Tom Brokaw: ‘The Press Always Has to be Careful About Having a Glass Jaw’

By Alex Weprin 

Former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw stepped down from the anchor chair in 2004, after more than three decades in high-profile roles at the network. Of course, his “retirement” has been anything but quiet.

He remains a regular analyst on NBC News programming and he also produces long-form programming, the latest of which, “The Brokaw Files,” will debut on Military Channel Thursday at 10 PM. “The Brokaw Files”–produced by NBC’s Peacock Productions–features some of Brokaw’s classic interviews and reports, updated with new information and reflections. For example, Brokaw’s interview with President Reagan, conducted just a few days before he left office.

“I honestly believe that in this age of warp speed communication and everybody looking at the next nanosecond, that there is real value in going back and examining, for example, the kind of person Ronald Reagan was,” Brokaw tells TVNewser. “I think that broadcast, it was his last interview he gave while in office, is instructive of what it was like to come up from the heart of America and become the President of the United States for two terms, during the heart of the cold war.”

For Brokaw and his production team, the Military Channel show is a chance to go back and find not only well-watched pieces, like the Reagan interview, but also pieces that fell through the cracks, like a story about the USS John C. Stennis.

“One of the things that happens with television, and it has been frustrating for 50 years, one of my producers used to say that we work very hard on these projects and the signal goes to Venus and we never see it again,” Brokaw said. “This gives both NBC and me an opportunity to go back and pull up stuff that we have done that has — I hope — a kind of enduring quality about it.”

The show is a stark contrast to the lightning-fast media landscape we have today. Still, Brokaw says that the current state of the media is a boon for citizens, even as it becomes harder to navigate.

“A lot of people complain that [news] is not what it used to be, and I say, well, of course it is not, it is a dynamic profession, it is always changing,” Brokaw says. “What I tell audiences right now is that the burden is a lot more on you to be more proactive as a news consumer, if you are, you have the world at your fingertips.

“There has never been a better time than what it comes to accessibility, and that has real value, but it means that news consumers, the citizens of the country, have to do their part as well,” Brokaw added.

Brokaw, who covered seven Presidents while at NBC, also weighed in on the Obama administration’s policy towards the news media.

“My friend Jim Goodale says they are worse than the Nixon administration, I don’t buy that,” Brokaw says. “I think they have been very tough, but the Nixon administration had an enemies list, and a proactive campaign to go after individual reporters and correspondents.

“It is always a complex subject,” Brokaw added, noting that he read a thoughtful piece by Walter Pincus about the matter. “I think that the press always has to be careful about having a glass jaw, and going down with the first punch and screaming first amendment rights. Many of the same reporters who are tough on the gun lobby when it comes to second amendment rights, run behind the shield of the first amendment, without doing it in a way that is qualitatively analytical, and not just a knee-jerk reaction.”