BROKAW, TOM

U.S. Broadcast Journalist

Tom Brokaw served as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. Sole anchor of the program from 1983 through 2004, he had previously been anchor of NBC News' Today from l976-82 and had worked in a series of increasingly prominent assignments for NBC news. Brokaw's distinctively smooth style and boyish charm have made him a well-recognized star throughout the shifting stakes in television news in the 1980s and 1990s.

After an early position in Sioux City, Iowa, Brokaw's career in broadcast news began in earnest in 1962 when he worked in Omaha, Nebraska. He moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1965 to report on the civil rights movement, then joined NBC in Los Angeles as a reporter and anchor in 1966. From the West Coast, Brokaw moved to Washington, eventually becoming NBC's White House correspondent during the Watergate era. In 1976 and 1980 he was a member of NBC News' team of floor reporters for the Democratic and Republican conventions. In 1984 and 1988 he served as anchor of all NBC News' coverage of the primaries, national conventions, and election night, a role he repeated in 1992. In the fall of 1987 Brokaw scored a number of high profile successes, interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin, Ronald Reagan in the White House, and in December 1987 moderating a live, televised debate from Washington among all declared candidates for the Presidential nomination from both parties. He also moderated the first debate among the declared Democratic candidates for President in December 1991.

Brokaw's opportunity to serve as anchor arose when, after being courted by ABC, NBC countered by teaming him with Roger Mudd, (apparently attempting to replicate the Chet Huntley-David Brinkley pairing) and the two went on the air as co-anchors in April l982. Mudd was soon dropped by NBC, and Brokaw took over as sole anchor in August 1983. At CBS Dan Rather had replaced Walter Cronkite in 1981, at ABC Peter Jennings, who had anchored from 1964-67, returned to that position in 1983, and thus a three-man race was put in place which continues to structure the national nightly news. When each of the networks was bought by a large conglomerate in the mid-1980s, (ABC by Capital Cities, CBS by Laurence Tisch's Loews Corporation, and NBC by General Electric), network news divisions became cost-accountable in new ways that also impinged on the importance of the anchor. While budgets and staffs were cut, promotional campaigns were expanded, and increasingly, the center of those campaigns was the persona of the news anchor, who became a virtual corporate symbol.

Brokaw has been one of the most well-recognized participants in the trend toward expanding the role of the news reader into a prominent position of creative control and celebrity. Along with Rather and Jennings, Brokaw has emerged in the 1990s as a kind of living logo, the image taken to be representative of an entire news organization. A number of critics have raised questions about the quality and integrity of news presentation in this increasingly star-driven climate, charging that on the national news broadcasts, journalism has become subordinate to entertainment. Brokaw was reportedly the model for William Hurt's Tom Grunick, the protagonist in James L. Brooks' 1987 film Broadcast News.

As an anchor, Brokaw is renowned for his globetrotting, and he has provided live coverage of such important recent events as the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. In addition to NBC Nightly News, Brokaw has anchored, with Katie Couric, the nighttime program. Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric as well as the short-lived Expose a news magazine show on the order of 60 Minutes. He has also anchored a series of periodic prime-time specials.

-Diane Negra


Tom Brokaw
Photo courtesy of NBC

TOM (THOMAS JOHN) BROKAW. Born in Webster, South Dakota, U.S., 6 February 1940. Educated at University of South Dakota, B.A. in political science 1962. Married: Meredith Lynn Auld, 1962; children: Jennifer Jean, Andrea Brooks, and Sarah Auld. Began career as newscaster, weatherman, and staff announcer at KTIV in Sioux City, Iowa, 1960-62; morning news editor for KMTV in Omaha, Nebraska, 1962-65; editor for 11:00 news for WSB-TV in Atlanta, Georgia, 1965-66; joined NBC news as anchorman, KNBC-TV, Los Angeles, California, 1966; with NBC since 1966. Honorary degrees: University of South Dakota; Washington University; Syracuse University; Hofstra University; Boston College; Emerson College; Simpson College; Duke University, 1991; Notre Dame University, 1993. Recipient: Alfred I. DuPont Award, 1987; George Foster Peabody Award, 1988.

TELEVISION

1973-76 NBC Saturday Night News (anchor)
1976-82 Today Show (host)
1982-2004NBC Nightly News (anchor)
1991- Expose (anchor)
1992- Dateline NBC (co-anchor)
1993-94 Now With Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric (co-anchor)

TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)

1987 To Be A Teacher
1987 Wall Street, Money, Greed and Power
1987 A Conversation with Mikhail S. Gorbachev
1988 Home Street Home
1988 To Be An American

FURTHER READING

Corliss, Richard. "Broadcast Blues." Film Comment (New York), March--April, 1988.

Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg. Anchors: Brokaw, Jennings, Rather and the Evening News. New York: Birch Lane, 1990.

Jones, Alex S. "The Anchors: Who They Are, What They do: The Tests They Face." The New York Times, 27 July 1986.

Kaplan, James. "Tom Brokaw: NBC's Air Apparent." Vogue (New York), April 1988.

Westin, Av. Newswatch: How TV Decides the News. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

 

See also Anchor; News (Network)