A few months later, while the pair of Gay Raiders were being tried for second-degree criminal trespassing as a result of their stunt, Cronkite struck up a conversation with Segal, and expressed his sympathy for his cause:
At the end of the trial, Segal was fined $450, deeming the penalty “the happiest check I ever wrote.” Not only did the activist receive considerable media attention, but Cronkite asked to meet privately with him to better understand how CBS might cover gay pride events. Cronkite, moreover, even went so far as to introduce Segal as a “constructive viewer” to top brass at CBS. It had a telling effect. “Walter Cronkite was my friend and mentor,” Segal recalled. “After that incident, CBS News agreed to look into the ‘possibility’ that they were censoring or had a bias in reporting news. Walter showed a map on the Evening News of the U.S. and pointed out cities that had passed gay rights legislation. Network news was never the same after that.”
While there’s no doubt that gays were often treated harshly on the (uniformly liberal) TV news and entertainment shows of the day, Segal and Langhorne’s Rupert Pupkin-esque efforts at making their viewpoint known were deplorable. And they beg the question: how would Cronkite have responded if it were another group also being treated harshly by the liberal TV networks during that period — Vietnam vets, Second Amendment proponents, or pro-lifers — just to name a few groups at random?
Eventually, we get our answer: In early 1988 during the Democrat primaries, Cronkite, by then having retired from hosting the nightly news but still very much on the CBS payroll, was boozing it up with Joe Klein, then with New York magazine, now with Time, and Jerry Brown, once and future California governor, at the Wayfarer Inn in Bedford, New Hampshire. The archetypal television newsman was “shit-faced,” according to Klein, when a woman interrupted his bacchanalia to ask, “Mr. Cronkite, don’t you agree with me that abortion is wrong? What do you think?”
Whereupon Cronkite, with a dismissive wave of the hand and ironic expression, uttered the unutterable in his mellifluous voice. “Kill them all,” he said. The woman gasped. Almost fainted on the spot. At loose ends as to how to respond to such a deplorable remark, she just walked away discombobulated. “That put an end to the haranguing,” Klein said. “I don’t know whether Walter meant it or it was just a ploy to get her to go. But we laughed hard.”
In vino veritas? (Which in Cronkite’s case would translate into “In Maker’s Mark, truth.”)
The Hand Job
Of course, “kill them all” is the tacit motto of numerous radical environmentalists. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published his infamous book The Population Bomb, one of the touchstones of what was called in the early 1970s, “Ecology.” By the end of the following year, Brinkley writes, “now that Neil Armstrong had walked on the Moon, Cronkite sensed that ecology would soon replace space exploration as the national obsession.” It certainly became, for a time, Cronkite’s obsession, often crowding out other more newsworthy stories during the critical year of 1970. At the beginning of the year, Cronkite jumped onboard the radical environmental movement wholeheartedly — “God damn it, we’ve got to get on this environmental story” — and as his producer Ron Bonn said at the time, “We wanted to grapple first with air pollution, the unbreathable air. But then we wanted to deal with the primary underlying problem, which was overpopulation.”