Everyone knows Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America" and someone whose rare expressions of personal opinion -- such as on the Vietnam War -- could powerfully influence the views of Middle America. But fewer are aware of a passion of his that he came to relatively late in life -- ending the nation's disastrous war on drugs.
I first learned of Cronkite's interest in the drug war back in 1995, when a producer for The Cronkite Report -- an occasional series on the Discovery Channel -- called to ask for my help on a documentary that he and Cronkite were doing on the drug war. The one-hour report that resulted provided a devastating critique of the nation's drug policies.
Focusing on the lives of three women who had been sentenced to many years in Bedford Hills prison in New York, the program revealed the utter waste of human lives and taxpayer dollars that define the drug war.
Neither Cronkite nor the women involved suggested that they had done nothing wrong. But the extraordinary lengths of the prison terms to which they had been sentenced, for relatively minor participation in the illicit sale of drugs, combined with the impact on their children and families, and the absurd amount of money being spent to punish rather than help and treat -- all this shaped Cronkite's devastating indictment of the drug war.
Walter Cronkite got it -- and he got it early. He knew a failed war when he saw one.