Walter Cronkite

* Political conventions “Quite frankly, I haven't been to the last two or three conventions, Democrat or Republican,” says Cronkite, who instead stayed home on Martha's Vineyard. “I've found those conventions of the last several decades” — decades! — “so dull compared to what they used to be.” Cronkite was 35 when he anchored the first complete network convention coverage in 1952, a time when delegates actually argued about candidates and platforms. “It was a donnybrook for a week in the convention hall, and therefore it was interesting. You never knew how it was going to turn out.” On the other hand, “The parties were so upset over the nation seeing how they conducted conventions.” Today's result: “Pep rallies.”

* Network coverage of political conventions “I've said for years that the networks should not cover the conventions gavel-to-gavel.” (See above.) But a miserly three prime-time hours for the leaders, potential and otherwise, of the free world? “I think they scrimped a bit this year.”

* Fox News “It's unusual in this country to have a news channel that's so clearly committed to one party.” Even Brit Hume should blush when that fair-and-balanced hooey gets stomped on by Uncle Walter, the most trusted man in America (a line he really ought to trademark).

* The Bush Administration “This has been an extraordinarily secretive administration. I can't think of any in my lifetime, Democrat or Republican, that's been as secretive, except possibly — possibly — Nixon's.” But even the Nixon White House didn't go into deep-cover mode until Watergate and its assorted felonies. “But I'm not saying they” — the Bushies — “are guilty of anything. Make sure you put my quibble in. My journalese .”

* John Ashcroft “I'm disappointed in the attorney general's attitude, in his policies. I think in his attempts to guarantee the safety of the nation, he's violating the rights of the press and of free speech of the citizens. It's shameful to jail people without letting their families know where they are, without access to legal counsel, without charges. To me, that's shameful.”

* Space Exploration Cronkite's always been a space buff. In July, on the 35th anniversary of the first moon landing — which Cronkite covered in a 27-hour broadcast stretch — he was the only civilian among more than 80 astronauts honored as an “ambassador of exploration” with a piece of moon rock. “I think we very well ought to have the goal, the eventual goal, to put a man on the moon, occupy the moon, as a launching pad for deep space exploration, manned deep space exploration,” he says.

* The war in Iraq “One of the great, great mistakes — military mistakes, diplomatic mistakes — in history.” This from a man who covered the Nuremberg trials and Vietnam. Tens of billions of dollars dumped into Saddam Hussein's Arabian desert are tens of billions that won't be spent on schools that churn out the uneducated masses (“a tragedy that endangers democracy greater than any foreign threat”), homeland security, scientific research — the list is endless. “We had pressure on him, the UN had pressure on him. . . . C'mon, why did we have to go to war?”

Because, Cronkite answers himself, we wanted to. Or, more precisely, because there was “a clear-cut hawk group among the president's advisers who were determined to go to war.” On the other hand, he thinks Bush made a convincing case for disarming Saddam to the UN Security Council before the war — at least until he got to the part about the United States doing whatever it damn well pleased, regardless of the UN vote. “Every diplomatic nation worth its salt had to say no.”

* The United Nations “If we hope to ever achieve an international, lasting peace, we're going to have to have an efficient United Nations, or an agency like it.” Which, of course, we don't. “It's been very seriously maligned in the press, and even those who should be defending it have been weak kneed.”

His idea is not complicated: Graft the U.S. Constitution, or its core values, onto an international body, straighten out its voting structure (at the moment, Togo gets the same vote as, say, China), and give it the physical power and moral authority to police the world. “In order to make such an organization truly efficient, we have to surrender part of our sovereignty.”

* Liberal media A myth, and he offers a simple, logical proof. “Nobody would accuse the publishers of most of the big newspapers or the owners of the networks of being liberal. So if it's true that the newspapers they publish or the news [programs] they broadcast are so liberal, why don't they fire everyone?”

*Liberals in the media No myth. “I'm a liberal,” he says. Cronkite suspects most journalists are liberals of a sort. “We are more humanistic than hard-line conservatives. It comes, I think, from our journalistic apprenticeships, from how we came up through the ranks, from assistant to the police reporter, then the police reporter, and so on. We covered the disasters, we spent time in the poorer areas of our cities and towns, we've seen the seamier side of the world. . . . I think from that we learn to be liberal.”