Tom Brokaw is a multiple award-winning television broadcast journalist and author from the United States. He served as editor and anchor of the NBC Nightly News program for more than 20 years and reported on some of the world’s biggest stories in that time. He is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Early Years and Education
Thomas John Brokaw was born on February 6, 1940, in Webster, South Dakota. He was the first of three sons born to Anthony Orville Brokaw, known as Red, and Eugenia Conley, known as Jean. His mother worked as a clerk in the post office and in sales. His father worked as the Army Corps of Engineers construction foreman and the job took the Brokaw family around South Dakota. They lived in Bristol, Igloo, Pickstown, and, finally, Yankton.
Brokaw enrolled at Yankton Senior High for his four years of high school. He formed a friendship with Joe Foss, the governor of South Dakota, through the American Legion Boys State Summer Leadership program. They met when Brokaw accompanied Foss on a television game show in New York City. Ross features in one of Tom Brokaw’s books, The Greatest Generation.
The University of Iowa admitted Brokaw after he graduated high school. He did not complete his first year by focusing on “beer and co-eds” instead of his studies. Brokaw enrolled in the University of South Dakota located in Vermillion. In 1964, he graduated with a Bachelors in Political Science. He met and married Meredith Lynn Auld, an author and former Miss South Dakota, while at the University. They produced three children, Sarah, Andrea, and Jennifer.
NBC Nightly NewsTom Brokaw first appeared on television as an anchor for KTIV based in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1964. Then he worked for KMTV in Omaha, Nebraska. He moved again in 1965 to Atlanta, Georgia to report on the civil rights movement. NBC recruiters appreciated Brokaw’s work in Atlanta and invited him to be NBC’s White House Correspondent in 1973. In 1976, he moved to the Today show as a co-host and held the post until 1981.
Tom Brokaw anchored NBC Nightly News for 22 years.
Brokaw transferred to NBC Nightly News on April 5, 1982. He co-anchored alongside Roger Mudd with Tom in New York and Mudd stationed in Washington, D.C. Reuven Frank, the president of NBC News, decided to keep Tom Brokaw as the only anchor after a year of programming. On September 5, 1983, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw debuted.
On November 9, 1989, Tom Brokaw attended the East German Politburo’s press spokesman, Günter Schabowski’s, press conference in East Berlin. Schabowski announced their intent to allow East Berliner to cross to the West side without receiving approval from West Berlin. One of the reporters asked when they could begin crossing and he replied, “immediately, without delay.” This caused a mob of East Berlin residents to head to the Wall. Brokaw scored an interview with Schabowski and received the same response of “immediately” when he questioned the spokesman. He then reported on the chaos in East Berlin from the Brandenburg Gate.
Brokaw hosted many more famous interviews and reports while hosting the NBC Nightly News. He reported on Tibet’s human rights violations and was the first U.S. reporter to interview Mikhail Gorbachev one-on-one. He reported from the scene of the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and on-site at the bombing in Oklahoma City.
Tom Brokaw interviewed the Dalai Lama and conducted the first interview of Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian Prime Minister, on any North American television network in 1999. Brokaw also traveled to Tirana, Albania as the first anchor of a network evening news show to report on NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia.
Brokaw was the first cable news anchor in the U.S. to report that the Iraq war began on March 19, 2003. In June 2004, he reported from the 60th Anniversary of D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France and interviewed the presidents of France, Jacques Chirac, and the U.S., George W. Bush. He covered the transfer of powers in Iraq the same month before retiring from Nightly News.
Retiring from Nightly News
Tom Brokaw retired from NBC Nightly News on December 1, 2004. He returned to television the following year, delivering a primetime report in 2005 that discussed the War on Terror called, “The Long War.” He interviewed intelligence experts, world leaders, and people affected by the attacks on September 11, 2001, around the globe, including Washington, D.C., France, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Brokaw produced another documentary in July 2005, “The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat,” and “In God They Trust” that September. “Separate and Unequal” produced in 2006 by Brokaw, addressed the progress and remaining problems after the civil rights movement started 40 years ago. In August 2013, doctors diagnosed Brokaw with multiple myeloma. On November 21, 2014, he announced the cancer was in remission and his happiness to be alive.
Honors and Awards
'''The Greatest Generation''' by Tom Brokaw solidified his excellence as an author.
Tom Brokaw has won multiple awards during his more than 50 years of television reporting. The Broadcasting and Cable TV’s Hall of Fame inducted him in 1977. He won Emmys for his reports on the 1992 Midwest U.S. flooding and his special report series “China in Crisis,” along with a Peabody Award for the report, “To Be an American.” Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, was published in 1998 and made him a best-selling author.
Marist College honored Brokaw with their Lowell Thomas Award and Boston University granted him the Dennis Kauff Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. In November 2014, Tom Brokaw received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his many years as a news anchor from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Brokaw, T. (2004). A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland in the Forties and Fifties. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Cornette, M. L., Wishart, D. J. (Ed.). (2004). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
NBC News. (2009, January 16). Tom Brokaw. NBC News.
- Brokaw, 2004
- Wishart, 2004
- Frank, R. (1991). Out of Thin Air: Insider’s History of Network News-the Beginning and the End. New York, NY, United States: Simon & Schuster.
- NBC Nightly News (1989, November 9). Brokaw reports from the Berlin wall.
- Cornette, 2004
- NBC News, 2009
- NBC News, 2009
- Heigl, A. (2014, December 21). Tom Brokaw: “My Cancer is in Remission.” People.
- Wishart, 2004
- NBC News, 2009
- Wishart, 2004
- Rafferty, A. (2014, November 24). Obama Awards Medal of Freedom. NBC News.