Even before he joined NBC, Tom Brokaw knew the impact the assassination of President John F. Kennedy would have on how network news did its job.
On Nov. 22, 1963, the veteran anchor-reporter was a local TV newsman in Omaha, Neb. He broke into a garden-show broadcast to convey the information coming from Dallas, Texas — and as much as he remembers that day’s events, he presents memories from many other Americans in Friday’s (Nov. 22) NBC special “Where Were You: The Day JFK Died Reported by Tom Brokaw.”
“I was 20 years old when he was elected and 23 when he was killed,” Brokaw tells Zap2it. “I thought at that time that John F. Kennedy and his style, and his use of television and politics, was going to be the game plan for the foreseeable future. That was a new way of doing things in American public life.
“He was unique. He was very wealthy and had that very charismatic family, and he also had great ambition and great determination. Then three shots were fired, and it was Lyndon Johnson and an entirely different turn in the road when it came to the presidency.”
Brokaw also has written the foreword to a companion book, “Where Were You? America Remembers the JFK Assassination,” compiled and edited by Gus Russo and longtime “60 Minutes” producer Harry Moses. Both that and the TV special include recollections from both people famous (including Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda and Jay Leno) and not-so-famous, and the assassination still has an effect on Brokaw as well.
“I was a true child of the ’50s,” the former “NBC Nightly News” anchor says. “I came out of the innocence of that decade, having been raised by a working-class family. I was the first member of my family to go to college, and I had a job in this pretty new industry, television news.
“I had ambitions of being a network correspondent, and I was newly married; my wife was teaching, and we thought it was the kind of life we’d lead forever. I just remember being so … ‘confused’ is not quite the right word, and I wasn’t rattled, even on the air. I was just operating from two different spheres of my brain, trying to get the information out and also having this dialogue with myself.”
Indeed, Brokaw recalls, “I thought, ‘Did this happen? Is it real? What does this mean? How is this going to change us?’ It was almost too horrific to take in.”