Horizon Special: ASU Cronkite Award

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Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News, is the 2009 recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism given out annually by ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Hear what Williams had to say about journalism and the late Walter Cronkite during the award ceremony that took place in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. For more than a quarter of a century, ASU's Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has been recognizing excellence in journalism. Brian Williams is the latest recipient for excellence in journalism. He's the 26th award winner. The first to receive the award since Walter Cronkite's death in July. Here's what he had to say here in Phoenix. [Applause]

Brian Williams: And I got a job as a courier, and I answered an ad in the Washington Post for a weekend --

Chris Callahan: As you know, ASU was honored last night when Brian Williams anchored the NBC "Nightly News" from the roof the Cronkite School. The team has been gracious with their time and yesterday, both Brian and ASU's president spent time mentoring our students. On July 17th, the Cronkite School lost our namesake, but Walter Cronkite was our inspiration and a great friend. We all miss him and that loss is felt particularly today. At this event, he loved so much, and looked forward to each and every year. We will be hosting an annual Walter Cronkite Day at our school each year to commemorate this great man, great journalist and great American. But at the Cronkite School, Walter remains with us every day as we teach the next generation of great journalists the values that Walter embodied so long. Honesty, fairness, objectivity and integrity. That we believe will be Walter's greatest legacy. It would be a great honor to have Brian Williams as the Cronkite award recipient in any year, but it's particularly significant this year. In the year that we lost Walter. Because there's no one in American journalism today that carries those Cronkite standards better than Brian Williams. Walter was a great admirer of Brian professionally and also had affection for him personally. You'll be hearing more about Brian shortly from the doctor but it's a thrill to have Brian with us on this day and in this year. Thank you for being here, Brian. [Applause] Please join me in welcoming the provost and Executive Vice President of Arizona State University.

Dr. Elizabeth Capaldi: This is a university that's cutting edge research but also deeply, cares about students and I've been at many universities that's not that common and Walter was that way and we loved him for it and he was just part of the culture here at ASU. I have to tell you, Brian is a real person which I felt we should put as a criterion for the award because it's important, actually. And I'm going to go over the facts of his resume quickly. Not all of it. It's too long, but highlights and as we know, he's the anchor and managing editor of NBC "Nightly News." Which is the top-rated evening newscast and joined them in 1993 and the next year was the White House correspondent for that network and he had his own show from 1996 to 2003, and used to do the Saturday NBC "Nightly News" before he became the "Nightly News" anchor in 2004. I think any really good news person, as Brian, you feel they're a part of your life so I remember him with Hurricane Katrina. He was there in the superdome reporting. He was there through the whole thing and he's the voice of Katrina. It was quite an amazing reporting effort. He has also been part of many major news stories and when you read these, it's, oh, god, is the news always bad news? Yeah, it is always bad news. And so he had covered the crash of TWA flight 800. The death of John Paul the second and princess Diana. John K. Kennedy junior and the stadium in 2004, September 11th attacks and the Iraq war. On a more pleasant side, he's covered Olympics. He's moderated some presidential debates and my favorite -- he's on the comedy shows. I saw him on "Saturday night live" and the late show with David Letterman. He doesn't take himself so seriously, which is important as well. He's won many awards. Four Edward R. Murrow. DuPont University Award. George Foster Peabody and 2007, named by Time Magazine one of the hundred people who shaped our world. Which is certainly so.

Announcer: ASU Executive Vice President and provost will now present the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism to Brian Williams. [Applause] This year's Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism recipient: Brian Williams.

Brian Williams: Thank you very much. Thank you everyone. So many people to thank. You've -- you're all in so much trouble. It's going to be a long flight back to New York. First of all, any of you think my head will get too big, in a matter of hours, I'll be at TSA undergoing the cavity search and hope to get one of the A numbers at southwest. I don't know. [Laughter] I mean, it's great because you get to choose where you sit. I refer to it as the corporate jet. It's just that it has people on board I don't know. And it's very important to me to say something at the outset. I'm the only recipient of this award who so directly owes so much of anything I've been able to achieve to a previous recipient. A round of applause, please, for the 23-year veteran of the job I have now, Tom Brokaw. [Applause] I am a lot of things, though, not everything it said in that tape. I'm the product of great parents. Two people who kind of by design but also by happy accident would not eat the evening meal until Walter Cronkite said, "That's the way it is" At the end of the CBS evening news. Every night of my childhood, on into adulthood, we watched in our house, the CBS evening news, so it was no surprise when I went to look for a north star in life, it was Walter, it was the guy who brought -- it was Walter, the guy who brought us the world. Second only to my parents in terms of who I am and in terms of who I become. You saw her earlier, I'm going to ask her to stand again, my wife of 23 years -- Jane. [Applause] Television is full of people who tell you you're great. And nobody tells you the truth. [Laughter] And my wife does both. My coworkers are incredible. How else would my unusual story take place? I won't today deliver a homily or a lecture or a SCREED about our business because we all know what's happening in the news business, and that is that we have no idea what's happening to the news business. [Laughter] 175,000 blogs are created every day. 175,000 new blogs. We have 113 million to date. twitter will have 26 users by the year -- 26 million users by the year 2010. 26 users in this room, in this section of the room. [Laughter] All things civic, it seems some days in this country are being replaced by all things narcissistic. One of the changes in the times since Walter Cronkite resumed the airwaves and came into our home. We have confused in many cases tonnage with knowledge. And while we aren't learning more, there is generically more out there. Facts matter less. Throw experience in there too. We're finding it's a heck of a lot easier to voice an opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than it is to go and report back home on what you find. On the web, there is way too much material. Way too much, with the heft and the value and impact of words written on a subway wall and at the same time, there's also deep, sometimes brilliant work being done. It's all out there if you're able to find it. And it's all there if you know the difference. There's journalism, and there's everything ending in LOL. [Laughter] I like to quote a great their, that I used to hear on the radio growing up in the New York area. My dad would -- in the New York area. His name was SY Sims, the haberdasher. He used to end each commercial, "At Sims, an educated consumer is our best customer." And I would drive along with my dad and grew up in later years to enter this business and in the years back, I thought back, he had something. That's brilliant. He was right. He was right probably about men's clothes -- I don't know -- but he was certainly right about our line of work and so many others. And an educated consumer is our best customer. From our corner of the world I come here today reporting very good news. From the three oldest letters in the MSM, NBC, on the third floor of 30 Rockefeller plaza, a building built in 1930 at the height of the depression, we have more viewers this year than we did last year. Our business -- both of you, that you very much. [Laughter] [Applause] Thank you. Mom, dad -- our business is better, our audience is larger than it was last fall season at the height of the most historic campaign in modern American history. We don't know why, we guess it's because the difference is becoming sharper and people know where to find us and they know what they're going to get. That awful night recently when we had the Fort Hood shootings, people knew to come to us and flocked to us because they knew we would cover the story. Walter Cronkite loved the story. I learned all I know about our world from Walter Cronkite. As icons go, Walter was unique. He was the right man in the right job at precisely the right time. I am convinced that had he come along today, I don't think he would have cracked through. I think there's too much noise, too much to cut through for a modest man from Missouri. I'm not sure he would have the impact in his day and age, but God and history combined to give him to us right when we needed him. As I said, the perfect man to explain it all -- the Cold War, the Vietnam War. What he used to call the moon shots. He was also the first man of the mad men era, when you think about it. Shirts were entirely white back then. Sadly, so were all of the men in positions of power. Ties were thin. Glass frames were thick. And pants were enormous, as far as I can tell. [Laughter] Walter came up -- Walter's came up to his chin. [Laughter] At times you could see the real Cronkite endowment. [Laughter] Went over pretty good. I didn't know how it would do. It went better than I -- he was the cutest man on god's green earth. Fluffy hair and enormous eyebrows and there was the danger when talking to Andy Rooney that the two of them would collide, like braces among 13-year-olds. The CBS newsroom, as far as I was concerned sitting in front of the flickering television, first in New York, and then along the jersey shore, it was the center of the universe. It's fashionable to say that that was the establishment view of the world and nation and I suppose that's correct but it was also one guy doing a honest day's worth, giving it his best. We knew his suits were handmade. We could see he was wearing French cut shirts and it wasn't a prom or bar mitzvah or wedding. What kind of life he lived. A sailboat and a house in Martha's Vineyard and we know it and none of it mattered because he was a decent man from Missouri doing a honest day's work. These days, there's entire cable news that agree with us the first thing you wake up in the morning. When Walter turned against the Vietnam War after traveling there and reporting the story and deciding it wasn't best for his country. Think about it, Walter Cronkite cried once on the air. He'd never make it today. [Laughter] Everything back then seemed to matter -- seemed to matter more. Facts mattered. It mattered more when people were wrong. It mattered what you watched. And when I grew up, you could almost tell what people were watching. I always talk about the proximity of our neighbor's house. You could tell -- and how many of you had this same upbringing -- from the flickering light on the curtains. Especially when they went to commercial break and all went black, they were watching the same show you were. And often at that hour, in America, it was the closest thing to addressing the nation -- the CBS news with Walter Cronkite. SY Sims died in New York City last night. Walter Cronkite, when he died, metaphorically, the lights flickered at the Cronkite School. Many students here who never saw him on television, but only knew him as an incredibly kind, sweet man, had a big smile and big curiosity, now all they know is that nice man won't visit here anymore. At his namesake. Though his name and reputation live on and professionally, the day he died, I lost my north star. It's why this honor you've given me today, all the jokes aside, is the highest honor I've received above all in my career. I get to have my name mentioned alongside Cronkite, in the same sentence as the man I grew up wanting to be. I insist and I promise you I'm the least qualified of the 26 recipients, and even the next 26 recipients of this award, 26 of us hopping up there on Walter's shoulders, 26 of us who will now hereafter proudly bear his name. 26 people. Think of that ratio. 26 of us and one Walter Cronkite. The way I see it, that's the way it should be. More importantly, that's the way it is. Thank you for the highest honor in my life. [Applause] [Applause]

Ted Simons:That's it for now, thanks for joining us object this special edition of "Horizon."

Brian Williams: Anchor and managing editor, NBC Nightly News;

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