Brokaw, Tom (1940—)

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Brokaw, Tom (1940—)

As the anchor on NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw has a history of getting there first in the competitive world of network newscasting. He won the Alfred I. Dupont Award for the first exclusive one-on-one interview with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1982, and was the only anchor on the scene the night the Berlin Wall collapsed. He was also first to report on human rights abuses in Tibet and he conducted an exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama. From the White House to the Kremlin, Brokaw has witnessed and reported on many of the twentieth century's biggest events.

Born in Bristol, South Dakota, in 1940, the son of Anthony (Red) and Jean Brokaw, he moved often as the family followed his father, a construction worker, who built army bases and dams during the 1940s. His high school years were spent in Yankton, South Dakota, where he first faced television cameras, appearing with a team of students on Two for the Money, a network game show. While a student he began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey on a Yankton radio station and experienced one of his most embarrassing moments. He was asked to interview a fellow student, Meredith Auld, the new Miss South Dakota, whom he been dating. Tom was so excited that he forgot to turn off the mike when the interview was over, and all the Yankton listeners heard his sweet nothings broadcast over the air.

He spent his freshman year at the University of Iowa, where he says he "majored in beer and coeds." He transferred to the University of South Dakota and in his senior year began working at KTIV-TV in Sioux City. After graduation, Tom married Meredith and applied for a job at KMTV in Omaha. They offered him $90 a week, but Tom held out for $100. Explaining why he needed the extra ten dollars, Tom said, "I was the first college graduate in my family, just married, and with a doctor father-in-law a bit unsure about his new son-in-law's future." The station finally agreed to his terms on the condition that he would never be given a raise. "And they never did," he added.

In 1976 Tom moved into the big time in the Big Apple, replacing Barbara Walters as the host of NBC's Today Show. As he tells it, he "made a lot of friends" on the program, but he always knew that his "real interest was in doing day-to-day news exclusively." After six successful years on the morning show, he got his wish. He and Roger Mudd began co-anchoring the NBC Nightly News after John Chancellor retired in 1981. Within a year Mudd left the show, leaving Brokaw as the sole anchor, and in 1982 his reputation rose in the wake of his much publicized interview with Gorbachev.

Television critics have complimented Brokaw's low key, easygoing manner, comparing it with Dan Rather's rapid-fire delivery and Peter Jenning's penchant for showmanship. He is particularly noted for his political reporting, having covered every presidential election since 1968 and having served as his network's White House correspondent during the Watergate era. He has also shown versatility in other network assignments, heading a series of prime-time specials examining some of the nation's most crucial problems and acting as co-anchor on Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric.

Brokaw is also author of The Greatest Generation, a book published in 1998 about his personal memories of that generation of Americans who were born in the 1920s, came of age during the Great Depression, and fought in World War II. He also has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as Life Magazine. He is best known, however, as the anchor who reported news from the White House lawn, the Great Wall of China, the streets of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, the rooftops of Beirut, the shores of Somalia as the American troops landed, and, most famous of all, the Berlin Wall the night it collapsed.

—Benjamin Griffith

Further Reading:

Brokaw, Tom. The Greatest Generation. New York, Random House, 1998.

Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg. Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, and the Evening News. Secaucus, New Jersey, Carol Pub. Group, 1990.

Jordan, Larry. "Tom Brokaw: A Heavyweight in a World of Lightweights." Midwest Today. February, 1995.