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Sunday, December 22, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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''A Reporter's Life''

Special To The Seattle Times

"A Reporter's Life" by Walter Cronkite Knopf, $26.95

As anchorman of "The CBS Evening News" from the 1950s to 1981, Walter Cronkite informed America of the great and tragic events of the day. Ironic, then, that what makes "A Reporter's Life" worth reading are not history-altering assassinations and space launches but Cronkite's memories of his childhood and fledgling reporter years.

He paints a picture of a less bureaucratically fettered America, when children could buy cigarettes and drive automobiles but also when, tragically, black men could be murdered without indictment - it happened to a delivery boy Cronkite worked with - and faulty heating could cause a schoolhouse in Texas to explode, killing 294 (Cronkite was on the scene as a wire-service reporter).

As a member of "the Writing Sixty-ninth" during World War II, he flew on bombing raids over occupied Europe, occasionally manning the guns against enemy pilots. Postwar, he reported on Nazi atrocities at the Nuremberg trials. Cronkite's stint as a Moscow correspondent is stultifyingly bleak, while the early days of television seem comic and - particularly in the way politics altered itself to suit the new medium - sobering.

Throughout, Cronkite maintains a nice, self-deprecating tone, but he shows his claws when he rails against the recent subservience of news divisions to profit rather than professionalism. Anyone who remembers Cronkite's professionalism will surely enjoy this memoir.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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