired for letting his bias spiral out of control during the George W. Bush National Guard story – called Cronkite "a straight news reporter," and claimed Cronkite advised him and others at CBS News to "Tell it straight without fear or favoritism. Pull no punches. Say it like it is, insofar as is humanly possible. Keep your own prejudices and biases and feelings and emotions out of it."
After playing an old 1996 clip from an interview with Cronkite from his CNBC show, in which Cronkite admits to being a liberal, Matthews asked Rather to comment, to which Rather hailed that Cronkite: "Stood for, the beacon he sent out was, 'Straight news reporting. Whatever your political persuasions are, however anyone wants to label you, get to the story, tell the story as straight as you can and the American public will understand.'" [audio available here]
The following exchange was aired on the July 20 edition of "Hardball":
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Anyway let's take a look at Walter Cronkite on the issue of politics. Here he was in a 1996 interview, which will be 13 years ago for all of us. Here it is.
(Begin 1996 clip from Matthews' CNBC "Politics" show)
MATTHEWS: ...four brothers but by older brother is a bit more conservative than me. A bit. And he once said the big controversy about you in the old days and from the conservatives who didn't like your broadcast, he said, "You know I'm a conservative and, and, and Cronkite is a liberal but he does the best broadcast on television, the best news and I'm gonna watch him every night. What, what's your reaction to that?"
WALTER CRONKITE: Richard Nixon called me "the best of a bad lot." I don't know whether that was good or bad. I don't know. I was very much offended that I didn't get on Nixon's Hate List. But the, well, you know, I, I don't know. I suppose, in all honesty, I'm a liberal.
CRONKITE: I think so. But I would like to define liberal. I think the great problem with this label is that has been, it has been seriously misused for political purposes.
MATTHEWS: Dan what do you make of that little conversation that's hidden in the eaves all these years? But there he was saying, "I'm a liberal."
DAN RATHER, HDNET: Well that was, again, classic Walter. Keep in mind that he wanted to redefine liberal as is used in today's political context. He meant that he was liberal in the sense that he was in favor of preserving those things worth preserving, but changing those things that needed changing. Look after he left the anchor chair Walter was much more inclined to talk in those terms. I think it's important to remember, particularly for those who were not of memory age or were not alive when Walter was in his prime, that here was a guy who was a straight news reporter.
Walter's instructions to us in the field were always, you know, "Tell it straight without fear or favoritism. Pull no punches. Say it like it is, insofar as is humanly possible. Keep your own prejudices and biases and feelings and emotions out of it." To a very large degree he did that. Yes there were some exceptions. The time he spoke about the Vietnam War, just after the Tet offensive, being the best known example. But Walter was, what he stood for, the beacon he sent out was, "Straight news reporting. Whatever your political persuasions are, however anyone wants to label you, get to the story, tell the story as straight as you can and the American public will understand. At the same time you have to understand that politicians of various persuasions will be taking their shots at you."