Thomas John "Tom" Brokaw (born February 6, 1940) is an American television journalist and author, and currently the interim moderator of NBC's Meet the Press. Brokaw is best known as the former anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News. His last broadcast as anchor was on December 1, 2004, after which he was succeeded by Brian Williams in a carefully planned transition. In the latter part of Brokaw's tenure, NBC Nightly News became the most watched cable or broadcast news program in the United States. Brokaw also hosted, wrote, and moderated special programs on a wide range of topics. Throughout his career, he has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors.
Brokaw serves on the Howard University School of Communications Board of Visitors and on the boards of trustees of the University of South Dakota, the Norton Simon Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the International Rescue Committee. As well as his television journalism, he has written for periodicals and has authored books. He still works at NBC as a Special Correspondent and has worked on various documentaries for The History Channel and ESPN since his retirement as anchor.
He is the only person in NBC's history to host all three major NBC News programs in his long career: The Today Show in the '70s, NBC Nightly News in the '80s, '90s and '00s and as an interim replacement for Tim Russert on Meet the Press in 2008.
Brokaw was born in Webster, South Dakota, the son of Eugenia "Jean" (née Conley), who worked in sales and as a post office clerk, and Anthony Orville "Red" Brokaw. He was the eldest of their three sons and was named after his maternal great-grandfather, Thomas Conley. His father was a descendant of Huguenot immigrants Bourgon and Cathernine (le Fevre) Broucard and his mother was Irish American. His paternal great-grandfather, Richard P. Brokaw, founded the town of Bristol, South Dakota, and the Brokaw House, a small hotel and the first structure in Bristol.
Brokaw's father was a construction foreman for the Army Corps of Engineers. He worked at the Black Hills Ordnance Depot (BHOD) and helped construct Fort Randall Dam; his job often required the family to resettle during Brokaw's early childhood. The Brokaws lived for short periods in Bristol, Igloo (the small residential community of the BHOD), and Pickstown, before settling in Yankton, where Brokaw attended high school.
As a high school student attending Yankton Senior High School, Brokaw was governor of South Dakota American Legion Boys State, and in that capacity he accompanied then South Dakota Governor Joe Foss to New York City for a joint appearance on a TV game show. It was to be the beginning of a long relationship with Foss, whom Brokaw would later feature in his book about World War II veterans, The Greatest Generation.
Tom Brokaw dropped out of The University of Iowa, where he says he majored in "beer and co-eds" before receiving his B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in 1962.
In 1965, he became an editor of the late-evening news on WSB-TV in Atlanta, Georgia. The following year he joined NBC News, reporting from California and anchoring the 11 p.m. news for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.
In 1976, Brokaw became NBC News' Today Show host. He was also the floor reporter for the two major parties' presidential nominating conventions.
In 1982, Brokaw began co-anchoring NBC Nightly News, along with co-anchor Roger Mudd. When Mudd went on to host Meet the Press and American Almanac, a weekly newsmagazine, Brokaw became the sole anchor of the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw on September 5, 1983.
In 1987, he wrote The Arms, the Men, the Money, investigating Contra rebels. That same year he conducted the first one-on-one American TV interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, and won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award. He also moderated the debates among all declared presidential candidates of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Brokaw was Grand Marshall for the 112th Tournament of Roses parade in 2001.
On September 11, 2001, Brokaw joined Katie Couric and Matt Lauer around 9:30 a.m., following the live attack on the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and continued to anchor all day, until after midnight, when MSNBC took over coverage. During the early stages of the disaster, Brokaw famously responded to Lauer's speculations over loss of life after the second tower fell by saying, "This is war. This is a declaration and execution of an attack on the United States. He also asked "Are we at war?" and exclaimed "War! War!" in the style of a sports chant. Throughout the day, Brokaw was joined by David Bloom, Jim Miklaszewski from the Pentagon, author Tom Clancy, Senator John McCain, and NBC Aviation expert Robert Hager at different points in the day, just to name a few.
Brokaw returned for the following two days and expanded the NBC Nightly News to midnight, as well. Along with his contemporaries, Peter Jennings of ABC and Dan Rather of CBS, the three anchors provided thorough and blanket coverage of the attacks.
In 2002, Brokaw announced his intention to go under retirement as anchor of the NBC Nightly News effective after the 2004 Presidential election. NBC then announced that Brian Williams would be Brokaw's successor as the anchor of NBC Nightly News on December 2, 2004. NBC also announced that Brokaw will remain with NBC News in a part-time capacity through 2014 serving as an analyst as well as anchoring and producing documentary programs.
By the end of his time as Nightly News anchor, Brokaw was regarded as the most popular news personality in the United States. His program was consistently rated the highest evening news show, topping Dan Rather and Peter Jennings in the evening news ratings. This may explain why Brokaw was the only one of the three evening news anchors to have a sit-down interview with President George W. Bush.
Along with the two other pillars of the so-called "Big Three" — Peter Jennings (ABC) and Dan Rather (CBS) — Brokaw helped usher in the era of the TV news anchor as lavishly compensated, globe-trotting star in the 1980s. The magnitude of a news event could be measured by whether Brokaw and his counterparts on the other two networks showed up on the scene. Brokaw's retirement in December 2004, followed by Rather's ouster from the CBS Evening News in March 2005, and finally Jennings's death in August 2005, brought that era to a close.
He closed his final Nightly News broadcast in front of 15.7 million viewers on NBC by saying:
Some political independents, Libertarians, Reform party members and Green Party members have publicly urged Tom Brokaw to run as their candidate for national office: U.S. Senate, or President.
Brokaw recently completed a documentary on global warming for the Discovery Channel entitled Global Warming: What You Need to Know, with Tom Brokaw.
On November 19, 2006, Brokaw delivered the keynote speech at the annual Dedication Day Ceremony at the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, honoring those who fought and died in the American Civil War.
Brokaw hosted and conducted interviews for the History Channel's 1968 with Tom Brokaw, a 2-hour documentary that first aired on December 9, 2007 which examined one of the most tumultuous years in American history.
On June 13, 2008, Brokaw broke into NBC's second round coverage of the U.S. open golf tournament at 3:39 p.m. EDT and publicly announced the death of his longtime friend and colleague, NBC News Washington Bureau Chief and Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert. The NBC NEWS special report announcing Russert's death was also broadcasted on CNBC, and MSNBC. Later that night, he hosted a one-hour special program on NBC memorializing Russert and hosted the following Sunday's episode of Meet the Press remembering Tim Russert.
On June 22, 2008, guest moderator Brian Williams announced at the end of that day's show that Tom Brokaw will replace Tim Russert, on an interim basis, as host of Meet the Press, chosen to serve as moderator until the end of the 2008 Presidential Campaign. NBC has not discussed any potential permanent replacements for Russert; Brokaw has stated that he has no intention of filling the position permanently, stating that "the plan is for me to be in place until they can find somebody who can take it over on a permanent basis. Rumored candidates for the job include Chuck Todd, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, and Gwen Ifill.
Brokaw hosted the second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain October 7, 2008 at Belmont University's Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The debate had a town-hall meeting format. Brokaw received criticism for his handling of the debate.