Tom Brokaw, who will speak at Saint Simeon’s Episcopal Home this month, shares his thoughts on Oklahoma and his prolific journalism career.
On May 13, Tom Brokaw will be in Tulsa to speak at a preview of Saint Simeon’s new 72,000-square-foot Assisted Living and Wellness Centers, a $22 million project that will serve 200 residents.
As the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News for 21 years, Brokaw has been honored with the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was the first journalist to receive the George Catlett Marshall Medal from the Association of the U.S. Army.
Selected Tulsans will hear his familiar voice in person, as well as meet his wife, Meredith, whose uncle was the late James Harvey, a trustee of Saint Simeon’s Episcopal Home. Harvey’s mother, Meredith’s grandmother, also was a former resident.
TulsaPeople caught up with Brokaw before he heads south for the event.
What are a few of your fond memories of Tulsa? I always enjoy coming. I think it’s a beautiful city. We (he and his wife, Meredith) went there when we were very young and just married. We didn’t have any money and we went to visit Meredith’s relatives … And I couldn’t get a job in Tulsa television. They were hoping that maybe I could get a job there, but Jim Hartz was the anchorman at the time. We later became friends and colleagues at NBC.
Where do you like to eat or visit when you’re in Tulsa? I’m a huge fan of the Gilcrease Museum. I’ve sent a lot of people to it over the years. I just think it’s one of the great treasures in America.
What do you admire most about the Midwest? I grew up (in South Dakota), curiously enough, with a lot of people from Oklahoma because my dad worked in construction and, right after the war, there were a lot of people who came out of the oil fields who just came out of the Oklahoma working-class tradition and were from Muskogee and from Chickasha and a lot of places like that ... So I have a real affection for Okies. And my son-in-law is from Oklahoma. He’s from Claremore.
Have you visited Claremore? I have not been to Claremore. I know all about the Will Rogers tradition and everything, but I’ve been to a couple of Sooner football games. Good ones and bad ones. I’m very familiar with it.
What has been your favorite interview to date? The people who have always made the biggest impression on me over the years are the people who are going about their lives in an ordinary fashion and then they’re called on to do extraordinary things, whether they’re civil rights workers or soldiers or doctors in ERs or whatever, and I’m always very taken with those interviews because they’re so authentic and they’re not looking for attention in any way.
What was your hardest reporting assignment? Well, I think 9-11 was certainly the most challenging for me because it was so unexpected and it kept unfolding all that day in ways that no one could anticipate what might happen next … We were so blindsided by 9-11 and it was a matter of really working all day long and through the night and for many, many days to come about the effect it would have on this country and what the consequences were as a result of that day.
What person would you like to interview whom you have yet to meet? Osama Bin Laden.
What was the difference for you between being a national newsman and a local newsman? That was a long time ago since I was a local news anchor. When you’re a national anchor the whole world is your beat, and that’s a big difference. Obviously I enjoyed my days in Omaha and Atlanta, but then when I went to work for NBC in Cali., I was both a local anchor and a national correspondent so I got to move around a lot.
I think the big thing is that you just have the big picture that you’re constantly dealing with as a national anchor, and when you’re a local anchor, there should be more concern about what goes on at city hall or the state house or in the school board, but I think unfortunately some local news kind of got away from that.
What do you miss most about anchoring the news, although you still do sometimes? I still do it from time to time. You know, when you have the kind of job that I’ve had over the years and I still have, you have a ready excuse to go anywhere in the world and ask for an interview with anyone that you want to. That’s a pretty big privilege. And I try to exercise it with great care and keep the audience in mind as what they need to know.
I’m going to go off to Normandy for the 65th anniversary of D-Day coming up here shortly, but I’m also going to travel episodically across America on Highway 50 to hear what American people at their grass roots think about Washington and Wall Street.
I was just in South Africa on a biking trip, and I was reminded when I was there when Nelson Mandela was released. It was a thrilling event. I was at the Berlin Wall the night it came down; that was a thrilling event. I was in China for Tiananmen Square, so I’ve been in the cockpit of a lot of very big events in our life.
Reporting has obviously changed a lot in recent years. What changes do you like and dislike? Well I like the idea that you can, on a small screen on your computer, call up any news source in the world very quickly and get information swiftly wherever you are because there’s access now to it. What I don’t like about it is that people are losing their attention span; they’re just kind of leap frogging from one quick fix to another when it comes to the news. We need to redevelop the habits of paying attention in detail to what’s going on because the devil is in the details and the economic situation is a perfect example of that. We need to be aware of what the consequences are when our economy begins to free wheel out of control.
What are a few of your favorite recipes from your wife’s book Big Sky Cooking?
My margaritas. No, I love all the bison recipes. We love cooking. They stay close to the ranch out there; bison and game, and I love all of that.