Mark Segal, The Gay Raiders And Walter Cronkite: That’s The Way It Was

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Over the weekend, in the wake of the passing of legendary TV newsman Walter Cronkite, Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal sent out an email blast recounting his relationship with Cronkite (reprinted in full after the jump) and the circumstances surrounding their first meeting in 1973. Segal was the leader of an activist group called the Gay Raiders, who, during that year, staged disruptions designed to draw attention to the cause of gay rights on The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show and perhaps most notably, the CBS Evening News. (We’ve searched high and low for footage online of the Gay Raiders’ “zap” stunts to no avail; if anyone’s got any, we’d love to see it.) In the case of Cronkite’s CBS broadcast, the gambit worked; within a week, Cronkite was doing stories on gay rights legislation nationwide.

Walter Cronkite was my friend and mentor. That fact attests to his generosity of heart and spirit when one considers the way in which we first met. That’s explained by the New York Times article of that day below.

After that incident CBS News agreed to look into the “possibility” that they were censoring or had a bias in reporting news regarding the struggle for gay rights. Walter and I would disagree about that to this day, both with smiles on our faces. But the fact remains, a week after the incident, Walter showed a map on the Evening News of US and pointed out cities that had passed gay rights legislation. Network news was never the same after that.

Walter went on to speak in support of gay rights whenever asked at his numerous speaking engagements. After stepping down from the anchor chair, he was free to do more and he did. He spoke up about HIV/AIDS and even against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” On gay issues he was ahead of his time. In an unpublished interview we did thirteen years ago he even speaks about marriage equality.

Each time we met for dinner, lunch or even just a phone conversation the first thing he’d say was “Mark, how’s the paper doing?,” and offer advise with a smile on his face. That smile was because he was doing what he loved best, talking about journalism and attempting to make it better, in this case, by assisting the publisher of a small LGBT weekly newspaper.

He was funny. He outed me, or rather outed our friendship on his televised CBS memoirs as well as showing a clip of the disruption itself. He felt it important that his memoirs of report news contain LGBT issues.

In 2005 I produced Philadelphia’s July 4th mega concert with Sir Elton John which that year was dedicated to AIDS Education. The opening segment of the concert & broadcast was Walter Cronkite, speaking about the importance of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Walter embodied a tried and true journalist, one who covered all sides of the story and was committed to the idea of bringing news to the public. I am proud he lent me some of that expertise, and proud of all his accomplishments as a journalist, friend, and person.

– Mark Segal