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Tom Brokaw: Midterm elections hit at core values of jobs and homes

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw will be at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg tonight to talk about politics, the Internet and his career.

Associated Press (2004)

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw will be at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg tonight to talk about politics, the Internet and his career.

It may have been the best line in a long night of TV coverage during Tuesday's midterm elections.

And it came from a guy who doesn't sit behind the anchor desk for a living anymore, former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw.

"I said 'There's a wild bull loose in the arena, and it's the American electorate,' " noted Brokaw, outlining how voters delivered a massive loss to Democrats later called a "shellacking" by President Barack Obama. "I think that's a pretty good metaphor."

Since leaving Nightly News in 2004 — don't use the word "retired" unless you want a fight — Brokaw has hardly slowed down. He still produces documentaries for various NBC outlets and helps out when big news needs covering.

At 7:30 tonight he stops by the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, the school for journalists that owns the St. Petersburg Times, to talk about politics, the transformative power of the Internet, and his own 44-year journalism career — from covering Vietnam and Watergate to hosting the Today show and Nightly News. The event is sold out.

Here's a preview:

What happened in Tuesday's elections?

"For most people alive today, we've never been through an economic downturn as prolonged as this one. It goes right to the two most important things in people's lives economically: their job and their house. The political reaction has been, 'We have to take matters into our own hands. Because we can't count on Washington or Wall Street to save us.' "

How have journalists figured into this?

"We're like the military; we're always fighting the last war. We haven't caught up to some of the profound changes in our society. We know the Internet is a transformative tool, but when it comes to the American political culture, I've never seen anything like it. You can organize people around the country with a keystroke. It's a whole new dimension of American politics."

Some have said journalists didn't explain complex issues such as health care and the economic downturn.

"I don't know; when the health care bill was first passed, I kept saying: 'This is way too complex.' They spent way too much political capital on getting it passed and did not focus enough on jobs. But the well-paid people at Fox didn't pay attention to jobs, either. They were much more concentrated on the ideology, spending a lot of time on health care and so-called socialism. I believe very strongly the Obama team — for reasons that will always be mysterious to me — didn't get how important (jobs) were. The James Carville line 'It's the economy stupid' should have been stenciled on their foreheads."

Does NBC News suffer because of the connection to liberal-oriented MSNBC?

"There's a firewall there. I didn't even know what they were doing last night. I think the viewer separates it just fine. The country's got a far greater range of choices (in news), and that's a good thing. … Yes, you have to have a core of journalists who have high standards, good ethics and stay true to their values. But the readers and the audience also have a role. And they pay less attention to where they get their news, too often, than where they'll pick out their next flat-screen television."

Daily Show host Jon Stewart had some pointed words for the media at his Rally to Restore Sanity. What did you think of what he said?

"I thought Jon and Stephen (Colbert) did a national public service. I fan the flames of Jon Stewart, because I think he does keep people honest. People are upset that young people get their news from him. But Jon helps lead them to the news, which is a good thing."

Tom Brokaw: Midterm elections hit at core values of jobs and homes 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 10:28pm]

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