!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Tom Brokaw
Tom Brokaw was a participant or observer in the following events:
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
According to media analyses performed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and by the team of Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, the Sunday talk show coverage of the Bush-Gore conflict in Florida between November 12 and December 10 is heavily skewed towards painting George W. Bush as the legitimate president (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and Al Gore the losing contender who continues to carry on after having legitimately lost the election. On December 3 and December 10, panelists on ABC’s This Week refer to Bush’s future presidency 27 times. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, does so 19 times and calls Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney the “vice president.” In a December 3 interview, Russert asks Cheney if he feels Gore is being a “sore loser” (see November 24, 2000 and After). On December 3, ABC’s Sam Donaldson attempts to get Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman, to concede the election on-air. ABC’s Cokie Roberts attempts to get a concession from Gore campaign representative George Mitchell. Jamieson and Waldman later determine that in the five Sunday shows aired by the three networks during this time period, the word “concede” appears in 23 questions. In 20 of these questions, the hypothetical conceder is Gore. In the other three questions, the hypothetical conceder is no one. Similarly, the hosts and guests on these talk shows, and on other network news broadcasts, frequently warn of “dire consequences” to America’s constitutional democracy if the Florida question is not settled immediately. The hosts also issue frequent warnings that the citizenry’s patience is at “the breaking point,” though polls consistently show that most Americans are content to let the recall process work itself out. CAP later notes, “The Baker-Bush team [referring to James Baker, the head of the Bush campaign’s ‘quick response’ recount team—see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000] worked hard to create this crisis atmosphere in the hopes of increasing the pressure on Gore to relent for the good of the country, the markets, and the maintenance of world peace.” During this time period, Russert tells viewers, “We could have chaos and a constitutional crisis.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw tells viewers: “If the Florida recount drags on, the national markets are at risk here. National security is involved.” Pundits on ABC’s This Week warn of “turmoil” if Gore does not concede; pundits on CBS’s Face the Nation remark on “spinning out of control.” Columnist David Broder says this period of US history is worse than the turmoil the country weathered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. [Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010]
Entity Tags: George Mitchell, Tom Brokaw, Center for American Progress, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., ABC News, Tim Russert, David Broder, Sam Donaldson, Paul Waldman, James A. Baker, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph Lieberman, NBC News, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Cokie Roberts
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. [Source: FBI]A letter addressed to news anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News is mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. It is postmarked September 18, 2001, which means it is dropped into a mailbox either some time after 5 p.m. on September 17 or some time before 5 p.m. on September 18. The letter contains deadly anthrax spores and a short message in slanting block letters:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENACILIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT
There is no return address and the word penicillin is misspelled. The letter is opened on October 12, turned over to the FBI the same day, and tests positive for anthrax the next day. Several days later, an employee at the New York Post is diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. An unopened letter is found at the Post’s editorial office, addressed to “Editor.” It also is found to contain real anthrax and the exact same message as the Brokaw letter, and was postmarked on the same day and from the same location. That same week, an employee at CBS News and the infant son of an ABC News employee are diagnosed with anthrax infections, but no letters are found in their New York offices. It is presumed those letters are mailed with the other two, but are thrown away. Also, several employees at a Florida building containing the offices of the Sun, a tabloid, get sick with anthrax infections. However, no letter is found there either. The victims at the Sun suffer from the more deadly inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous anthrax, suggesting that letter could be sent separately. That letter appears to be directed at the National Enquirer, another tabloid owned by the same company as the Sun, but was redirected to the Sun due to a recent relocation of the Enquirer’s offices. [New York Times, 12/5/2001; Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] A second wave of anthrax letters follows in early October (see October 6-9, 2001).
On the same day NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews former President Clinton, NBC executives receive phone calls from senior communications staffers at the White House about the interview. While these staffers do not explicitly ask NBC to refrain from showing the interview, they do complain that showing it will not be helpful to the war on terrorism. NBC shows the interview despite the calls. Ironically, in the interview Clinton merely says that he supports President Bush and urges the rest of the country to do so as well. [Salon, 9/27/2001]
On September 20, 2001, a letter purporting to contain anthrax is postmarked in St. Petersburg and addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. On September 25, Erin O’Connor, an assistant to Brokaw, gets sick with cutaneous anthrax. During the first days of the anthrax investigation in early October, it will be assumed that O’Connor got sick from the St. Petersburg letter. A brief handwritten note is found in the letter with some powder. The note threatened biological attacks on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. The letter contains misspelled phrase “THE UNTHINKABEL” with the Ns reversed. On October 5, two more letters are sent from St. Petersburg that resemble to earlier letter to Brokaw. For instance, it is written in the same capitalized, blocked letters, the Ns are reversed, there are similar biological threats made, and there is a powdery substance inside. One of the letters is sent to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who is a co-author of Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, a book published just days earlier. The other letter is to Howard Troxler, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Troxler opened his letter on October 9 and Miller opened hers on October 12. But laboratory analysis soon determines that the powder in all three of the St. Petersburg letters is non-toxic. Furthermore, it is learned that a different letter containing real anthrax was sent to Tom Brokaw, explaining O’Connor’s infection. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]
Peter Jennings. [Source: ABC / Pop Stars Plus]While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” [Washington Post, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/30/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 73]
Entity Tags: MSNBC, Dan Rather, CBS News, Alex Wallau, ABC News, David Westin, Lisa de Moraes, Peter Arnett, Peter Jennings, NBC News, Tom Brokaw, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
Tom Brokaw. [Source: David Shankbone]NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” [Editor & Publisher, 5/31/2008]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.