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Veteran News Anchor Tom Brokaw

Dec 08, 2010 10:50PM ● By Anonymous

From there, Brokaw rattled off a bullet-point summation of the turbulence of the past 10 years in American history. Moving quickly through the election of 2000, the 9/11 terrorism attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crippling natural disasters in southern Asia and New Orleans, 2007’s dawn of the Great Recession, and the election of the country’s first African American president, Brokaw remarked that the generation sitting before him had been conditioned to expect the unexpected. “It was the beginning of a world seemingly turned upside down,” he concluded.

Through his roles as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004, followed by assignments as a news correspondent and analyst, television host, and presidential debate moderator, Brokaw has had a public front-row seat for the nation’s cartoonish ebbs and tides that spans well over two decades. He coined the term “The Greatest Generation” in his New York Times bestselling book of the same title to describe the generation that came of age during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. A stint as special correspondent for NBC allowed this South Dakota-bred journalist to produce documentaries such as American Character Along Highway 50, which aired on the USA Network last January and opens with a segment about Cambridge, Maryland.

So Brokaw—with his passion for stories that inform the American perspective and his enthusiasm for “the generation that did more for this country than any other,” as he says of that pre-baby boomer era—seems to have the requisite qualifications to advise what the socalled Millennial Generation must do to answer the questions currently facing America. Addressing that audience of Midshipmen seated before him, Brokaw offered his solution.

“Uncle Sam is grateful for the service you provide your country,” he expressed. “Now, Uncle Sam needs your siblings to step up, also. All hands must be on deck.”

Brokaw’s solution is to craft a new paradigm of< public service. Colleges around the country would adopt two-year programs that would train and equip civilians to handle the needs of people who live in areas that are underdeveloped, war-torn, and severly affected by some natural disaster. These new service forces would complement the military—the latter liberated to focus its energies on security, and the former assuming the mantle of conflict resolution and humanitarian aid.

After the speech, Brokaw told me that his basic belief is in an elevation and expansion of public service. “This would be Peace Corps plus; we need to put it on the level of the Manhattan Project or going to the moon,” he explained. As a suitable comparison, he singled out Teach for America’s efforts and the significant impact the organization has had on inner-city schools. “I never fail to be in awe of service folks,” he said.

In pursuing American Character, Brokaw said his motivation was his belief that too much Washington reporting takes place in Washington. “When I’ve been out around the country, everyone seems to have a longer view than Washington,” he offered. “They seem to understand that a lot happened to get us here, that we’ll be here a while, and it’ll take a lot to get us out. You don’t hear much of that in Washington.”

Likewise, he believes that the political polarization found on cable news is more prevalent in Washington than in the rest of America.“I’ve found very little of the ideological food fighting that we see at the top,” he says. “The power of technology allows small groups to feel like big groups. I don’t think our political climate is nearly as polarized in most of America as it is at the top.”

The segment about Cambridge begins with Brokaw, at the start of crabbing season, looking down the wake of a crabbing boat tearing through what he calls “watermen territory.” He explains that declining shellfish populations, increased fishing restrictions, and an uptick in international competition have taken crabbing from a $33.5 million industry at its height to just $18 million today.

Brokaw next interviews Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley about the struggle of bringing jobs to the area. Sitting with a group of immigrant workers at the J.M. Clayton Company—the world’s oldest working crabprocessing house—he speaks with owner Jack Brooks, who says that each immigrant worker on a temporary visa creates two and a half permanent jobs for American citizens.

Pointing out that the ripple effect of immigrant workers finishes on Main Street, Brokaw turns his attention to Amanda Bramble, owner of Jimmie and Sook’s Raw Bar and Grill. Recognizing the odds stacked against any restaurant’s success, much less one that opens in the teeth of the deepest recession in 25 years, Bramble expresses relentless hope for the future of her business, saying this brand of hope is echoed by everyone in her community. And, with that hope, Brokaw leaves Cambridge behind as he sets off for D.C. along “the backbone of America.”

Following his speech at the Naval Academy, Brokaw also related that he’d been startled at the degree to which Cambridge had been affected by the recession. “This is a place that’s an hour from Washington and is directly on the Bay, in a beautiful area, that obviously has a lot of intrinsic value. But there, too, the people have a very long view.

“Take Mayor Jackson-Stanley,” he continued. “She and her family have been there forever, since the fires of the civil rights movement, and now she’s here for this.”

Before excusing himself, the veteran journalist added that Cambridge’s mayor, like so many others he observed across America, takes a much longer view than her political brethren in the District of Columbia.