- Anchor and Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, 1981-2004
- “I’ve always hated the anachronistic idea of a white man, middle-aged, sitting there at a desk reading to America.”
- “Bias – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder.”
Born in February 1940 in Webster, South Dakota, Thomas John Brokaw is a commentator and documentary host on NBC. From 1981 until 2004 he was Anchor and Managing Editor of the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.
In 1965 Brokaw was hired as news editor and anchor at WSB-TV in Atlanta. The following year, he took a job as a reporter and news anchor at the NBC-owned station in Los Angeles, KNBC. In 1973 he became NBC’s White House correspondent at the start of the Watergate scandal. He also worked as anchor of NBC’s Saturday national newscast.
In 1976 Brokaw became co-host (with Jane Pauley) of NBC’s Today Show, replacing Barbara Walters who had moved to network rival ABC.
In 1982 Brokaw was offered mult-imillion dollar deals by all three major networks. The largest offer was said to come from Roone Arledge of ABC, who hired Peter Jennings as that network’s anchor only after Brokaw turned ABC down in favor of NBC.
Brokaw’s years at the helm of NBC Nightly News began as co-anchor with network news veteran Roger Mudd. On Labor Day 1983 NBC removed Mudd, and Brokaw became the sole anchor.
“I’ve always hated the anachronistic idea of a white man, middle-aged, sitting there at a desk reading to America,” Brokaw told journalist Charles Kaiser. Brokaw took to doing news while standing, often in front of a 7-by-12 foot video board. He also re-shaped his newscast to feature fewer stories, each of which took time to look more deeply and at more facets of its subject. His ratings improved after Brokaw made these changes.
Brokaw is a member of the Sierra Club and an avid outdoorsman. In 1993 he was offered the job of Director of the National Park Service by Democratic President Bill Clinton and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Brokaw, who endorsed the Clinton Administration’s environmental policies, told the Washington Post that he considered the offer “very seriously” but decided to reject it because of turmoil at NBC.
In 1998 Brokaw authored the best-selling book The Greatest Generation, about Americans who helped win World War II and their children. In 2001 he published a sequel, An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation.
Tom Brokaw’s record reveals glimpses of the politics beneath his moderate exterior, examples of which include the following:
- “I thought from the outset that his supply-side theory was just a disaster,” Brokaw said of President Ronald Reagan in an April 1983 interview with the socialist magazine Mother Jones.
- In August 1987 Brokaw reported that the Iran-Contra hearings orchestrated by a Democratic Congress against President Reagan had exposed “an astonishing record of deceit, ignorance, naivete, good or bad intentions, failed policies, and discredited public servants, and this story is not yet complete.”
- “You’re opposed to abortion in any form,” Brokaw said during an August 1988 interview with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Dan Quayle. “You also have opposed the E.R.A. [Equal Rights Amendment], and you’re opposed to increasing the minimum wage, which is important to a lot of women out there. Aren’t you going to have a hard time selling Dan Quayle to the women of this country?”
Brokaw has dismissed accusations that he has a liberal bias, both by saying he has been criticized from right and left alike, and by saying that “bias — like beauty — is in the eye of the beholder.”
But in a November 19, 2003 speech at the National Press Club, Brokaw declared that “in the social upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s, there was a kind of tyranny of the left, as there now is in too many quarters of commentary a tyranny of the right.” During this speech, Brokaw singled out for criticism conservative talk radio stations, which he claimed are “instantly jingoistic and savagely critical of any questions raised about the decisions leading up to, for example, the war in Iraq. … They suffocate vigorous discourse … by identifying those who refuse to conform and encouraging a kind of e-mail or telephonic jihad, which is happily carried out by well-funded organizations operating under the guise of promoting fair press coverage.”
Saying he wanted “to leave when I’m at the top of my game…when I’m feeling good about leaving and there’s no question of being forced out,” Tom Brokaw retired at age 64 as NBC anchor shortly after the November 2004 election. He was succeeded as NBC Anchor by Brian Williams.
In May 2004 Brokaw signed a 10-year agreement to do occasional documentaries and commentaries on NBC.
He and his wife have a home in New York and a 4,000 acre ranch in Montana.