A story about Walter Cronkite and gay news

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In its Sunday edition, July 26, the Washington Post interviewed Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, about the time in 1973 when the then 20-year-old Segal interrupted Walter Cronkite’s nightly news broadcast to protest the lack of coverage of LGBT news by mainstream outlets.

Midway through the broadcast on Dec. 11, 1973, as Cronkite began a story about Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Segal darted in front of the camera with a sign reading “Gays Protest CBS Prejudice.””I sat on Cronkite’s desk directly in front of him and held up the sign while the technicians furiously ran after me and wrestled me to the floor and wrapped me in wire — on camera,” he recalled in an interview. “The network went black while they took us out of the studio.”

The Post’s story goes on to note that Cronkite, who passed away July 17 at the age of 92, not only reported on Segal’s protest, but when he appeared in court to testify at Segal’s trespassing trial America’s “most trusted name in news” spoke to him about why he had burst into the TV studio that night.

During a recess, Segal felt a tap on his shoulder. “Why did you do that?” Cronkite asked about the incident in the studio.”You’re news censors,” Segal responded. The anchorman was appalled. “If I can prove it,” Segal then asked, “would you do something to change it?” He cited three examples, including a CBS report on the second rejection of a gay rights bill by the New York City Council. “Yes, I believe I wrote that story myself,” Cronkite said.

“Well, why haven’t you reported on the 23 other cities that have passed gay rights bills?” Segal asked. “Why do you cover 5,000 women walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City when they proclaim International Women’s Year on the network news, and you do not cover 50,000 gays and lesbians walking down that same avenue proclaiming Gay Pride Day? That’s censorship.” Genuinely moved, Cronkite shook Segal’s hand and thanked him.

The exchange led to Segal meeting with CBS News executives to air his grievances and, according to the writer of the piece – Edward Alwood, a former CNN correspondent and journalism professor at Quinnipiac University, is the author of “Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media” –  Cronkite  featuring a segment on gay rights on his May 6, 1974 newscast.

“Part of the new morality of the ’60s and ’70s is a new attitude toward homosexuality,” Cronkite told his audience. “The homosexual men and women have organized to fight for acceptance and respectability. They’ve succeeded in winning equal rights under the law in many communities. But in the nation’s biggest city, the fight goes on, with the city council due to vote on the matter again this week.”

Reports on the status of gay rights in various cities followed, with one CBS correspondent pointing out 10 cities that had passed legal protections for gays and reporting that similar laws were under consideration in at least four others.

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