Walter Cronkite, whose balanced delivery of the news made him a fixture in American homes and a cornerstone of journalism, cast impartiality aside to write a fund-raising letter attacking the religious right.
The retired broadcaster, who for two decades anchored the CBS Evening News, singled out the Christian Coalition’s Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed for “wrapping their harsh right wing views in the banner of religious faith.”
“My principal thrust here,” Cronkite said in a telephone interview Wednesday, “is to try to help establish that they do not speak for what I believe is the majority of Christians in the country.”
A Christian Coalition spokeswoman said Cronkite was entitled to his opinion.
Response to the letter, sent to 400,000 homes last week as part of a fund solicitation by the Interfaith Alliance, has been strong. Alliance spokesman Jon Paone said more than $100,000 had been received in just over one week.
As a journalist, Cronkite wrote, he often had strong opinions but, “I tried not to communicate them to my audience.” He said he understood the affect his letter might have on the impartial image he earned as a newsman.
“But at this juncture in my life, I am not doing daily news and I’m not in the position of having to report on the affairs of the Christian Coalition or of any other aspect of politics,” he said. The alliance was formed in 1984 to counter “religious political extremists,” Paone said. It has grown into a grass-roots organization with 110 chapters representing people of 45 different faiths.
In the letter, Cronkite stresses his own Christian faith, and he praises the alliance for being “as diverse as America” and “standing up to the Christian Coalition.”
“Will you take a stand? Will you help TIA in saying ‘No’ to religion as a political cover? ‘No’ to Pat Robertson, ‘No’ to Ralph Reed, ‘No’ to Jerry Falwell?” Cronkite wrote. He urged recipients to give $50 to $500.