Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Voice of NBC News

Thomas Brokaw was one of the more influential voices in news reporting in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Born in South Dakota in 1940, he studied at the University of Iowa and the University of South Dakota. He began as a local TV news announcer in Sioux City, Iowa. He began doing national news for the NBC network, and was assigned to cover the White House shortly before the Watergate scandal began; this would be his rise to fame. Concerning President Gerald Ford, Brokaw said that Ford had
no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance. He knew who he was and he didn't require consultants or gurus to change him. Moreover, the country knew who he was and despite occasional differences, large and small, it never lost its affection for this man from Michigan, the football player, the lawyer and the veteran, the Congressman and suburban husband, the champion of Main Street values who brought all of those qualities to the White House.
Brokaw observed both sides of President Ford: the national and international leader, and the simple but honest human being, subject to the problems of all ordinary mortals:
We could identify with him - all of us - for so many reasons. Among them, we were all trapped in what passed for style in the 70s with a wardrobe with lapels out to here, white belts, plaid jackets and trousers so patterned that they would give you a migraine.
Despite being captive to the bad clothing fashions of the 1970's, President Ford was an international leader: a "world-historical" personage in the true sense of the phrase:
To be a member of the Gerald Ford White House press corps brought other benefits as well as we documented a nation and a world in transition, in turmoil. We accompanied him to audiences with the notorious and the merely powerful. We saw Tito, Franco, Sadat, Marcos, Suharto, the shah of Iran, the emperor of Japan, China with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping all at once, what was then the Soviet Union and Vladivostock with Leonid Brezhnev, and Helsinki at one of the most remarkable gatherings of leaders in the 20th century.
Yet this pivotal figure in twentieth-century geo-politics found an unlikely incubator in which to nurture his leadership skills: the University of Michigan football team. Gerald Ford was not only a football player, but was the MVP (most valuable player) on the team. During his career in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan football team had two seasons in which they were undefeated and won back-to-back national championships (1932 and 1933). Attempting to connect Ford's football career as center and linebacker to his decisive role in Western Civilization, Brokaw said:
In many ways I believe football was a metaphor for his life in politics and after. He played in the middle of the line. He was a center, a position that seldom receives much praise. But he had his hands on the ball for every play and no play could start without him. And when the game was over and others received the credit, he didn't whine or whimper.
Although it is easy to criticize Brokaw, like any other TV news reporter, as a "talking head" often reading what others have researched or written, it is apparent from the intellectual honesty and integrity with which he spoke about President Ford that Brokaw is indeed able acknowledge honor and greatness, even when they are found in a "politically incorrect" form.