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Larry King Live

Tom Brokaw Comments on Current Events and 'The Greatest Generation'

Aired February 1, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Tom Brokaw of NBC News for the hour. We'll talk headlines and what he's been hearing from the greatest generation. We'll also take your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

He's had two enormous bestselling books, "The Greatest Generation" and "The Greatest Generation Speaks" -- there you see one, and there you see the other. Starting -- coming out in May, "Generation: An Album of Memories."

Are you now an author? You're a full-time author now, right?

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Well, it's a passion.

KING: You're going to do a novel next, what?

BROKAW: No, I don't think I'll be doing that. I'm not very good at fiction. These are stories that came to me after the first two books came out, and I was reluctant to do a third book, because I didn't want people to think that I was exploiting that generation.

KING: Milking it.

BROKAW: And then a number of friends said to me, well, if you don't do it, those stories will not be heard, and people won't have access to them. So I came up with an idea. I thought we'll do this album of memories, and I'll give all the proceeds from the sale of the book to the World War II Memorial. And I'm going to work with them on establishing a Web site that can be the World War II Memorial Web site that can be a place for reunions for all these veterans who want to find each other and find out about the battles they were and their outfits.

KING: So the book contains -- when it comes out, we will read what?

BROKAW: Unbelievably compelling first-person accounts of what it was like to be in Pearl Harbor the day of the attack, what it was like to be in the Battle of the Bulge, what it was like to liberate Berlin, what it was like to be in Tokyo Harbor on the day of the surrender.

A lot of these come from letters that they wrote home, they found, after a long time. Some of the stories have never been told even to members of their families. KING: They just send them to you indiscriminately.

BROKAW: Thousands of them, Larry, thousands of them. And they continue to arrive. I have a full-time assistant who does nothing but read letters and sort them out, and then we go through them.

KING: You could never have thought that you would become the voice -- that's the best way to put it -- of that generation.

BROKAW: No, I did not anticipate that. I have said that I wrote the first book as a labor of love, as a way of saying thank you to my parents and that generation, thinking that probably members of that generation would read it. But now, their children and their grandchildren are reading it.

The most gratifying response that I get really are from those baby boomers who say, thanks to you I finally understand my dad.

KING: You'll be back when that book comes out, of course.

BROKAW: I hope so.

KING: What do you mean, I hope you?

BROKAW: Thank you. I promise.

KING: It's a done deal.

BROKAW: Right.

KING: Why the World -- why did the World War II Memorial take so long?

BROKAW: Well, I think for one thing the World War II generation was modest and reluctant to pay -- to point attention to itself. And then when it got involved in doing something about that, Bob Dole was determined to raise money privately. All his friends on the Hill said, Bob, you don't have to go through this, we'll just appropriate the money for you.

KING: McGovern, too, was a big...

BROKAW: Right, exactly.

KING: Two heroes.

BROKAW: And so I remember I had a luncheon. I said, I'll have a little lunch for you here in New York, and I called some friends of mine from Wall Street and other people who have been generous in other causes in the past, and the turnout was not going to be as great as I thought that it ought to be. And I got kind of angry, so I called Tom Hanks and I said, I may need some help on this. And he said, I'll come in and do whatever you need. So he came in and appeared on the "Today" program with Bob Dole in the morning. And then I called back to these Wall Street guys, and I said, look, Tom Hanks is going to come to this luncheon, I really think you ought to show up. And I called a few of the veterans that I know, Congressional Medal of Honor winners and others.

They came to the lunch. Bob got up, talked. Tom talked. I talked. We all got fairly emotional about what we were saying. And I think that by last count, we raised about a million-five in about 20 minutes. I mean, guys were writing checks as fast as they could, because they realized how much they owed that generation.

These were people my age and a little bit younger.

KING: Why are they so non-bravado, that generation? They don't talk about it.

BROKAW: Well, I think it's characteristic of that generation, period. Now some of them do talk about it, kind of go around, pump themselves up.

KING: Or you wouldn't have had a book.

BROKAW: But most of them don't. But most of them don't.

KING: You've got to get them to talk.

BROKAW: And I think a combination of things. Everybody was involved, and almost every story that comes out of a guy who was in combat, for example, he says, I wasn't a hero, the guy that was beside me, my best buddy that I lost there, that's the guy that you should be writing about.

They saw so much horror. There was so much difficulty during the war and before the war.

The Depression was a time of great trial for this same generation, and they simply didn't want to go back and revisit it. They came back. They had given up so many years of their youth. They wanted to get on with life. And their kids were not much interested in it, because it seemed like ancient history to them. So they just kept plowing forward.

KING: Do you also think we were -- someone said, we were so fortunate to have so many great people living at the same time: Eisenhower, Patton, Churchill, Nimitz, Bradley, King.

BROKAW: They rose to the occasion, yes.

KING: They may be there now. We just don't know about them.

BROKAW: Yes, yes. I think that they are there now, and I think the one thing that this generation that I've written about when I -- people say to me, "Well, what about the current generation?" When I ask the greatest generation, as I call them, they say to me: Look, our grandkids or our children are so much smarter than we were. They travel the world easily. They get things done -- cybertechnology -- my god, I'll never be able to understand that. And there are members of that generation, including my friend Andy Rooney, that say, I don't know Brokaw, we weren't so great, I don't know why you call us the greatest generation, we just did what was expected of us. And so there are those who are not just modest but they resist the idea of being called the greatest generation. They had great challenges before them, they rose to the occasion, and then got on with the business of rebuilding the country.

KING: You know, Bob Dole told us -- we've had him on many times on this -- that he's very annoyed that McGovern never really got the credit due him. What a great hero he was.

BROKAW: I talked to George McGovern about this recently, because I grew up with him out in South Dakota.

KING: And he never boasted.

BROKAW: And he never talked about it. He...

KING: But he flew how many missions?

BROKAW: The son of a minister, distinguished Flying Cross, saved his crew by crash-landing his plane safely. And he said, well, maybe I should have said more about it. And he ran against a well-known war hero by the name of Joe Foss, whose exploits were so overarching that everybody knew about him. And Joe had the greatest respect for George. But George just never talked about it.

KING: And he got this image of a wimp...

(CROSSTALK)

BROKAW: Yeah, the idea that he was some kind of a peacenik, and he was a guy who was terrified of flying, by the way, when he became a pilot. And -- but nonetheless, 15th Air Force, and over 30 missions.

KING: Our guest is Tom Brokaw. He'll be back, of course, when the next one comes out. The next one is "An Album Of Memories." It is due in May.

We'll talk about lots of things. We'll include your phone calls. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: That was dedication. There you see Bob Dole and the former president at the dedication of the World War II Memorial. I guess you'll emcee it when it opens.

BROKAW: Well, I'm going to be there. I don't know whether...

KING: I'll be there, but you're going...

(CROSSTALK)

BROKAW: They do want me to be there. I couldn't be at this ground-breaking, because I had another commitment that day. Obviously, there are some who think it's not appropriate to have it in that location, including some World War II veterans. But Carter Brown, who keeps track of this kind of thing and worries about the aesthetics of the capital, thinks it's going to be great. And I've driven by the location on many occasions, and I don't think it's going to interrupt with that great scene all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. And we do need to say something about the World War II generation and what it did. It saved the world.

KING: And now books are being republished.

BROKAW: Yes. Andy Rooney's book is out again. Peter Maas has just helped bring out another book that had been published earlier about the sinking of the Indianapolis. There's another book coming out about that in the spring by Doug Stanton.

KING: Walter Lords.

BROKAW: Walter Lords' book called "A Day in Infamy," which is an account of what happened in one day on the attack on Pearl Harbor. I've just finished reading it, and it's absolutely riveting.

KING: One other thing in this area which you've just mentioned to me, the Tuskeegee Airmen. They couldn't eat in places that Germans could eat.

BROKAW: Larry, I was just at a dinner in Los Angeles honoring these guys. You had the feeling...

KING: It's a black group.

BROKAW: Black group. They flew fighter escorts for the 15th Air Force, over 1,500 missions. They had the best single record for getting the bombers back safely. When they came home -- think about this -- in uniform, on their bases, they couldn't go into the officers club because they were black. On the other hand, German prisoners of war who were billeted here did get to go in. A group of them went in and sat in. They were arrested and court-martialed for disobeying orders and for disorderly conduct. And it took I think more than 20 years to get that reversed. And yet they never gave up on the country.

KING: Why?

BROKAW: I think because they did believe in it. And I always say that's one more test of the greatest generation. I know lots of stories like that. Also, the Japanese-Americans -- Norm Mineta, who's in this new Cabinet, spent in his youth...

KING: In a camp.

BROKAW: ... in a concentration camp effectively.

KING: We had concentration camps in this country.

BROKAW: That's right.

KING: How did this -- how did this society accept this?

BROKAW: Well, there was great fear. A lot of people say to me, you know, you have to understand that we thought that the Japanese were going to attack the West Coast. And some of the Japanese- Americans who were living in California had not become citizens, the first generation. But these children had, Norm Mineta and others had. And the 442nd -- Danny Inouye's outfit -- was the most highly decorated combat...

KING: He lost a -- what? He lost an arm.

BROKAW: ... outfit that we had. He lost an arm. And he just recently got a Congressional Medal of Honor after all of these years.

KING: About time.

BROKAW: Right.

KING: Let's go to some news areas. The Ashcroft nomination -- toughest fight for Cabinet post since Tower was rejected.

BROKAW: I think it was -- yes, it was drawing of the line. He did get approved obviously. A lot of those people who were voting against him have large black constituencies in their home states. They also want to run for president one day, and there was a very strong feeling in minority communities that this man couldn't represent them in terms of equal application of the law.

It's kind of what we've come to expect in Washington now...

KING: He will be, will he not, the most watched attorney general...

BROKAW: Yes, well, that's the thing.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... every move he makes against tobacco, against big industries.

BROKAW: Everything. Look, there's going to be a dance going on, a very wary dance for the next 18 months in Washington between the Democrats on the Hill, this new president, and the Republicans on the Hill, because congressional elections are starting a year from now, frankly, and the Democrats want to make sure they don't get co-opted. They want to be able to send a signal to the new president you can't send up here somebody who's a really conservative Supreme Court nominee, for example, and expect him to fly through.

KING: How is he doing, George W.?

BROKAW: I think he's doing very well.

KING: Surprisingly well?

BROKAW: No, not -- at least not to me. I mean, this is what he did in Texas. This is what we knew that he did. He really did win favor with the Texas legislature, largely Democratic, because he walked down the hall, meet with them. As we sit here tonight, he had the Kennedy family in the White House showing them "13 Days," and...

KING: He sent a birthday cake to Gephardt.

BROKAW: Yes, that's right -- and a birthday cake for Gephardt.

He told me before he got to Washington -- I found this quite astonishing -- that he had told Gephardt in person before he was sworn in, if you want to get to be speaker, don't cross me, we can work together.

For the idea of a Republican president saying to a Democrat with a lot of ambition, if you want to get to be speaker, we're going to have to work together on all this. Now, I don't know how Dennis Hastert felt about all that.

But nonetheless -- and the other thing is that, look, everybody wishes a new president well. We want this country to do well.

KING: Hopefully.

BROKAW: But this is the easy part right now, and the easy issues are out there. Education is out there. The faith-based institutions will begin to get more examination.

But he's going to bump up against some tough things, and what every president learns is that there is the unexpected development. Every president has had them. Jimmy Carter had the hostages in Iran. Ronald Reagan had the Marines blown up in Lebanon. George Bush, the senior, great triumph, the Persian Gulf War, the economy goes south on him, he doesn't get elected.

KING: Something happens.

BROKAW: Bill Clinton says, I'm going to give you health care like you've never seen before, with this pen I'll sign a bill a year from now. And that health care plan put him in a deep hole.

KING: Yes. Is there -- is this a honeymoon period? Is that a true...

BROKAW: Yes. I think there's a honeymoon period to some degree. I think it's shorter than it used to be. I don't think there are very many honeymoons in the public arena anymore. I think it's something that we have to think about. I don't think that we ought to give anybody in the public arena a free pass, but I do think that we don't have to assume that they're guilty simply because they've decided to run for office.

KING: Much more to talk about with Tom Brokaw. We'll also include your phone calls. He's been a legend at NBC for 35 years. He don't look that old!

BROKAW: Legend is a big overstatement, folks, big overstatement. KING: We'll be back with Brokaw after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On that vote, the yeas are 58, the nays are 42. The Senate gives its advice and consent to the nomination of John Ashcroft of Missouri to be the attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is President Bush this morning at the Prayer Breakfast, where he further enhanced his feelings about faith-based initiatives.

How's that going to go, do you think? There's a wide dispute inside the religious community. The Mormon Church is opposed.

BROKAW: Well, I -- I think it depends on how it's handled. I think there's an opportunity for some abuse here, obviously, that we'll have to monitor very carefully. I mean, my guess is that there will be some faith-based charities that will pop up across the landscape now that they know that there's money available, and that's something we'll have to keep our eye on.

And that wall between church and state, which has been breached to some degree by this -- they say that it's just for general social concerns, but I think that some members of those faith-based charities will find it irresistible to proselytize in some fashion.

Now, this is an interesting debate in this country. I had spent part of last year out in Milwaukee doing a documentary about schools, and I said to the mayor, an old FDR Democrat -- they've got vouchers for public schools in Milwaukee, but kids end up in Christian schools for the most part, and they're taught Bible studies and the Christian faith. And I said, is that a good idea? And he said, you know, a little Christianity is a lot better for them than what they're leaving behind in the inner city.

So, that's a kind of a pragmatic answer, but there are some real constitutional and legal issues here that we'll have to keep an eye on.

KING: We've discussed this with Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rather, and you lead that pack, so your thoughts on what happened in November on election night.

BROKAW: Well, it's...

KING: In a nutshell, what went wrong?

BROKAW: In a nutshell...

KING: We were all reading the same thing. BROKAW: In a nutshell, it's a very inelegant phrase, but it's "Garbage in, garbage out." I mean, we had bad numbers going in, and it came out bad. First, it came out for Al Gore, then George Bush, then we had to pull it back, obviously. Everyone knows that at this point.

We all've done investigations. We all know essentially what happened with the VNS, which is this commonly owned Voter News Service that we have

KING: All paper.

BROKAW: All -- yes, and precincts had changed characteristics and VNS hadn't caught up to that. There were some bad numbers reported to VNS in terms of the wrong thing.

And I think what people learned in the post-election period is that Florida was a kind of a flawed system. So it was imperfection colliding with imperfection.

It was acutely embarrassing. One thing you can say about television is that when it makes a mistake, it does it in front of everybody. We apologize. I kept saying on the air, you know, we don't elect people here, we're giving our best estimate, we've been run twice.

What happened to me that night is after we did the Al Gore projection -- and let me just say parenthetically here, I think the model has worked so well that we got a little careless in our language. We just assumed that we were right and that the audience we thought would probably think that we were right. We were more worried about Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin.

And so we had Al Gore in the winner's column, and then we get Karl Rove on from Austin who is the political strategist for George W. Bush, and he said, we don't believe those numbers. He said, we think there's something else going on down there. That set off a big alarm in my head, because Karl Rove is a very smart guy and I knew that they had that state wired, that they were looking at precincts about what was going on. So then we had a real back...

KING: What was it like to sit there?

BROKAW: Well, on the second call-back it was -- I've never been through anything like that before. And if you look at the tape of it, I am for one of the few times in my life struck absolutely speechless. And my partner, Tim Russert, you know, we were born...

KING: He was speechless?

BROKAW: We're born to do this kind of work. We were both speechless. And at one point, Tim says, well, cameras are still on, we're still here, so we'll have to work our way through it. But Jeff Zucker, who was our producer that night -- now the whiz kid out in Hollywood for NBC -- said, you're not going to believe this, but on the Web site of the secretary of state's office in Florida, it's down to 800 or 900 votes. And I just couldn't even react to that. I thought, what in the world -- I thought it was like some alien environment.

KING: Does this make it happening again forget it?

BROKAW: Well, I think two things. I think even if there are no changes four years from now that the chances that we'll be projecting as boldly as we have in the past just won't occur, in part because absentee ballots are spiking now. They're going way up in every state. There will be 40 percent of the vote, according to some estimates. So you can't make a projection in which you don't know what 40 percent of the vote is.

KING: No exit poll.

BROKAW: Yes. Also, we'll have our own independent sources for checking exit polls, and the actual count will take a longer time.

In 30 seconds, I'm going to give you the Brokaw solution to the whole problem in the country.

KING: Drumroll.

BROKAW: Ready: Change the election day. And I've been writing and talking about this, started at Harvard four years ago. Change the election day from the first Tuesday in November to the first weekend in November. Open all the polls across America simultaneously. It's midnight Hawaii, 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning in the Eastern Time Zone, polls open.

You vote for 24 to 36 hours with an ATM-like card in shopping malls, at football stadiums, wherever you happen to be.

It's all encoded. We have that system now for transferring money and doing all manner of other things. Polls close simultaneously, 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time, noon Hawaii time. America is poised, just like a Super Bowl Sunday, to watch the election returns.

KING: No exit polling.

BROKAW: No exit polling because we don't know where they're voting. And ten we all watch at the same time and count the votes simultaneously.

KING: The only reason it's the first Tuesday in November is the Harvard standard, right, and the farmers came in to vote? That was the reason.

BROKAW: Right. And look, lifestyle has changed so much now across America. And every time I raise this, by the way, in public forums, I get rounds of applause. People saying it makes sense.

KING: Yes. Who would be against this?

BROKAW: Yes.

KING: We'll be right back.

BROKAW: The people who are in office (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because they got there by a different way.

KING: We might lose. We'll be back with Tom Brokaw. Don't forget, his new one is going to come in May, an album of memories. You can still get "The Greatest Generation" and "The Greatest Generation Speaks." If you haven't read it, you have treats in store. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We'll be taking calls in a while. This is a shorter segment. What do you make of the Marc Rich thing?

BROKAW: Well, I think that the president probably is stunned how the country is reacting to it. I have -- I have not seen such a uniform reaction to something, especially in New York City, where a number of the president's most enthusiastic financial supporters just put their heads in their hands and said, my god, I can't believe he did this.

KING: Why do you think as smart a guy -- no one would call him not smart...

BROKAW: No.

KING: ... could do this?

BROKAW: I don't know.

KING: PR-wise.

BROKAW: To be charitable, it was Jack Quinn, somebody he knows well who's helped him a lot, there at the very end rushing out. It's the ex-husband of Denise Rich, whom you know has been one of his biggest financial supporters and boosters in this town. She had written a letter. There was nobody saying, don't do this, off to the side, so far as we can tell, because he didn't check with anyone.

But I think it's -- it's roughed him up and it's a mark that he won't erase for quite a while.

KING: He starts his first speech this Sunday night, $100,000. That about par for the course.

BROKAW: Right.

KING: Will he, in your opinion, have to talk about Lewinsky when he speaks around the country? Do you think the public or the people paying that freight will expect that?

BROKAW: I think it's more likely to come up in the Q&A then it is in the set speech. I can't imagine that he's going to put it in his set speech. I think he'll take the high road at the beginning, talk about the global economy and the efforts to get peace in the Middle East and try to keep it on that. But if they open it to question and answer, at some point somebody's going to ask him about that. And he'd be better off dealing with it earlier rather than later.

KING: And is Senator Hillary Clinton off to a rocky start with the gifts?

BROKAW: I think she is. I was a little surprised by it. It's the gifts plus the advance on the book, which was rushed, from a financial point of view, to beat her swearing in at the Senate, because it would then -- she could avoid the financial guidelines.

And the gifts, she has said, you know, are no more than the gifts that other administrations got. But first of all, it came at the end, and it did look like...

KING: Didn't look right.

BROKAW: Yes, it didn't look right. And appearance is 90 percent of it in politics, and these two should know that by now.

KING: Our guest, Tom Brokaw, anchor and managing editor "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw." We'll take a break, come back, start to include your phone calls. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Martha Stewart tomorrow night.

On LARRY KING WEEKEND this weekend, Saturday, highlights of interviews with Gerald Ford. Sunday, highlights of interviews with Richard Nixon. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We are back with Tom Brokaw. Tom's book is "The Greatest Generation" and "The Greatest Generation Speaks," both major bestsellers. The next one is "An Album of Memories." It is due in May.

Let's go to some phone calls. Ellijay, Georgia, Hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Brokaw, how does the press compare the first few days of the Bush administration with the first few days did of the Clinton administration, please, sir?

(LAUGHTER)

BROKAW: Yes, well, there's a vast difference in terms of organization and direction. The Republicans are almost always better at that because they come out of a corporate world, as I say. And, you know, as I described it in the post-election period, I said: Look, they are used to this. This is like a takeover. They have got all their pieces in place.

(CROSSTALK)

BROKAW: Jim Baker down there running it. And they knew what they were doing. And this is very reminiscent of what happened when Ronald Reagan took office. They were in there. They had their message of the day worked out. All their Cabinet choices were confirmed within 12 days this time. And I think it was a month for Bill Clinton. Bill and Hillary Clinton left Little Rock eager to get out of town and arrived in Washington. And it was kind of that old Bob Redford line from end of "The Candidate": "Now what did we do?"

So this a much better organized administration at this point, however you feel about the direction that it may take.

KING: Do you think something had to do with the fact that he knows the territory? His father was president.

BROKAW: I think that -- that is true. I don't think -- I was down in Crawford talking with him. And I said: "When you get to the White House, you are going to know where things are, for example. You are going to be comfortable with the staff there. You know how it works."

So I think that has a piece of it. But also Dick Cheney: You cannot overstate the importance of Dick Cheney: White House chief of staff, defense secretary, served in Congress. He is the guy who moved in and got things organized and moved it right along from transition office.

KING: Surprise, Arizona, hello.

CALLER: Hello, good evening.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Good evening, Tom.

BROKAW: Good evening.

CALLER: Of all of people that you have covered in your memorable career, Mr. Brokaw, who has personally impacted your life the most?

BROKAW: Well, I'm often asked that. And I think most people think that I'm going to mention someone like Ronald Reagan -- whom I began covering in 1966 - or Bobby Kennedy. I covered him in 1968. Dr. King I saw a lot in the South.

The true answer is that the people who have made the greatest impression on me are the people whose names I really don't know: civil rights workers, for example, in the South; Polish shipyard workers, when that revolt was going on. In South Africa, I will never forget being there before Mandela was released and seeing young whites and blacks working side by side in these townships in South Africa, determined to do something for humanity. Those are people that always make the biggest impression on me.

And it's those memories that I carry foremost in my mind. And they are a continuing source of inspiration for me.

KING: Is covering news with all the competition harder? BROKAW: I think it is. I think that we have to work at it harder. I said to Brinkley and to Walter Cronkite both: "You know, when I had my nose pressed against the glass thinking, 'I might like to have one of those jobs someday,' you guys were taking the summers off, you know, and going home and having a full weekend."

Dan, Peter and I are on an airplane overnight to some hot spot somewhere. So that is a big change. And that is driven by technology as well as competition.

KING: To Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Hi. What do you feel was the most important event in the last 20 years, Mr. Brokaw?

BROKAW: Oh, I don't think there is any doubt that the most important event in the last 20 years, from a global point of view, was the fall of communism. That is something that we are still dealing with. It is a little bit like World War II. The magnitude of that collapse of that system, that had been, after all, the underpinning of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation. And when it collapsed as quickly as it did, I think we are still coming to grips with it.

KING: Yes. Do you know -- can you summarize how that happened? It seemed to just happen?

BROKAW: Well, I think it...

KING: Obviously, Reagan had a lot to do with it.

BROKAW: Reagan did have a lot of to do with it. I think there was a lot of pressure on him. And I think that just the general atrophy from inside the system. Nothing was working.

And one of my young intelligentsia friends from Russia said to me one time: You know, when we realized that South Korea -- which had been a primitive, agrarian society in the 1950s, with 80 parent illiteracy -- was producing more consumer goods, and 90 percent of the country could read, and they were showing up in Moscow with these consumer appliances and things that we were not going to get for another 30 years, we knew something was terribly wrong with the system.

And, as young people grew up knowing more about what was going on in the outside world, they had to deal with it. Gorbachev will never get enough credit, I think, probably, for the man who was the catalyst for it. Now, he stumbled, in my judgment, along the way by not discarding the Communist Party once he made the decision that they were going to have to change things there.

But he was an enormously important and historic figure. And I had the first interview with him, you know, when I went over there. And I still love seeing him. He is still a very vital figure.

KING: Good guy, too. BROKAW: He's a good guy, yes.

KING: Bright guy. Loved his wife. Boy.

BROKAW: Oh, he did. And it still brings tears to his eyes. You just say, "I know that Raisa must be an enormous hole in your heart" and he -- the tough-guy demeanor disappears instantly.

KING: Is one of the tough aspects of your job, as the editor -- managing editor -- what story goes first, what goes second?

BROKAW: It does. And that is the big debate that we have on a daily basis.

KING: As they do in editorial news rooms at papers.

BROKAW: Yes, everywhere. It is -- traditionally, it is the most important story of the day.

KING: That is subjective, though, isn't it?

BROKAW: And that is the idea. But sometimes you have to balance. If there is not a story that is overwhelmingly important and what is more interesting, what do you have that is different from the other two that you will pull the audience in?

Brinkley always used to say: "I don't think it makes any difference what we put on here first. I think they are going too watch us." Well, I do think that they do watch us now based in part on what we put on first, because the remote control gives them a lot of authority that they didn't have in the past. So we would always try to put on the most important story first, and the one that is going to affect the most people, that is the biggest change yesterday from today.

KING: So Ashcroft was the big story today.

BROKAW: Ashcroft was the big story today.

KING: But the prisoners was a big story.

(CROSSTALK)

BROKAW: The prison-break story. And what we tried to do with that was to not just make it another ordinary: there they go and now they have been caught. We did a longer story tonight on "Nightly News" about what's going on with prison security around the country. And it turns out there are fewer guards. They are not paid well. There are more electronic systems. And these prisons now have -- I forget the number -- it was four times as many people in them as they did 20 years ago. They are just pushed to the max.

KING: Are you concerned that no media person owns any of the media?

BROKAW: It would be a lot easier, frankly, Larry, if it were traditionally a media -- I mean, you know, when Ted owned you, CNN and you stood alone...

KING: Sarnoff owned you.

BROKAW: And Sarnoff owned us. And he grew up in that business. And...

KING: Paley.

BROKAW: And Paley owned CBS. And even though he was a businessman and he was in it for entertainment and selling cigars originally and other things...

KING: And Goldenson at ABC.

BROKAW: And Goldenson at ABC. But now we have these conglomerates. So it is a difficult bargain sometimes. But what I always remind people is that we wouldn't have survived, I think, at NBC if GE hadn't come in when it did. We needed its deep pockets, its management skills, its longer reach around the world. And they have been very good in terms of keeping the wall up between their corporate interests and what our obligations are.

KING: You have never been told what to cover.

BROKAW: No. No.

KING: Back with more of Tom Brokaw on LARRY KING LIVE -- some more phone calls, too. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We are back with Tom Brokaw. "Album of Memories" will come out in May -- I hope we see it a little further -- April would better.

BROKAW: I would be happy to; whatever I can do, thanks.

KING: Longview, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hello, good evening.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Good evening, Mr. King and Mr. Brokaw.

BROKAW: How are you?

CALLER: It is a very big honor for you to take my phone call. I'm a proud daughter of a gentleman, who, at 23, went in on the second D-Day invasion; and my question to you is, have you been to New Orleans to see the D-Day National Museum that was put up there.

BROKAW: Actually, I was there for the dedication -- I had a grand time; three days; it was just great, and Steven Ambrose is...

KING: That is his baby. BROKAW: That's his child, and he really has done a wonderful job. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg showed up, and it is fair to say, we were all deeply humbled just by being around those guys and a couple of them got up told first person accounts of what it was like landing on the beach. The Rangers would come by and salute Tom, and he would give them a salute back, and we had a great time.

And I think it has been so good for New Orleans, where, I know you are going to have a big role here.

KING: I'm the king -- the Bacchus King, I guess, I should go by this -- hey, you are the Grand Marshal of the Rose Bowl.

BROKAW: That's great fun as well, but back to the D-Day Museum -- it's so great for New Orleans because it is a whole different kind of tourist attraction for them.

KING: Obviously.

BROKAW: And now, what Steve is going to do, we're going to raise more money for it, and he is going to build an Iwo Jima and Pacific theater within the museum. I gave a fair amount of proceeds from the first two books to that museum.

KING: You will agree, though -- the Iwo Jima Memorial in Virginia is stunning.

BROKAW: Stunning.

KING: Rockville, Maryland, hello.

CALLER: Hello, this is Barbara calling for Mr. Brokaw. Good evening, Mr. King, thanks so much for taking my call -- I'm the daughter of one who lost his life on the Indianapolis, and my question for Mr. Brokaw is, what can I do to help augment the stories that you are telling so beautifully and to pass them along in my area and wherever.

KING: He died on the Indianapolis.

CALLER: Yes, he was an officer and he went down with the ship when it was torpedoed two weeks before the end of the war.

BROKAW: Well, I think, this is a story that is going to begin to get a lot more attention again, because of the new book that has been published originally.

KING: An old book-new book.

BROKAW: An old book-new book that Peter Maas got out and then Doug Stanton has written another book that comes out in May. I have read that -- the gallies of that one.

KING: Same thing?

BROKAW: Yes, it's the same thing, and there are, there are survivors who are still around, and they tell these harrowing first person accounts of what it was like -- you know, that was the ship that delivered the Atom bomb, on it was on its way back when it got sunk by a torpedo; and the captain was court-martialed -- there was a great controversy about it. They sent out radio signals, no one came to rescue them, and the guys were in the ocean for five days, in the blistering tropical heat, some of them on life rafts, but a lot of them just hooked together with their rife jackets, and the fact that as many survived as did is extraordinary testimony to will power, and to the leadership of the people who were in the water with them. So, it is an amazing story, and it happened at the end of war because the Atomic bomb came along right after that and the war was over -- people forgot about them.

KING: Ma'am, are you still there?

CALLER: Yes, I am.

KING: When you say you want to do something, what do you mean? Other than read these books, obviously.

CALLER: Well, read the books, but how can I, sort of, publicize them, if you will.

KING: Do you have letters from him and the like?

CALLER: I do, and I would love to be able to send those to Mr. Brokaw, but I don't know how to go about that.

BROKAW: You send them to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, and it's 10028, and I would love to see them -- by the way, the Indianapolis has reunions, and you really ought go to those reunions.

CALLER: I have been to Indianapolis -- I did not make it to the dedication; I went the year after. I have been in touch with the ship's doctor and a couple of other people out there, so there has been some contact, the 50th anniversary, the end of the war.

BROKAW: I think you have done a lot tonight by the way to draw attention to it by calling in.

CALLER: I think so, too. Thank you so much.

KING: Send this stuff to Tom, because there will be no more avid reader of it than Mr. Brokaw -- it's Tom Brokaw, 30 Rockefeller Plaza 10028 -- put "personal" on it.

We'll be right back. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Tom Brokaw. Fort Campbell, Kentucky, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Brokaw.

BROKAW: How are you? CALLER: Will you be comparing any more generations with the World War II generation? Comparing them with the Vietnam generation and the Desert Storm generation?

KING: Ah, more generation books.

BROKAW: Well, it is unlikely that I will do something that is as directly tied to a combat generation, as it were. I have been intrigued for sometime about the Vietnam generation, particularly, and to what happened to it once it got home. Because they are out there everywhere. And they are mayors of their communities, they built businesses, they are giving back, in many ways.

KING: They were in hospitals and mental institutions.

BROKAW: Right. They were ostracized when they came home -- many of them -- but they didn't give up, they kept fighting their way through. John McCain is the emblematic figure now in the United States Senate, Bob Kerrey, who just left the Senate, was the same way.

As you go across this country -- across the landscape of America, however you define it, you find these Vietnam veterans who are there, and making real contributions, and they learned a lot from their own experiences as well -- and they came back determined not to become victims again of a government that lied to them or lied to the people about what their mission was.

KING: There is no story -- the 20th century -- bigger than World War II, is there?

BROKAW: No, John Keegan, the military historian, the great British military historian -- has in the forward to his book, called simply "World War II," he says World War II was the largest, single incident in the history of mankind. It was fought on six of the seven continents, in all of the seas, and in the air, and before it was over, more than 50 million people perished, nations were destroyed or realigned, and cultures were marked forever.

Those four or five lines, and I have gotten pretty accurately, I think, tell you all that you need to know about the place of World War II in our lives. Think about it. In Japan and in the Pacific and all the way into Asia and Burma, and China, and then, you go into Europe, and there was Hitler who had dominated Europe, and North Africa, the fight was going on, and these two menacing extraordinarily efficient military machines were determined to impose on the world their very twisted ideologies.

KING: Italy going nuts, and Russia, holding -- how did the Russians -- 20 million.

BROKAW: They gave so much, and they were so important, and when you go to Moscow and you arrive at the airport and you drive in a town and you see this large steel beam memorial the first time you go. I went in and I said, what's that? They said, that marked where the Germans got to during World War II, and it is within sight of the skyline of Moscow. They got that close to the Kremlin and then they were turned back, and of course, it was a fateful decision.

KING: In all of our studies, have we ever found out why he turned away from England and went East?

BROKAW: No. We don't know. I mean, he did a lot of actively stupid things in the course of ruling his people. I think he thought that one of the things he thought at the end -- is that the Allies were going to fight among themselves, and that he would win, because we would begin to destroy each other. That was one of the things he did.

There's a wonderful book called "Freedom From Fear" -- it's a very thick, Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the history of United States from 1925 to 1945; I encourage people to go back and read the closing days of the Third Reich, as outlined there, Hitler and the bunker, for example -- you have a complete idea of the total madness that we were dealing with at that time.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Tom Brokaw of NBC. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Virginia Beach, Virginia, for Tom Brokaw. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: I'd like to pose a question to Mr. Brokaw. I'm so excited about "The Greatest Generation" and books like that. So many people that loved and revered World War II, and it's hard to say that you love a war but it was a good war, a clean war, and do you know -- I'm wondering if people are going to forget about it, Tom, when they die out, when I die out? I had a husband that was killed in action.

BROKAW: You know, I don't think so now, because one of the most gratifying things that's happened to me since I've been writing about the war, and it was a good war in terms of the right side won and we did save the world, but there were lots of atrocities all across the lines and there were some terrible prices that were paid, obviously, along the way.

But I know what you're saying in terms of this war, in many ways, made this country in the post-war period as well. But the children and the grandchildren of that generation now have a keen appreciation of all that went on before them. Not just because of my books, but because of all the other books that are coming out as well and the place that Bob Dole in our lives, and those we are talking about.

"Saving Private Ryan" had a big impact in the popular scene in this country. So, I think that they will -- that will live on, and part of the reason that the World War II Memorial is important that it will continue to remind people of what lived on.

The Civil War in America didn't die off once those veterans died off. It had a fixed place in our lives. The magnitude of World War II was so great that I think it took us this long to begin to deal with it, in a matter of speaking.

KING: World War I diminished.

BROKAW: World War I diminished. We didn't have as a large role in that. But that was huge event, obviously, in the world.

KING: War to end all wars.

BROKAW: One of the things I've been saying, by the way, is that you know, all this new technology we think is going to deliver us. A hundred years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, they had the automobile, flight, telephones, medicine was beginning to do more good than harm to patients and they thought, my God. This -- nirvana. Two World Wars, Holocaust, all those things that came along; so it's a cautionary tale as we go into new century.

KING: Hydrogen bomb.

BROKAW: Right, we dropped the atomic bomb.

KING: AIDS.

BROKAW: AIDS, a different plague and Columbine in America.

KING: How long are you going to keep doing what you're doing?

BROKAW: I don't know how much -- I don't know. I love it. I mean, it's been a great year. The election was fascinating. I especially loved the post-election period. I hope the Supreme Court lets us hear those decisions some more on radio and then maybe even on television.

KING: Why not televised?

BROKAW: I'd love to do that.

KING: It's our court.

BROKAW: I'm -- we got one part of the door open. Let's keep pushing to see how it goes.

KING: Do you ever think of quitting, of leaving?

BROKAW: Oh, sure I do. You know, 6:30 at every night from somewhere in world gets to be a trial after a while. But on the other hand, I never thought I would get paid this much for doing what I really do love, and sitting with you going around the world, meeting people. I have always been one who likes to kind of turn over a rock and see what's going on, share that with other folks.

KING: So, you would miss it terribly.

BROKAW: Well, I think I would.

KING: You enjoy writing?

BROKAW: I do love writing, and the books have given me a whole different dimension and I'm advancing in age and I like to do adventurous physical things I'm thinking, God, how many more years do I have that I...

KING: You don't want to be an anchor at 70?

BROKAW: No, I don't. No, I don't. My fear is that Walter Cronkite is going to come back. I think he could come back and sit down and start all over again.

KING: Anchors do live long.

BROKAW: Well, they do.

KING: Newsmen tend to live long. On "60 Minutes" they'll live forever.

BROKAW: The CBS newsmen live forever. There's something in the water over there.

KING: They're entombed.

BROKAW: It's amazing. I mean, they're all in their 80s. I mean, Mike Wallace, when you see him, you'd think this guy is about 56. Don Hewitt has the mind and the enthusiasm of a 38-year-old.

KING: I know.

BROKAW: You just couldn't be more alert and more determined. He's just written a book, by the way.

KING: I heard. Do you still get the bump going on?

BROKAW: Sure, sure especially the night of the Supreme Court decision, when we knew that that would determine where this election was going to wind up. And we got very little notice, and at 10:00, I came on the air, and all my nerve endings were exposed. There was no question about it.

And I thought, this is what you spent your entire life training for, get it right. We've just been through an election night and this one we had a lot more control over. I had two great, great young reporters working for me in Pete Williams and Dan Abrams, who got out there on the Supreme Court steps, ripped through that very complicated decision and got it right.

KING: So, it's -- that's the -- do you like to see the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BROKAW: Sure, I think that that's always the test. You know, I love something that has a beginning, middle, and end so people know what they've been through. But I think that what television does that no other medium can do is transmit experience, and what we can share with people is what's going on. The night that the war starts or there's a terrible tragedy like the shuttle Challenger goes down, and the country gathers around this electronic...

KING: Thank you, Tom, as always.

BROKAW: Thank you very much.

KING: See you right before the book comes out. The next book will be "An Album of Memories." It's due in May. Tom Brokaw of NBC News. Tomorrow night, tune in for the one and only Martha Stewart.

Plus our "LARRY KING WEEKEND," the best of Gerald Ford on Saturday and then my conversations with Richard Nixon on Sunday.

And for some more Q&A with Martha, check out my Web site, cnn.com/larryking. We also invite you to stay tuned for Bill Hemmer and "CNN TONIGHT."

And don't forget on Tuesday, we're celebrating, as Tom is, everybody in media is, the 90th birthday of President Ronald Reagan. Nancy Reagan will be our special guest and others will be aboard as well, including former presidents, as well as Merv Griffin.

Thanks very much for joining us. See you tomorrow night with Martha Stewart. For Tom Brokaw and yours truly, Larry King, good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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