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Interview With Tom Brokaw

Aired November 8, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Tom Brokaw, the top rated anchor of "NBC Nightly News." His first interview with me since he decided to leave his anchor's chair. He's No. 1 in the ratings. Why's he going to hang it up after 2004 elections?
We'll hear about that, as well as an extraordinary career and the life that led to it. Plus, the latest headlines.

Tom Brokaw for the hour. We'll take calls, too. Next on LARRY KING LIVE.

First, I want to congratulate Tom not only on the publication of the book, but he was honored in April. He won the Paul White Award this year. That's given by the RTNBA at the NAV convention. I've spoken at that group get together. That's one of the highest honors you can get in news-casting, and he got it.

Tom Brokaw's new book is "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland."

Later, we're going to spend a lot of time on it, but first, every other thing you've written was always about other people. Why did you decide to write about yourself?

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Well, I had always resisted that temptation. People had talked to me about it over the course of the years, I think, when you have a kind of a high visibility role, in broadcast journalism, especially -- and I've had a front-row seat at a lot of big events, but I always thought you should wait awhile to do that.

I thought that Ed Bradley's book, for example, "A Good Life," was a perfect example of a great journalist who looked back on a long, distinguished career.

But what happened after writing "The Greatest Generation," Larry, is that so many people came to me and said, well, how did it influence your own life? And what was it like growing up out in the South Dakota prairie, being raised by members of the greatest generation, surrounded by them, really, at a different time?

I am a member of what I call the hinge generation. I was born just at the end of the great depression, just before the war began. So I remember the war, if not the depression, and then caught that wave of prosperity that swept across this country, and I was at the tail-end of the age of innocence, as I describe it, just before the social revolution of the '60s. So I was witness to two very big movements in American life.

KING: The book takes us to what age?

BROKAW: 22, from my earliest memories to the day that Meredith and I were married and drove out of Yankton.

My opening line is "I put South Dakota in the rearview mirror and drove away," thinking that my life and connection to the prairie and that state and to those people who had raised me was at an end. I was going on to a new adventure.

Well, I managed to have the new adventure, but at the same time I now have a keen appreciation of how many of those values I still carry with me, how important they were to the formation of my life at that time, that allowed me to get to where I am now, and deal on an everyday basis with what I have to deal with.

I was especially struck by that at the time of 9/11. I thought if our parents and our aunts and uncles and friends and coaches and so on could get through the depression and World War II, we can get through this.

KING: And obviously, if you stop there, there will be book two.

BROKAW: No, there won't be.

KING: No? You will not write a book about...

BROKAW: No, it's too painful to do this. You know, it's just -- I don't like pawing around in my own background, much less having other people do it as well. But there was so much curiosity about it, and I wanted to write it as much for my family, my daughters and my granddaughters as much as anybody else. My mother is still alive. I wanted her to hear from me firsthand the kind of tribute that I pay to her here.

She is a typically reticent South Dakotan, an enormous influence on my life, and as I quote her in the book, she's -- after she read it she said, "Well, your ego is showing in some places, but it's mostly fine. " And I said, after 40 year, she still has my number.

KING: Now the picture on the cover -- I'm going to get to other things, then get back to the book -- were you a good baseball player?

BROKAW: Pretty good baseball player. I was an infielder. That was Junior Legion and then I played American Legion baseball. We went to the state tournament when I was 16 years old. I was a shortstop on the team.

That picture is interesting because I found it in South Dakota a couple of years ago. They still kept the records in the very small town where I lived -- the American Legion post had my picture and all of my teammates, our birth certificates, a thumbprint and certification from our parents that we were the age that we said we were.

KING: What was the nickname of the team?

BROKAW: You know, I don't think it had a nickname. But I played in a pickup game the summer before with the Pheasants, which was my team, and the Warriors were run by Chuck Gremels (ph).

We didn't have coach or supervisors or adult supervision of any kind. We raised the money at bake sales and bought our own sweatshirts, bought our own equipment, and played every day all summer long.

I have very fond memories of that summer.

KING: My team as a kid was the Warriors. We never forget that. No Little League then, nothing organized. You get together, you play.

BROKAW: No. We'd -- I'd call -- we'd use our parent's phones to call neighboring towns and say we'd like to schedule a game. Then we'd show up and our mothers would drive us. We wouldn't have coaches or managers or all those other things.

We'd form an all-star team between the sixth-graders and seventh- graders and we could always work that out. And then we'd play these other teams and we'd be driven home.

And now you'd have to have liability insurance and you'd have to have adult supervision and scheduling well in advance. Much different times.

KING: Now let's get to some things current, then back to the book later. And we'll take phone calls as well.

The book, by the way, is "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland," a certain bestseller.

You were on this program on May 9. I think two days later you announced that you're going to hang it up after the 2004 election. Could have done it on this program, Tom, might have been nice.

BROKAW: I know.

KING: Why 2004?

BROKAW: I wanted to see my way through another election cycle.

I was -- you know, as you know, I went away during the summer of 2001, before 9/11, to try to think about my life, what I wanted to do, to change the rhythm of it some. it didn't mean that I wanted to go off, as I have been saying, to the old anchorman's rest home and get a drool cup and sit there with a blanket over my lap all day long.

But as you are very well aware, Larry, you become a hostage to the clock every day. 6:30 in my case, and wherever I am in the world, at 6:30 in New York I have to be on the air, and I wanted to have some liberty from that.

Also, we've got terrific young people coming up at NBC. Brian Williams will be my successor. We didn't want him to go away.

So I said on that occasion that you're seeing right there, I'll stay through 2004. I'll continue, I think, to make contributions to "NBC News", at least I hope I will. in the meantime, I am doing more primetime documentaries and I am finding great gratification in that.

KING: Will you continue to write?

BROKAW: Yes, I will. I'm not going to write -- I really have moved on now from "The Greatest Generation," and I certainly have moved on from my own life. So, I have a couple other topics in mind, but I'm still at the stage now where I'm just kind of kicking tires.

KING: What's your overview of last Tuesday night?

BROKAW: Well, I think it was a triumph for the White House and for the political strategist, Karl Rove, in tandem with President George W. Bush.

This is the man that we kept hearing about when he was in Texas. He was a very popular and effective politician. He had very strong personal approval ratings. They selected a great slate of candidates for the Republican party around the country. And what the Republicans have learned painfully in the last ten years or so is that you can win control of Congress, but unless you have that bully pulpit, the White House, and all the tools that go with it, it's hard to command -- to master, in effect, national politics in this country.

But when you've got the White House and Air Force One and you can fly from city to city to city and have all the excitement of a presidential visit and then have strong candidates when you arrive there, that works very well for them.

They also defined the issues early on. They talked a lot about Iraq and about national security and homeland security and the war on terrorism, not letting the Democrats breakthrough on troubling questions about the economy or corporate scandals or healthcare.

KING: Tom Brokaw's our guest. Anchor, managing editor of "The NBC Nightly News." That's the number one newscast in network television. Author of "A Long Way From Home." Back with more. We will be including phone calls for Tom tonight. He's with us for the full program.

Don't go away.


BROKAW: Good evening. Tonight President Bush has the Iraq resolution that he wants from the U.N., and he has sent another strongly-worded message to Saddam Hussein. At the same time, more reservists are being called up, and two more aircraft carrier battle groups are headed for the area.




GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: The full disarmament of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq will occur. The only question for the Iraqi regime is to decide how. The United States prefers that Iraq meet its obligations voluntarily, yet we're prepared for the alternative. in either case, the just demands of the world will be met.


KING: Our guest is Tom Brokaw. The book is "A Long Way From Home. " That's the president speaking today.

This resolution, Tom, passed in the U.N. Security Council is just about the same as the one passed 11 years ago, right?

BROKAW: The difference is that this time, obviously, that the United States is poised and ready to go to war. The clock is now running at a faster pace, I think it is fair to say.

The Iraqis have one week to respond to this. Hans Blix, who will head the U.N. inspections team, said he'll have inspectors in there a week from Monday, and then it's a question of how much cooperation, how much access they have to the various sites.

One of the key parts of what happened today is that the Syrians joined in to make this a unanimous passage of the resolution before the U.N. Security Council. Syria, of course, is a next door neighbor to Iraq.

So we don't know what he's thinking tonight, but he certainly has had an opportunity to take in both the will of the U.N. and the very strong commitment of the president to see this resolution through, and if it's not seen through, then the United States has the ability to come back to the U.N. Security Council, show what evidence it has on its own, and go to war unilaterally, if necessary, although I don't think that will be the case.

KING: You know the territory. What do you think will be the case? What do you think is going to happen?

BROKAW: Well, I think that there may be war. What I mean is I don't think the United States will go on its own.

We all learned some hard lessons in '90 and '91, when a lot of us thought that Saddam Hussein would blink and start to pull his troops out of Kuwait. He did not at that time. He's demonstrated since then that he has a very enlarged view of what his role in the Middle East is, and we don't know what information gets through to him, who he counsels with.

And if he's left to his own devices, then he may think that he can become an Arab martyr of some kind in the grand Iraqi tradition. He may also have a very distorted view of how the Iraqi military could do against the United States. He believed till the last moment in '90 and '91 that they would do very well, and of course they had to turn and run for home almost immediately, and a lot of Iraqi conscripted soldiers were killed out there in the desert sands.

So I think there is the possibility that we can have war. We won't know until the inspectors get there what his frame of mind is, but it's pretty bellicose in the meantime.

KING: If this were a long, by the way, drawn out war, would it be safe to say that you'd stay where you are past 2004, given the hypothetic?

BROKAW: Oh, sure. Yes. I mean, if this -- I wouldn't anticipate that that would happen. That would be a disaster for the United States, if the war goes on for a long time.

We have an overwhelming military superiority to the Iraqis. That does not mean that it's going to be in the, as it has been said by some, a cake-walk. He still does have chemical agents at his disposal, and the Palace Guard the Republican Guard, may put up some pretty stiff resistance.

No war is ever a cake-walk. Even the '90 - '92 war was not that. There were a lot of people who were lost to friendly fire, and it was a difficult time.

KING: But Vietnam was also maybe supposed to be quick.

BROKAW: It was, and Veteran's Day is on Monday, and it's so striking to me now, when you see the Vietnam veterans, Larry, that they're gray and, you know, in their mid-60's, in some cases in their late-60's and early-70's, and it's a generation that was not appreciated at the time they came back to this country. They have contributed in so many ways in their communities or their service organizations, and they still carry the scars of that experience.

KING: Maybe you ought to do a book on Vietnam vets.

BROKAW: Well, a lot of people have suggested that, but a lot of things have been written about Vietnam veterans. it's tempting, in a lot of ways.

I'm not sure that I should be the one who has the title of chronicler of veterans. it is tempting. I had a lot of friends that went to Vietnam, and some didn't come back. And I have stayed in touch with the Vietnam Veterans movement, and I so admire John McCain and his ability to reach out to those veterans across the board as well, and to be really for many of them a kind of iconic figure, given what he went through in Vietnam.

KING: So you personally felt badly, I would guess, about Max Cleland being defeated, not getting into the issues of the race, just personal feeling.

BROKAW: Well, I've known Max for a long time, from when he first began to get involved in Georgia politics, but Max knows the rules. They came after him pretty effectively down there in Georgia. Saxby Chambliss ran against Max, in part because the senator had not voted for the Homeland Security Bill, the White House pointed out repeatedly.

A lot of political analysts in Georgia said that Max Cleland has a great personal story, but he hadn't compiled much of a record for Georgia.

Knowing Max, he'll get on with his life and he'll find other ways to serve.

KING: Speaking of homeland security, with the makeup of the Congress now, does it look like a cake-walk for Bush to get that passed?

BROKAW: You know, it's hard to know. We'll see how the Democrats respond.

In fact, there was a compromise between Republican senators and Democratic senators about how they would divide up the workforce in the new homeland security bill, about who would go into civil service and have that kind of protection.

The president and the administration wants the ability to go in on its own and determine who's going to be there. This is the largest creation of a government agency since the Eisenhower years, as I remember.

It's an important one, and we ought not to just go crashing into it. We've got a lot of other agencies in place in the meantime, dealing with homeland security, but if we're going to do it, I think that everybody, Republican and Democrat alike, on the hill, agree that we ought to do it right.

KING: Recently on this program, Dan Rather said that he thought probably the sniper story was over-covered. The emphasis from the cable network, the all-news cable networks, made that story maybe larger than it was. Do you agree?

BROKAW: No, I don't think so. I think what happens is that if you have a story like the sniper story, that all the cable networks are going to go to that because that's one of the reasons that we have all-news all the time.

What is not required is for the viewer to sit there and just lock into it.

On "Nightly News," we tried very hard every night to have the appropriate proportion of stories. We were still covering Iraq and politics, but covering the sniper story as well.

And I remember one night, when we had ordered up a story on fear in Washington, it was not the first time we'd done it, and it didn't rise to the standard that we thought that it should have, so we set it aside and did something else. But that story captivated the attention of the country. And it made us realize again how vulnerable we are in so many ways, that they could go on as long as they did.

Now we're learning through a variety of police agencies just how widespread the suspected sniper network in fact was, how far their net was cast.

KING: Tom Brokaw is our guest. We'll be talking about the book, and we'll be taking your phone calls. He's with us for the full hour.

Over the weekend, we'll repeat interviews with Heather Mills and Carol Burnett on "LARRY KING WEEKEND."

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw. Tonight, from West Berlin.

BROKAW: Good evening. Live from the Berlin Wall on the most historic night in this wall's history.

What you see behind me is a celebration of this new policy announced today by the East German government that now, for the first time since the wall was erected in 1961, people will be able to move through freely.




DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: Could I say one thing to you? You are a fabulously handsome man. Look at this guy. Look at that. My God.

BROKAW: Why couldn't you have put that in the top ten list?


KING: Was that fun, Tom, or embarrassing?

BROKAW: Well, I like appearing with you and I like appearing with Dave, because I never know where the next question's coming from in both cases, and he always has an active interest in what's going on in the news as well as being very amusing obviously.

KING: One other question on news, then some more on the book, then we'll take some phone calls.

How did the "NBC Nightly News" treat the Winona Ryder case?

BROKAW: Briefly. We did the verdict. I'm not even sure that we did a whole story on it. I think that -- we might have done one, I can't remember. We talked about it. I came in the other day and said into the newsroom, ladies and gentlemen, how do you find Winona Ryder -- as if I were in a courtroom. And I said, by turning on any television set in America. She was just everywhere.

I did think that was a story that got too much attention, frankly. It was obviously a hot celebrity story, but the coverage was way out of proportion to its importance, or even to the magnitude of her stardom.

KING: Back to the book, "A Long Way From Home: Growing up in the American Heartland," how did you get a job on KYNT radio while a high school student? I've never heard of that.

BROKAW: Well, it was a small town, Larry. It was 9,500 people. The radio station was one of those 250 watters, remember those? 1450 on the dial?

KING: I worked at one. Mine was 1490.

BROKAW: Right, they're always at the end of the dial.

And they came to the high school and, actually, the kind of -- the head disk jockey's wife was the secretary of the high school. And she said to Harry Everson (ph), this man who became an early mentor of mine, you know, Brokaw loves to talk, and he seems to be interested in a lot of things. Why don't you try him out.

So they created a kind of teenaged record show. And there was a girl from the Catholic high school by the name of Mary Lee Keating (ph), who was my partner in that enterprise, and we had this teenage record show.

Now, the relationship kind of went separately very quickly and she didn't keep her interest in radio. I did. And I continued to work there. Interestingly enough, that was along time ago in a far away place, and she now has a veterinary practice in New York, about ten blocks from where I live.

KING: What overall, Tom, what was special about South Dakota?

BROKAW: Well, I think it's the nature of the people who came there and settled the prairie under very difficult circumstances.

All those stories that you hear from Laura Ingalls Wilder and "Giants of the Earth," it was a very hard place to put down roots, to break the soil, to form communities, to make a living. And the people who did that came from the Scandinavian countries and from Eastern Europe, Germany and from Czechoslovakia. There are a good many Irish out there as well.

They saw it as a real opportunity, but they also saw it as a place that they could deal with if they all worked together and worked hard all the time and held each other accountable for that work and for community responsibility and for the idea of being faithful to those values. And it was that culture in which I was raised. It still can be a difficult place in which to make a living, even with all the farm machinery and the federal subsidies that are there, you still have to be very resourceful to do that. And when I go back out there, I'm always struck by how friendly everyone still remains, one to another, And how they're willing to help each other through difficult times.

KING: A very independent electorate too, aren't they?

BROKAW: They are. And I was very proud, frankly of South Dakota this time, because they had a terrific slate of candidates for all the offices.

And Tim Johnson and John Thune ran a very strong senatorial campaign. I watched a couple of the debates on CSPAN. They were both enlightened men. They had differences of opinion, but they expressed them in civilized tones and they didn't engage in personal attacks on one another.

And then when election day came, South Dakota had the second- highest voter turnout in the country; next door in Minnesota, they had a higher one.

KING: George McGovern, on election night, said on my portion of our election coverage, that he felt sorry for whoever lost that race because he had the highest respect for both of them.

BROKAW: Yes, I think that's true of almost everyone in the state.

They were two homegrown products. John Thune was the state basketball star, Tim Johnson had been a football star. Johnson (sic)grew up in the western part of the state; Tim Johnson grew up in the eastern part of the state.

They're roughly in the same age bracket. Tom Daschle was the champion of Tim Johnson and George Bush was the champion of John Thune.

I think the state savored the attention that it got, but it got very weary, the voters did, of all the commercials that were purchased. And I was out there during that time. You couldn't turn on the radio or television without hearing a long string of commercials -- many of them financed by outside interests, and some of those got to be pretty personal.

KING: Our guest is Tom Brokaw. His new book "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland" another certain bestseller, from the man who gave us "Generations."

When we come back, we'll start including your phone calls. Don't go away.


KING: Tom Brokaw's new book is "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland."

We're going to start including your phone calls. Minneapolis, a neighboring state. Hello?

CALLER: The world's news is always so negative, and I'm wondering how you deal with this on a daily basis?

KING: Yes, most of the things you're dealing with are negative, Tom.

BROKAW: Well, you do, in my business, become callous to that effect, really. And I have remained, after all these years, after 40 years in the business, an optimist, and with good reason.

I think that there's been steady social progress in this country and around the world in ways that we don't take time enough to measure, I suppose, as often as we probably should. And I also think that the essence of the American spirit is that we always are trying to be greater than the sum of our parts; that this immigrant nation, which is still a melting pot, now with this growing Hispanic population that we have, for example, and the influx of the Asian populations coming here in search of the American dream, and making us stronger in so many ways, and making it a richer place, is still, to me, at least, inspiring. And it's quite awe inspiring in many ways.

KING: But they're not nightly headlines. Nightly headlines, you've got to go back a few years to polio cured, right? We don't get that kind of lead story anymore.

BROKAW: Well, you do more than you realize, Larry. I think it gets crowded out a lot.

If you look at all the progress and all the reporting that we've done in the modern miracles of medicine. I said today to some friends, we were talking about the difference between newscasts now and 20 years ago, we didn't spend a lot of time on routine developments, for example, in medicine. And this is the golden age of medicine. And there have been a lot of cures, not just because of antibiotics, but when you think about what you have gone through with your own heart surgery and artificial hips now and transplants, and we've covered that as well.

And what happens is, is that the stories that represent hope often get crowded out in the mind of the viewer by something that may be at the top of the broadcast about the prospect of war, and that's understandable.

KING: That's why I like you so much, Tom. You always make me think, and you're right. Rome, Georgia, with Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Tom. How are you doing?

BROKAW: I'm doing very well. How are things in Rome?

CALLER: Doing pretty good down here. I'd like to ask Tom a question, please. KING: Sure. Go ahead.

CALLER: Mr. Brokaw, I'd like for you to compare the news today of say 20 years ago. And also, what do you think the prejudgment of Richard Jewel in the news media back in 1996 in Georgia. What is your response on that, please.

KING: Tom was part of that story.

BROKAW: I thought -- I thought he -- I thought Richard Jewel was mistreated, in part by NBC.

I was misled by some people in high authority in Washington, went on the air and identified him in a way that his lawyers were very unhappy with.

I continue to say that he was just a person of interest. But in fact, we were led to believe by people at the highest levels of the federal law enforcement agencies that he was their number one target.

And I do think that he was abused by the media, that there was a frenzy that went on there for a time. Now, there's still a case pending, so I don't want to go much beyond that. You have to read down through all of the stories, but we were getting our information as best we could from both local and from federal law enforcement agencies and tried constantly to put that in context. But it did blow up, obviously, into this very heated environment.

Now, he's collected a fair amount of money from a number of news agencies, including CNN and NBC, for what his lawyers rightly claimed was his mistreatment.

KING: And a big suit against the newspaper that's still not...

BROKAW: Yes, it's still there, right, right.

KING: The other part of his question was -- you mentioned medicine. What's the other big difference in newscasts today and 20 years ago?

BROKAW: We cover more parts of the population.

What I've said is that when I first got into the business, the world, as represented on the evening broadcast, was a world seen through the prism of middle-aged white men who lived primarily on the eastern seaboard. That was fine with me, because I expected to be one of them one day.

But there was almost no coverage, really, in a thoughtful enough fashion, about the rise of the women's movement. It was treated more as a curiosity when it began. I didn't think that we did enough at the height of the civil rights movement, about the place of the black family, that it was treated as if it were a monolith of some kind, and it is not that at all.

I don't think that we did enough about breakthroughs in what we were just talking about. You know, Larry, when you and I first started broadcasting, people would not use the word cancer, for example, in polite company or on the air.

I remember when we had toxic shock syndrome and that was a grave threat to the women of this country. And one of my colleagues who was a little bit older said I am not going to say sanitary napkin on the air or talk about the menstrual cycle. Well, that's the business that we're in.

KING: The John Wayne story was "He has the big C."

BROKAW: That's right. I remember when he said he had the big C, and that was kind of stunning that he even said that, frankly, that he went public with it.

KING: Yes. Concord, New Hampshire, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Brokaw. I just wanted to say I admire your work you're your professionalism that you bring to broadcast journalism.

And my question to you, Mr. Brokaw, is, in all the years that you've been covering foreign assignments, have you ever felt that your life was ever in jeopardy? And as a follow-up to that, if we do go to war with Iraq, would you cover the story?

KING: Two good questions.

BROKAW: I would, but probably from a greater distance than some of our frontline correspondents.

This is going to be an acute dilemma this time. It was tough enough last time around. But there is every reason to believe that Saddam Hussein, if it comes to war, will unleash chemical agents as he did not the last time.

But when I was over there in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait with my colleagues from all the other networks, we all practiced everyday putting on those gas masks. We did not have protective gear. When we went into Kuwait, we drove rental cars, in some instances up the highway following the marines in, and when we got into Kuwait City, we didn't know what we were going to find.

Both Dan and I were down in the various bunkers that had just been recently abandoned by the Iraqi armed forces.

This time, I'm not sure how much the Pentagon is going to let us get to the front lines, and that will become a vigorous and interesting debate, because one of the first functions of journalism is to monitor the activities of American armed forces when they go to war and to report on them as truthfully as we can.

But Donald Rumsfeld, who is the master at this, likes to control the information that comes out of the Defense Department., as Dick Cheney did during the Persian Gulf. That's one of the hangovers from Vietnam. KING: Where in your career did you feel the most in danger?

BROKAW: I think Beirut, probably. That was a very difficult place to be. Before the Israelis invaded, and then during the time of the Israeli invasion. Every sector was controlled by a different gang.

I remember one time having -- it couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 years old, put an Uzi up to my ear, because I was in a wrong sector, and I began quietly talking to him, and his commander came out and did not speak English, and we were trying to communicate with each other. And I was saying press and NBC, and he finally said NBC? And I said yes. And he unbuttoned about three different tunics, and at the bottom he had an "NBC News" T-shirt on.

Now, I'm not sure where he got it, but the young man who had the gun to my ear had a Boy Scouts of America shirt on with Davenport, Iowa on the patch. So, you know, it's then that you think that you've gone through the looking-glass in some fashion.

KING: You aren't kidding.

The book is, by Tom Brokaw, "A Long Way From Home."

We'll be back with more phone calls right after this.


MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXER: I'm going to hit you ten times before you come to. I'm fast. When I say go, you say one two.


ALI: Go.

BROKAW: One, two.

ALI: You want to see it again?




JIMMY FALLON, ACTOR: Hey, Brokaw. Great party, man.

BROKAW: Oh, thank you, Jimmy Fallon.

FALLON: Yeah, hey, you know I was thinking about doing you on the show. Check it out.

Good evening, I'm Tom Brokaw. Tonight, the fleecing of America.

BROKAW: That doesn't sound anything like me.


KING: Are you complimented when they do that?

BROKAW: Yes, of course.

I'm wild about Jimmy Fallon and the whole "Saturday Night Live" crew. One of the things that is so impressive is how they've kept it fresh year after year after year. It really is quite remarkable.

KING: Yes. The book "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland." The author Tom Brokaw. The caller is from Midland, Michigan -- hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Brokaw.

BROKAW: How are you?

CALLER: I'm great. I'm a tremendous fan of your work and I admire the work that you do. I'm also a high school teacher and I often, on a weekly basis, use clips from your newscast in my classroom. My question to you is, which news story that you have covered has most impacted you personally?

BROKAW: You know, I get asked that a lot, and I suppose the biggest story that I've covered in the course of my lifetime up to this point is 9/11 right now, because the United States had never been attacked within its boundaries like that before.

And it's launched us into unknown seas, where we're still working our way through that story.

Before that, and on a scale with it, certainly, was the collapse of Communism. No one expected that that would happen in our lifetime. Well, some people did, but they were in the minority and they turned out to have a clearer-eyed view of how democracy would prevail than many others did.

That had an enormous effect on the world, and we're still feeling, I think, the play out of the collapse of Communism around the world.

When you think now that we have countries that were part of the Soviet block joining NATO or applying for admission to NATO, and before the president does anything, he checks in with Putin, they try to work out a common position on it. It's pretty astonishing.

I think the story to keep your eye on in the future, frankly, is what happens in China. That is a colossus in our time with a population base and great resources and an opaque leadership structure. We don't know what they're thinking. We barely know who the new leaders are going to be just before they're anointed. So that's going to be a big story.

But 9/11, where it launched us against terrorism around the world. Here's just something to keep in mind. It's an astonishing number. For most of the 20th century, Christianity represented 30 percent of the world, and the Islamic faith represented about 20 percent of the world. Those numbers will flip by 20205.

Now, by now means do all adherents to the Islamic faith want to join jihad against the United States, but in many madras's around the world, there are mullahs who are teaching young people who are Muslims that the Western ideal, all the things that we hold dear, is no just an affront to Allah, but we're infidels for believing what we do.

And I think we can't just deal with this problem militarily, that we're going to have to deal with it as well by learning to understand more about the motivation of those mullahs and the young people and how we're going to cope with them. And we're going to need the help not just of our Western allies, but especially those Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Syria and others, who have these enormous and growing populations, who are in a rage about their absence of economic opportunity or democratic principles of social progress.

KING: Refresh something for me. Where were you on the morning of 9/11?

BROKAW: I was at home. I just had -- just finishing a workout. And the phone rang, and, like everyone else, I thought it was a small airplane.

I jumped in a cab to get down to 30 Rock, and halfway there a radio reporter that I respected, described the first plane flying low into the -- over the city as it headed for Tower One, and then described the second plane hitting, and I knew at that moment that it was terrorism.

And when I got to the studios, with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, we were just coping with this rush of information coming at us, and I very quickly decided that we just couldn't provide captions, because people could see for themselves what was going on -- that we had to constantly work at giving this some context.

And I said reasonably early on, this is the worst attack in the history of the United States. Pearl Harbor was on a military installation. There would probably be more dead, as it turns out there were. And Hawaii was not yet a state, but this was within our continental boundaries. And the boldness of the attack, not just on these two iconic symbols of capitalism, but also on the Pentagon, and then when we learned about United 93, headed back to Washington, I knew at that point that we were in for something that we simply weren't prepared for in so many ways.

KING: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for Tom Brokaw -- hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Brokaw. I really admire your work.

As an author that's covered this country's greatest generation, I was curious if you feel as a journalist that the aging of our population in this country is getting the coverage that it deserves. And as a journalist and as a parent and a grandfather, if there are any angles to that story that you might foresee over the next few decades that you wish would get covered?

KING: Good question.

BROKAW: It's a very good question.

And one of the principle issues that Baby Boomers are dealing with is how do they deal with their aging parents. Do they move back into the house? Because this is not an experience that they've had in their lifetime, whereas it was fairly routine 50, 60 years ago.

And as we extend life and as we provide more entitlements, and this rich and prosperous nation can do that, it does become expensive, and then you have to make some choices. What are the priorities? And how do we deal with older people who need more pharmaceutical care, for example, more medical care -- how do we extend life? What are the decisions that we make at the end of lives within families, not just within the medical community?

And I think you're quite right. There's not been enough of a dialogue about that. I'm now 62 and I have two grandchildren. I'm thinking about that a lot more. I have an 85-year-old mother who is still going very strong. Now she comes out of that very independent greatest generation, Jean Brokaw.

And when I say to her, well, why don't you come to New York, and I'll send you an airplane ticket -- "I don't need you to send me an airplane ticket. I can take care of that on my own." Still drives her own car and still is very resourceful.

And about this book, by the way, Larry, she was the toughest editor I had.

KING: You showed it to her?

BROKAW: I sent it to her, and then I -- she sent back, at one point, the most telling line of all was, "Well, dear, your ego is showing in some places, but it's mostly fine."

And as I said in the book, after 40 years, she still has my number.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Tom Brokaw. The book is "A Long Way From Home."

Don't go away.


KING: Random House is the publisher of "A Long Way From Home."

Let's get in some more calls before Tom leaves us.

Madison, Wisconsin, hello. CALLER: Hello, Larry and Tom.


CALLER: My husband has had to take a job on the East Coast because jobs are so tight here in Wisconsin. In your honest opinion, Tom, do you think that George Bush is going to be able to turn the economy around? And if so, how soon do you think we'll see some major improvements?

BROKAW: Well, I think we are in a difficult time, and I think it will take more than just the president of the United States to do that. There's a lot of restructuring going on. In corporate life, it turns out that a lot of the numbers we were seeing before were too inflated.

There remains a crisis in the Japanese economy. That's a very important market for us. Europe is beginning to get its act together. But we've been on a binge and living in a bubble, and I think that we have a ways to go that no one politician can get it turned around.

There's very little that you can do in terms of a stimulus package at this point that will create more earnings or that will drive more consumerism. People are worried about the prospects of war, about the uncertainty of terrorism, and so they're pulling in a little bit. So we are in probably for a slightly longer downturn than any of us would like to have.

The president believes strongly that making the tax cuts permanent will help stimulate the economy. There are others who disagree with that. I think that most families that I know are tightening the belt a little bit and not spending the money that they might have two or three years ago.

KING: Elgin, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hi, guys.

The question I have is, how does it feel to be the grand marshal in the Rose Bowl parade with the four generations of Brokaws?

BROKAW: It was great. Thanks for that question.

My mother was there with us, and I had my daughters, Meredith, of course, still the light of my life after 40 years, at my side. We had an old Yellowstone touring car.

And it was an almost out of body experience. Those are my parents that you're looking at, when I was still a teenager, and there we are as a young family.

But when I was there with my mother, and my wife, my daughters and two granddaughters, going down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, and then getting to flip the coin out at the beginning of the game between Purdue and Washington, one of my high school teammates wrote to me and said, "Tom, no disrespect, but you're the last one we thought would get to the Rose Bowl first."

KING: By the way, how many years did you work in LA?

BROKAW: I worked there seven years. A very important place for me, Larry. I still feel quite connected to Los Angeles.

KING: You anchored here, right?

BROKAW: I did, at KNBC.

I got hired when I was 26-years-old, barely out of South Dakota, began anchoring almost immediately and covering politics for both the network and for KNBC.

And I said, the first night I was on an election, was to call the election of Ronald Reagan in the Republican primary in 1966. And I was sitting in the studio, and I heard somebody trying to get my attention off to the side.

And I turned, and there were these two guys standing there. And they were saying, how's Reagan doing -- they said "How's Reagan doing, kid?"

And I said, well, he's going to win tonight.

And they said, "Are you sure?"

And I said yes, it was pretty clear that he was going to win. And it was Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I knew I was in a different place.

KING: Tampa, Florida -- hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry. My question for Mr. Brokaw is, how do you feel the Internet and compute age have changed the way news is reported and gathered? And do you feel with the Internet there has been an abundance of incorrect information and hoaxes that people are actually using as fact?

BROKAW: The latter point is an important one. So much of it is unregulated, it's just out there.

But I think it's a great, great tool. I use it all the time. But I go to the sites that are organized, that I can trust.

For example, during this political campaign, if I wanted to find out what was going on in the Missouri senate race, I'd go to the "St. Louis Post Dispatch" Web site or I'd go to Minnesota, the "Minneapolis Star" and "Tribune," or I'd go to the campaign Web sites or I'd go to the "Sioux Falls Argus Leader," or my hometown newspaper, the "Yankton Daily Press" and "Dakotan' -- very good Web site -- and find out what was happening.

I think what is wonderful now in America is that we do have so many choices. And news consumers, and that's really what they are, are able to organize for their own interests what serves them the best. They watch a network newscast and read a couple of newspapers, and they watch Larry and some of CNN and a lot of MSNBC, we hope, and then they go to the Internet and get specific information about medical developments or economic developments.

So it's a great tool. And we're just at the beginning of it.

KING: We only have a little over a minute left. Last call, Laguna Woods, California, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.


CALLER: Mr. Brokaw, I will be attending a lovely tea on Wednesday for your mother's 85th birthday. I wish you could attend. If you can't, do you have a good message for us to relay?

BROKAW: Well I just -- you just wish her the very best for me. She will be 85. We talked about it a lot. I tried to get her to come back to New York for her birthday. I'm going to be gone, traveling overseas probably during that time. But we're coming out there to celebrate her birthday as well, and I always have to pick a place where they don't charge too much for parking, because she gets outraged at the parking prices sometimes.

KING: She lives in Laguna Hills? She lives in California?

BROKAW: She lives in Leisure World -- you know where that is, down off El Toro Road in Orange County, and has a ton of friends out there.

KING: Caller, is she popular among the ladies?

CALLER: Is she ever popular among the ladies? She's our queen.

KING: Thank you. What a great way to close it.

Tom, thank you so much. That was a great call. Thanks for spending the hour with us.

BROKAW: It was. Thanks a lot, Larry.

KING: Tom Brokaw, the book "A Long Way From Home: Growing up in the American Heartland."

Over the weekend, Heather Mills will be with us, and Carol Burnett. And I'll tell you about Monday night's show right after these words.


KING: Monday night on LARRY KING LIVE, when we return live to this podium, Joan Collins will be with us, the stormy seductress has a new novel. And Sally Jesse is angry, and she has a major announcement she's going to make on Monday night.

Sally Jesse and Joan Collins on Monday.

Right now, we turn to New York, once again, Aaron Brown has the night off. Once again, it was a good golfing day in New York. And once again, the host of NEWS NIGHT is the most major fill-in in CNN history, Anderson Cooper.


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