Walter Cronkite, the FBI and Orlando’s Channel 6

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Walter Cronkite FBI files, Vietnam War protest and Orlando's Channel 6
Images courtesy of Yahoo! News, CBS, WKMG

Could Orlando’s Channel 6 have been the site of one of the most unthinkable breaches of journalism ethics by the profession’s most trusted anchorman, Walter Cronkite?

That’s what a FBI informant claimed in documents obtained by a Yahoo! News blogger in a Freedom of Information Act request. According to John Cook, senior national reporter/blogger for Yahoo! News, the informant claimed that in 1969, Cronkite offered to help Rollins College students with an anti-Vietnam War protest, going so far as to say that if they invited Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie to address their protest,  “CBS would rent [a] helicopter to take Muskie to and from site of rally.”

How does Channel 6, then known as WDBO-TV, fit into all of this? According to the FBI files, the informant says the protest leader was at WDBO to meet with newsmen about the planned Vietnam protest. The informant claims that while at the station, the leader discussed plans for the anti-war rally on the phone with Cronkite for about 45 minutes .

Here’s a portion of the text from the FBI files obtained by Yahoo!:

“[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.”

WKMG reporter Tony Pipitone fronted the story on Local 6’s 6 p.m. newscast Friday night. “It’s a little bit of FBI history. How much of it is true or not, I guess we may never know,” he told anchor Lauren Rowe. He noted that the FBI destroyed most of its files on Cronkite in 2007 — it was only by happenstance that this particular file survived.

“You’re not buying it, are you?” Rowe asked Pipitone.

“I’m not buying it. I don’t think Cronkite would do that … but, who knows,” he said with a shrug.

I, too, strongly suspect this informant’s account is completely inaccurate. Still, I found it interesting that Pipitone and Rowe went out of their way to tell viewers twice that the current ownership and management of Channel 6 had nothing to do with alleged incident.

About Roger Simmons 549 Articles

Roger Simmons has been blogging about Orlando television since 2001. You can email him at roger@rogersimmons.com