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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw

Aired December 11, 2003 - 21:00   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, America's No. 1-rated nightly newsman now in his final year in the anchor's chair. He's here for the hour. We'll cover it all, even his own future. We'll take your calls, too. Tom Brokaw is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A couple of quick notes. At the end of the program tonight, my wife, Shawn, is going to sing a great new Christmas song. It's in regard to our Larry King Cardiac Foundation. I hope you stay tuned for that at the end of the show. And President Jimmy Carter is the special guest tomorrow night.

It's always great to welcome Tom Brokaw, the anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News," the author of the best-selling "Greatest Generation" books, and his own "New York Times" best-seller, the most recent book, "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland" -- there you see its cover -- published by Random House. It is now out in paperback. It's terrific read. Tom was on with us when this book came out in hardcover. We'll talk about it in a little while.

Tom, first your comments on some items in the news. This just in, with Pentagon auditors finding that Vice President Cheney's former company may have overcharged the Army by as much as $61 million for gasoline in Iraq, senior officials said Thursday. What do you make of this?

BROKAW: I think we're going to hear a lot more about it not only from the Pentagon auditors, but certainly from the Democratic presidential candidates, who have been hitting hard on the connection between what they perceive to be the special interests that are beholden to this administration and the people who are getting favors. Halliburton, after all, got its contract in Iraq on a no-bid basis. Now, the people at the Pentagon and in the administration will say, Look, they're in a position to do the best job over there because they've got deep roots in that part of the world, and we've got to get on with the job of rebuilding Iraq. But this comes from within the Pentagon itself, so this is an embarrassment to the administration, Larry.

KING: Is "A Long Way From Home" your last book?

BROKAW: No. I'm going to write another book, I think, in the next couple of years. I'm gathering string right now on sometime that interests me, as well. I wrote three books about World War II and then my own book about the effect of that generation on my life, but 1968 was a year when it seemed like the world was flying apart. Dr. King was killed. Bobby Kennedy was killed. You remember the riots in Chicago. The Tet offensive was going on. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. We were in the midst of a Civil Rights revolt in this country. I think the events affected this country deeply.

Now many of the people are Baby Boomers that went through that, and I think that they have some interesting reflections on those times. It is a time I want to write about.

KING: That may have been the most turbulent year of the era.

BROKAW: You know, we think about how difficult times are now, but I remember when people wondered whether or not the country could survive what was going on. You remember the marches in Washington and around the country, the urban riots after Dr. King's assassination, the great grief that settled on America after Bobby Kennedy was killed, what happened in Chicago at the time of the Democratic convention picking a presidential candidate, after all. It was the year that Lyndon Johnson said that he would not be a candidate for re- election.

And I do think that America, in the eyes of many people, seemed to be hanging in the balance, but it was a great tribute to the resilience of this country, to the rule of law and to the people who live here that we got through that time and that, in fact-- that there wasn't more carnage in the streets and that we learned many lessons from it, as well.

KING: Tom, are you having second thoughts about leaving? You're leaving on top. Any times you say to yourself, Maybe I'm making a mistake here?

BROKAW: No, I don't think so, Larry. What I'm doing is decoupling myself from "NBC Nightly News." I feel very strongly that it's been a great privilege to be in that chair for more than 20 years now. I've been a firsthand witness to these great events that have defined the world that we now have. But at the same time, I was given my chance 20 years ago, and I think it's time for a renewal now within NBC, and Brian Williams will take my place. We've got David Gregory and Campbell Brown and all the other great young correspondents who are coming up behind me. They deserve their opportunities as, well. And of course, we lost a great correspondent, David Bloom. That still is a hole in the heart of all of us.

But I do think that it's time for me to go away from 6:30 every night, same time. Now, you know something about that, about what it's like to have to be in the same place every night, no matter what else you may be doing or interested in. Doesn't mean I'm going off to the old anchorman's home with a lap robe and a drool cup of some kind. I intend to stay active both in television and in the writing of books, so -- but I'm still trying to work all that out.

BROKAW: A couple things. What is your actual last night as anchor?

BROKAW: Well, we haven't settled on that yet. What I've said is that some time after the election in 2004, I'll say good-bye and welcome Brian to that chair. And it will probably happen before the turn of the new year. We're still working that out and...

KING: So about a year from now?

BROKAW: ... working out what kind of a -- yes, about a year from now, I would say. Yes.

KING: And you say you'll do other television. Are you committed to NBC or are you open to others?

BROKAW: It's likely that I'll have some kind of a relationship with NBC. It's hard for to believe that I would work elsewhere, although that's always a possibility. I've been there my entire adult life. They've been very, very good to me. And we're talking about what it is that I can do. On the other hand, there's always a possibility that I'll just say, you know, sayonara for a while. I'll go away for six months, or maybe even longer, and pursue some of my other outdoor interests around the world, fly fishing and climbing and traveling and going to the third world and exploring some interests that I have there.

KING: And turning down Ted Turner again?

(LAUGHTER)

BROKAW: No. You know, Ted -- that's a real bond. That's a real friendship, as you know.

KING: I know.

BROKAW: And it was a hard thing for me to do when he asked me to join him at CNN. And I worried then that it would -- might affect our relationship and our friendship, and I'm glad that it has not. Ted just turned a big milestone, as you know, and I wished him happy birthday by videotape.

KING: Me, too.

BROKAW: And we have a lot of common interests, and I still think the world of him.

KING: What do you make of the fact that despite we've got a war on and major stories, the fascination with Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, Kobe Bryant?

BROKAW: Well, there's always been that fascination with what I call the underside of life. You know, people forget that when Sam Shepherd was on trial in Ohio, the case that later became the basis for "The Fugitive," that Dorothy Kilgallen and Walter Winchell were out there every day. The Lindbergh kidnapping trial at the height of the Depression fascinated everybody.

And now you have all these cable channels and tabloid newspapers and all-news radio going all the time, beating that drum constantly. I do think it's out of proportion, frankly. And I do worry about that, but I always trust the judgment of the American people to decide what's in their best interest. And when you look at the audiences, they seem to be intense, and the cable audiences especially go after those stories because they spike the audience, but in the larger universe, it really still is a fraction of the people who are eager for more serious information.

KING: So "Nightly News" rarely leads with one of these?

BROKAW: Well, we had an interesting choice a couple of weeks ago when the Michael Jackson story first broke. My competitors both led with it, and we did not. There was an important speech by President Bush in London. I was in Washington at the time. We had a pretty vigorous discussion, as you might expect, behind the scenes. And about 3:45 in the afternoon, I said, We're going to lead with the president. This is a much more important speech. We'll get to the Michael Jackson story. You can't ignore the fact that this high- profile celebrity had been accused of these very serious charges.

There's an old saying by Reuven (ph) Frank, who was one of the founders of NBC News, that you can't be above the news. But at the same time, you have to always keep it in some context. We've got a lot of big issues before this country, and it's our obligation, I think, especially on the "NBC Nightly News," to keep the country focused on those.

KING: And we'll focus on some of them, as well. Our guest is Tom Brokaw, the anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News," approaching his last year in that spot, and his "New York Times" best- seller, "A Long Way From Home," a terrific book, "Growing Up in the American Heartland." It's published by Random House, and it's now available in paperback. Great Christmas idea, too.

Right back with Tom Brokaw. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS")

BROKAW: In Iraq, a series of loud explosions in central Baghdad set off sirens inside the U.S. headquarters tonight, but there are no reports of any injuries. Meanwhile, the third suicide attack this week killed 1 soldier and wounded 14 at the gates of a base housing the Army's 82 Airborne Division, which is west of Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: He's a fixture in American television, former co-host of "The Today Show," anchored out in Los Angeles. Tells about a brilliant career and the start of it all in "The New York Times" best- seller "A Long Way From Home." He's Tom Brokaw, entering his last year as the anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News."

The whole Iraq story -- the aftermath, the going in, the trouble since -- how do you read it?

BROKAW: Well, I think it's still a work in progress. I don't think that we can make the final judgment about it. I think that there are some judgments that we can make. I do think that the administration has to be held accountable for what happened once they got to Baghdad, when so-called "major combat operations" were over, why they were not better prepared for the chaos that came after that time and the continuing war with the Fedayeen.

I was there in July. I was there three times, I think, last year, and went back in July, 100 days since the end of so-called "major combat." And Paul Bremer, who's the administration's man on the ground, said, Everything that we expected to happen didn't happen. That is, that they thought that there would be chemical warfare and pitched fighting in Baghdad. They thought they would be welcomed in many areas. And then he said, Everything we didn't expect to happen did happen. That is, the Republican Guard faded away. Saddam Hussein got out of town with a lot of money. And there has been very effective, what they call, asymmetrical warfare against American military occupiers who are there, and we see that on that daily basis.

The Pentagon makes the argument now that they're making great progress because they're rounding up people every day. I saw a report yesterday on what they call IED. These are improvised explosive devices. They think that they're getting about 75 percent to 80 percent of them. About 20 percent are duds and about 5 percent go off, and they do a fair amount of damage. That's a kind of quantitative judgment.

The qualitative judgment is that one of them goes off and it kills an American soldier. And the question is, How long will the American people really tolerate our occupation there, when there's a body bag a day or two or more? And then the larger question is, Larry, what happens next year, when the United States turns over authority to the Iraqis? We'll keep a military presence there. But if Saddam Hussein is still at large, having been in that country, there will be great psychological terror on the part of the people because they had 35 years of the worst kind of oppression, and they'll never live comfortably as long as he's at large.

KING: And what effect will it have on the election?

BROKAW: I think we'll have to wait and see. It depends on how well it's going come next September, October and the weeks right before November. Obviously, the Democratic frontrunner, Howard Dean, has made that a primary focus of his campaign. It's working very well for him within the Democratic Party. And if there is continuing deterioration, that will be an advantage for him. On the other hand, if it works out the way the administration hopes that it will, that'll make it more difficult for Howard Dean.

But at this stage, now, less than a year away from the campaign, we still have many miles to go and a lot of events that can still occur. There could be a catastrophic development of some kind in Iraq. Or on the other hand, maybe they'll catch Saddam Hussein and Ibrahim al Douri, who is his principle lieutenant. Maybe they'll catch Usama bin Laden. That would be a great advantage for the president.

I always call this the UFO time. The unforeseen will occur, and that's what you have to keep your eye on. KING: You moderated a debate with these candidates. Can anything structurally strong happen when nine people are dealing in sound bites?

BROKAW: It's a very difficult time. I tried to make it more conversational and not just a metronome in which we went from one candidate to another on the same subject, tried to surprise them with some questions. And I think we did get some insights into who they are and what they're thinking about. There were some pretty sharp exchanges between especially John Kerry and Governor Dean.

But you've got candidates on that stage who are not going to leave it. Al Sharpton has said he's going to stay there until the convention. I'm not sure what Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun's intentions are, but she probably is going to stay there for a while, as well. Joe Lieberman is not doing well in the polls. John Edwards is not doing well in the polls. But in fairness to them, they say not a vote has been cast.

So I think we're just going to be left with this kind of crowded stage until there's a sorting out, beginning first in Iowa, then New Hampshire and then South Carolina. Then we'll have a clearer idea. But by then, it may be close to over because it's -- under the current structure, a candidate in the Democratic Party can quickly pile up enough votes, the way the primaries are stacked now, to be the prohibitive frontrunner. And it'd be hard to deny him -- as we presume it will be a male -- the nomination.

KING: As a veteran observer, how surprised were you by Al Gore's endorsement?

BROKAW: Very surprised, especially by the fact that he didn't call Joe Lieberman beforehand, who was his old ally. He didn't call a lot of other people, as well. There's been a fair amount of kind of back-channel talk about the former vice president's conduct during this time, a lot of people saying he only thinks about himself. I think it did help Governor Dean. People will try to say, Well, look, he's been running as an outsider, now he has as his principal supporter a major figure from the Democratic Party establishment. But it was a big endorsement for him in states like Iowa, for example, and in New Hampshire.

KING: Will Bill Clinton...

BROKAW: Big surprise, though.

KING: Will Bill Clinton be a big factor next year, do you think?

BROKAW: I don't know. I mean, it depends on how active a role that he, A, wants to play, and B, what's going on with the economy. I always felt personally that Vice President Gore did not run on the Clinton-Gore economic record vigorously enough when he was running in 2002. There's a kind of statute of limitations that has to run out on Bill Clinton. He's still a polarizing figure for many people. He's iconic in the Democratic Party, but Republicans get energized by the fact that they think that they can run against Bill Clinton.

So I think he's taken a measure of all these candidates. I've talked with him some about all of them. He's been very fair and quite insightful in his assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, but he's been very careful not to endorse any of them, as well.

KING: We'll take a break. We'll come back. We'll be including calls for Tom Brokaw in a little while. Again, "The New York Times" best-seller, "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland," is now out in paperback. And we're happy to hear Tom, who's become a very prolific writer, will be writing another book, this one about the year of 1968.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROKAW: In the last few days, what happened to you during the Vietnam era is beginning to get some attention. You got a deferment. You were classified I-Y. You took letters and an X-ray to your draft board because you had an unfused vertebra in your back, but then you went skiing for the next year, skied the Moguls -- I've skied the Moguls. I know how tough they are on your back -- at that time. If you had any reservations about serving, why not just having left the letter at home, and said, Examine me. See what you think? Why take the letter?.

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I took my -- I took the medical X-rays at the time -- look, I did not serve in Vietnam. I was given a deferment by the United States government because they did not feel they wanted me in the Army.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A couple other things with Tom Brokaw, then your calls, a question or two about his book, now in paperback, "A Long Way From Home." What do you make of all this ruckus about France, Germany and Russia not happy about Bush saying that friendly coalition folks who risked their lives and therefore contracting will go to them and not to those who opposed?

BROKAW: Well, I think it's the timing and the tone of the language, as much as anything, that probably caused the dust-up. And it also came at an awkward time for James Baker, who is going as the president's personal emissary to those countries to ask them to restructure the debt that Iraq owes them and try to relieve some of the debt burden. Now, the question is, in the internecine politics of this administration, did the Pentagon deliberately try to make his job more difficult for him, or were they giving him something that he could use as kind of a hole card and say, Well, I'll give you back some contracts if you can help us with the debt?

You know, you can make the very strong argument that the Russians And the French and the Germans were not only not participants in the military invasion of Iraq, they were greatly critical of it, and after the so-called "major combat" came to an end, they didn't want to send any troops or send any money in there. So the president's saying, Look, our people are at risk. Other members of this coalition from Spain and Poland and other places have their people at risk. It's those companies that deserve an opportunity to make a few dollars in Iraq, not...

KING: Seems logical.

BROKAW: ... the French, the Germans and the Russians. Yes, it does.

KING: Seems logical, doesn't it?

BROKAW: Yes. It does. It's just -- the whole thing is hard, I think, Larry, in part, because there's this great continuing debate about unilateralism, about what kind of a world we're going to have, how we're going to work together as allies. But that, too, is a two- way street.

KING: Your colleague at NBC News is now the first lady of California. How big a story to you in 2003 was Schwarzenegger?

BROKAW: It's a very big story. I always thought that he would do very well. I've known him a long time. Actually, I kind of knew him before he was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and through a curious set of circumstances, I introduced Maria and Arnold...

KING: Really?

BROKAW: ... at a cocktail party here in New York. Yes. And my running joke has always been that if I had not introduced her, she would have knocked me down to meet him. But she did ask me to introduce her to him, and I did. And they didn't leave each other's side.

He's a smart guy. And plainly, California was in a form of political gridlock. A lot of the circumstances that Gray Davis found himself in were not of his own doing, but he either didn't have the personality or the capacity to undo the great ill will that swept across that great state of California.

And Arnold brought in kind of a fresh voice. He's a moderate Republican. He's determined to get things done. He's run into a bit of a hurdle here in the first few days on trying to get some budget cuts through and trying to get the idea of floating a bond to get the state out of debt. So it's going to be more difficult than I think even he may have anticipated. But nonetheless, I think that there is a feeling on both sides of the aisle now that maybe we can get some things done.

KING: And she asked you to meet him?

BROKAW: She did. I remember it well. It was a cocktail party around the Bobby Kennedy Memorial Tennis Tournament. And Arnold had came back for it for the first time. And I made kind of a corny joke, in which I took her over to him and I said, Arnold, Maria wants to meet you because my shoulders are too large for her and she's looking for somebody smaller. And they met each other, and the next day or a day or two after that, he went off to Hyannisport and visited the family up there. And of course...

KING: That quick?

BROKAW: ... they've got a great family.

KING: They do.

BROKAW: They've got wonderful children. Maria by consensus is one of the great mothers in Los Angeles and in very difficult circumstances. And she's come back to work at NBC at the same time.

KING: All right. The generation -- you wrote about generations. You wrote about growing up and the effect on your childhood. How do you rate this generation, the boys and ladies in Afghanistan and Iraq?

BROKAW: Well, I tell you, when you're around the American military these days, there is -- you cannot help but be impressed. First of all, I think the military and all the branches of it do the best job of integrating all the various ethnic groups of this country. I was on the USS Stennis a year ago, and I was so struck by the fact that there would be these small pods of units, men and women, and you'd have a Hispanic and an African-American and you'd have a kid from Texas, a white kid from Texas, and they'd all be working on the same assignment, living in very small quarters together. The same is true with the guys with their boots on the ground and the infantry units now. And when I was coming out of Afghanistan the last -- or out of Baghdad the last time, there were these women who were these medical technicians and nurses and they were helping other people. You see the full integration of this country. And they're so skilled at what they're doing and so committed, in part because we have an all-volunteer Army now. And the Army learned some tough lessons after Vietnam, and so did all the branches of the service. Education is a big premium. They offer bonuses to get people in, and then they get them well educated and spot their skills and get them well assigned.

Now, on the civilian side, what I always say is, if I go anywhere in the world, the most hellish place, the most poverty-stricken place that you wouldn't want to be, I almost always find a young American doing something, either working on a humanitarian project of some kind with refugees or they're working with a medical corps, which is a group of doctors who go around the world to provide the medical needs that are required or they're working politically to organize people to -- so they can claim their rights in that country. So I think it's a great generation.

And when I ask the members of the "Greatest Generation," their grandparents, they always laugh and say, Oh, I'm in such awe of their ability to use the new technology, to make as much money as they do, to travel as well as they do. And then they laugh and say, But we gave them so much. We probably wanted to spoil them, and that might have been a mistake. I think a lot of this generation is about proportion. How much do you need? And the "Greatest Generation," of course, came of age during the Depression, when they just simply did not have anything and couldn't have anything.

KING: Well said. Tom Brokaw, "The New York Times" best-seller, "A Long Way From Home," his latest book, is now out in paperback. There'll be another one coming, of course, his roaringly best-selling "Greatest Generation" books. We'll come back and take your phone calls right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROKAW: It's well known that you're a man of very strong faith. You have political and national security responsibilities, as well. Was there a time when it was difficult to reconcile those two roles, your political and national security responsibility and your own spiritual obligation?

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't bring God into my life to -- to, you know, kind of be a political person. I ask God for strength and guidance. I ask God to help me be a better person. But the decision about war and peace was a decision I made based upon what I thought were the best interests of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just a reminder as we coming back on LARRY KING LIVE, at the top of the hour when Tom leaves us, my wife Shawn's going to sing a great new Christmas song.

And tomorrow night our guest is Jimmy Carter.

And we're going to calls for Tom Brokaw, again the book is "A Long Way from Home, Growing up in the American Heartland." Published by Random House. Now, out in paperback.

London, Ontario for Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, good evening. Merry Christmas to you both, and your families.

BROKAW: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: Mr. Brokaw, I watch you faithfully every night. You will truly be missed.

My question, when you retire from "Nightly News," would you consider hosting your own show?

BROKAW: You mean being competitor to Larry King?

KING: Go ahead. It's wide open Tom.

BROKAW: No, no, no. The last thing I would want to do is try to compete in Larry's very special arena, because he does it so very, very well and has for so long. No, what I would like to probably do is do more documentary work. More long form television programming. Take sometime to work on special reports. It's always been a special interest of mine and even when I'm doing "Nightly News" and "The Today Show" for the matter, I've produced two or three documentaries a year and get a real kick out of that. And I do think there ought to remain a place on the television schedule for the longer, more detailed look at an interest -- at an area of special interest to us all. I have done everything from race relations to education to the education of a doctor to the immigrant experience in this country. I once did a documentary, with to Houston, which was the murder capital of world and spent time with the homicide detectives trying to get insight into the lives of other people. And the conditions that tend to royal us. And how we can better understand each other through this great medium we have called television.

KING: Richmond, Virginia, for Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Mr. Brokaw.

BROKAW: How are you?

CALLER: I grew up watching you when I was younger and still watch you. My question is, why does the news media continue links Dick Cheney to Halliburton when he's been away from it for at least four years?

BROKAW: Well, you know, the link is that he -- that he was a former head of Halliburton, that's all we said and he does still have retirement benefits that will come from that are in trust now. I don't think anybody has said directly that he has organized for Halliburton to get these contracts. But it's indisputable he is a beneficiary of his days at Halliburton and in terms of his retirement although, remember, it's in a blind trust at this time. But, clearly, if you look back on the Clinton administration, for example, anything -- any business relationship that they may have had with something, that always came up when it came into the news. And because Halliburton got such an important position now in the rebuilding of Iraq, it got on a noncompetitive basis and now the Pentagon said it does things that raised a lot of questions. It's just comes with the territory.

KING: Were you surprised that the Supreme Court upheld the campaign finance reform law?

BROKAW: I guess I was. I felt strongly for a long time that we needed to do something about campaign finance in this country. I think it's really has been a corrupting influence across the board in American politics. And we can all talk all we want about free speech but it's precious, this ability to be able to go to the country and have from country feel they're getting the most credible and honest people who have great integrity when they run for office. And they're not getting somebody who's just bought and paid for. And we're quickly developing a system that's pretty much bought and paid for. When you realize the kind of money that will be spent in the next year on presidential campaigns, alone, the incumbent George Bush is going to raise $200 million. Howard Dean raising a lot of money. Will probably spend half a billion dollars on a presidential campaign. Then you take in all the Senate campaigns. And I think it's driving a lot people away from the political arena and I think that's a travesty.

KING: Phoenix, Arizona, for Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Good evening to you both. Appreciate your taking the call. My mom is a World War II generation and your books meant a lot to her. I thank you for that. I teach college history and most of students are true 18-year-old freshman. I'm lucky sometimes to get an older student. But as you know, people don't have to take history anymore for a degree, so I'm happy to have any age.

My question has to do with the title of the book. As you can imagine, your book is so widely popular even my youngest students attach the word greatest to that generation. And yet, after say, for example, World War I, they will often ask me after hearing about trench warfare and the enduring kind of story that World War i vets came home to, I'm asked at least once every semester why then is that generation the greatest?

And although you have talked about it in the book, I wonder if you could talk about more how you came to that title and thought process before deciding.

BROKAW: Well, my short answer is that's my story and I'm sticking to it. The longer answer is I did think about it. And first used the phrase when I appeared with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" 50th anniversary of D-Day, when asked me what I thought was going on. And I said when you stop and think about this generation, which came of age in the formative years in the great depression and then was asked to go off and save the world, not just in Europe, but in the Pacific, as well, and the greatest war man kind has ever known, and more than 50 million people perished in that war, around the world. It was fought on six of seven continents.

And when this generation came home from that war, wasn't perfect by any means, but it was the generation that began to recognize the expansion of women's rights in this country. It was the generation that led the fight eventually for the Civil Rights Bill in America, in the Congress and the Senate of the United States. So, I think that this generation if you look at it through the wolf and warp of it, the length and the breadth of it, I think it's a great great generation. And I've choose to call it the greatest generation.

I've been challenged about that by Andy Rooney, who's a member of the generations. He said, I don't know, Brokaw, I don't think we're the greatest generation. And I just always say, I am going to put a check by your name, and you don't have to be a part of it. Arthur Schlesinger said the great generation in America where the founding fathers. It's hard to argue with that except allowing racism to go forward and there were no women involved in that. It was a collection of white men, brilliant, white men. In the long course of history, there have never been people with such great vision and with a great sense of the inalienable rights of man to think and to decide one's own future. But, they too, have flaws and...

KING: And hey, it's your book.

BROKAW: Yes.

KING: Ellenton, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Hello to two great Americans. I want to know what Tom thinks is the single most important issue facing this country.

BROKAW: I really think that we've got a couple of issues facing us that worry me some. The "Economists" recently did the magazine did a long survey of America which they called us one nation, two cultures. We're divided up by red and blue states on those electoral maps now. Different values in different parts of the country, and people are exploiting those differences, I think, for their own selfish ends.

So I worry about our ability to be greater than the sum of the parts rather than the less than the sum of the parts. And if you break it down, we have distinct issues on race, for example. But as much as anything, I think what the country longs for is an authentic voice to lead them in a common direction. We're always going to have ideological or cultural differences, but they've become so sharp now and so polarized and so many people are willing to try to exploit that polarization for their own ends. That I don't think it's in the common welfare or common interest of this country.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with some more moments with Tom Brokaw, some more phone calls. The book, the "New York Times" best seller is now in paperback, "A Long Way From Home, Growing Up in the American Heartland."

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From NBC News, world headquarters in New York, this is "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw.

BROKAW: Good evening. One of the legendary lines about the place of money in American campaigns came from a powerful California politician who said, "money is the mother's milk of politics." But in recent years, many believe that wholesome metaphor has corrupted...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROKAW: Peggy Noonan spoke for all of us in the "Wall Street Journal" when she wrote, "rest in peace, David of Arabia, journalist of warriors."

God, one more thought. If you want to know what's going on in your kingdom, check with David. By now, he'll have all the names and all the phone numbers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tom Brokaw, eloquent at the funeral of David Bloom.

Westchester, New York, hello.

CALLER: Hi. Hi, Larry.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: I'm honored to be asking my most, most favorite journalist a question. I'll go right ahead. In light of today's wounding of two journalists and you're mentioning of the late David Bloom, one of today's journalists is repeated to be a real hero, etcetera. Have you ever, Tom Brokaw, been in a situation where you felt extreme danger for the sake of a story either early in your career or later? Later on?

BROKAW: I think it was more dangerous in Baghdad than I now realized. I got there at the end of July. And I remember going the first day that I was there, I went across the city of Baghdad with Bernie Kirk (ph), who was the former New York City police commissioner.

We were stuck in traffic like Michael Weiskopf (ph) did last night from "TIME" magazine and Jim Knockoway (ph) and they had a grenade thrown into their Humvee and Mike was able to pitch it out. And apparently lost his hand in the process.

But when I was there at that time, there were these random attacks on highways in which I just recently traveled and so on. They accelerated once I left. I think the most dangerous place I've ever been probably is Beirut during the war then because you didn't know from where the incoming would be launched.

KING: Yes.

BROKAW: That was a dangerous time.

But right now, for these journalists who are in Baghdad, it's an extremely dangerous time. One of our people just left on a drive from Baghdad to Amman and I have a friend in the military who wrote to me in an e-mail quite concerned about whether she would be okay because he said, I won't even venture out of the compound I'm in now.

You just don't know when it's going to happen. The people there are willful and willing to give up their own live to make some kind of an attack. So, we're very concerned about that and we're very concerned about the security of people day-to-day as we are, obviously, about the Iraqi citizens and the American military in harm's way every day.

KING: Tampa, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry. Mr. Brokaw, first, I'd like to thank you for bringing up the fact that it's truly the greatest generation. My grandfather fought in Patton's army, so I thank you for that, sir.

My question is regarding the anthrax letter scare. What is your thoughts on the lack of the progress? And also being part of the story instead of usually reporting on it. What is your thoughts on that?

KING: Excellent question.

BROKAW: It was a very difficult time, obviously. My assistant contracted cutaneous anthrax, a young woman that worked for us at that time. An entry level position had also contracted that. And they both have fully recovered, I'm very happy to say.

But it was a meaning of terror. And it was not just a physical terror of what happened to them, but it was the psychological affect that somebody could penetrate our newsroom in that fashion. And, had the will to do that. And for reasons that we still don't understand.

I've been in touch with the FBI and on a regular basis and so far as I can tell, they're not making much progress on the sender of the anthrax. It was somebody who was obviously very cunning. I now believe that it didn't have a connection to al Qaeda. For a time I thought it was probably part of the a larger plot against this country. I have been persuaded that it was probably an independent operator of some kind to cause some grief. But we have not been able to track them down.

KING: We only have about a minute left. Ellijay, Georgia, quickly, hello.

CALLER: Yes, thank you very much, Larry. Tome, what do you think about the Dow Jones hitting 10,000 today and do you think it was because of Bush tax cuts?

BROKAW: Well, I think that the Bush tax cuts are a stimulus for a lot of companies, there's no question about that. The real test is what it will be nine months from now. The Dow is at 10,000 in May, 2002, then slipped back. The real issue is going to be whether it can be sustained and then the price that will have to be paid for the deficit.

But I don't think there's a question if you talk to major business leaders around the county that the tax cuts did provide a stimulus for them. To what proportion and what the consequences of all that will be, that still has to play out.

KING: Tom, "A Long Way From Home" certainly your most personal book. Are you enjoying writing as much as broadcasting?

BROKAW: I am, because there's a permanence about it, Larry. That at the end of the day, as one of my friend's at NBC used to say, the signals go to Venus. When you write a book, it's there and you can pull it off the shelf and show it to your grandchildren . People read it and recite it back to you and pass it along to friends or to their own children. That's all quite gratifying. It is ego satisfying to write a book and have it generally very well received.

To go back into your own life is pretty tricky. I think that the most telling line came from my mother when I asked her to proofread it. I used this in the forward when she said, "it's mostly fine dear but in some places your ego is showing."

KING: Tom, we'll see you in Iowa and New Hampshire and on the trail.

BROKAW: You will, indeed.

KING: Tom Brokaw, the anchor and managing editor of NBC "Nightly News with Tom Brokaw." Author of best selling greatest generation books at his "New York Times" bestseller. "A Long Way From Home: Growing Up In The American Heartland," published by Random House is now out in paperback.

And again, Jimmy Carter will be our special guest tomorrow night.

We have a special close tonight with my wife. And you're going to see her see her and hear all about it after these words. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We have a very special close to LARRY KING lIVE tonight. You may not know it but I have a cardiac foundation, the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. I started it some years back after I had bypass surgery and someone asked me what the insurance was and I didn't even know what it cost. Then we checked and found that a lot of people aren't insured.

So over the years, we've helped lots of people get new hearts and heart procedures and we hold benefit dinners every year and I give money from royalties from books and the like. Well, this year, something extraordinary happened. My friend, Bruce Roberts, wrote a wonderful song with Rivers Rutherford called "Gotta love the holidays." My wife, Shawn King, is going to sing this song and we put it on a CD.

Warner Brothers is distributing it. It's a fantastic CD. Bruce Roberts is doing piano here in the studio. He produced it. David Foster did the arrangement. Kenny G plays sax on it. You're going to hear an incredible song. And also on the CD are Celine Dion and Elton John and Natalie Cole and Barry Manilow. Sharon Stone reciting "Twas the night before Christmas." Even I play Santa Claus on that cut.

But to me, the best part of it is the one you're going to see right now. Here's Shawn King with "Gotta love the holidays." Enjoy.

SHAWN KING, WIFE OF LARRY KING: (SINGING)

KING: Warner Brothers is the distributor of "Gotta love the holidays." And again, on the CD are some great artists, the lead song, of course, the title song of the CD, "Gotta love the holidays." The CD is available everywhere and every penny from it goes to the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. So you're not only enjoying some wonderful music at Christmas, but you're helping a wonderful cause and helping a lot of people who couldn't otherwise afford it, get anywhere from a new heart to bypass surgery to angioplasty.

Hope you're having a wonderful holiday season. From Shawn and I, thank you very much. Hope you enjoyed it. I'll be back in a minute or two to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Hope you enjoyed tonight's edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Tomorrow night, former President Jimmy Carter. Lots to talk about. Things like a fellow from Vermont, war in Iraq. Jimmy Carter tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.

"NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown is next. Aaron, what did you think about the close here tonight.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know who that woman is but she can sing.

KING: Not bad.

BROWN: Not bad at all.

KING: I think I ought to take an interest in her.

BROWN: I would. Now, there's a great idea. Good for you. Go get them.

KING: Go get them, Aaron.

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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