NBC News will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its acclaimed newsman Tom Brokaw with a prime time special Sunday. But first, the veteran anchor appeared on “The Tonight Show” Friday to talk about what he has learned from spending five decades behind the camera and at the forefront of history.
Host Jimmy Fallon wasted no time getting Browaw’s take on how America is doing in this first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has already brought major changes to the country with polarizing executive orders and off-the-cuff Twitter commentary.
“I think it depends on your point of view,” Brokaw noted. “This is what he was elected to do, everyone has to remember that. He has extended his campaign — it connects him to that core group that voted for him. Go to Washington, drain the swamp and return the power to the people. That’s what he’s determined to do.”
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Brokaw, who Fallon called “one of the most respected journalists,” suggested that Americans need to remember the challenges that come with leading a nation, whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat.
“Being in the White House is a lot harder than most people realize,” he said. “There are a lot of things to deal with.”
For Trump, those “things” now include a proposed 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for a southern border wall. Brokaw called the resulting conflict from that proposal “a full-blown economic war.” And he thinks Mexico, being one of America’s biggest trading partners, has a leg up in the fight. “They’ve got some ammo.”
Brokaw called Trump's presidency so far "fascinating." And with the political standoffs that have developed in the last week, journalists are faced with the responsibility to report all of the facts objectively, to “stay cool,” Brokaw said. “They’ve declared war on us … We have to do our job, not get in some ideological war.”
Brokaw's journalistic advice comes from a career that began on NBC News in 1966, a time Fallon described as a "bygone era where the news people watched was actually true." A joke it may have been, but the juxtaposition it illustrated calls attention to the fact that Brokaw now reports in a much different era for the media, one filled with "alternative facts."
When asked about the "fake news" situation, Brokaw called it "very troubling." He attributed it to the rise of social media and the bombardment of "sophisticated" information.
"We don't know where [the information] comes from," Brokaw continued. "There are people out there who are spinning stories. They're trying to get you to believe what they're saying." Brokaw made sure to clarify this happens "on the right, but also on the left."
"My advice to consumers: Look at something and apply the same test to it that you would to a flat screen television. Am I gonna buy that one, or this one or that one? See what you can trust after a while.
There's a lot of effort going on now, coming in from God knows where, to try to, in effect, really become a saboteur of the truth," Brokaw added. "And that's troubling in a free society."
Brokaw, now 76, is no stranger to big stories like the ones being reported today; he's covered some of the world’s most crucial turning points: the Watergate scandal, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the tragedy that was 9/11.
Through it all, he said, he has learned that the world is constantly in motion.
“It’s very exciting to watch,” Brokaw said.
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“What about our country?” Fallon asked hesitantly. “Are we going to be OK?”
After a laugh, Brokaw eased the tension confidently. “We’re a very strong country,” he said. “The biggest challenge of the country is: How do we get everybody back together?”
His suggestion? “Listen to both sides and say, 'How do we find common ground?' I wish we’d see more of that.”
“Here’s to common ground,” Fallon replied.