Tom Brokaw Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

By Julia Bianco

Phi Beta Kappa member and NBC journalist Tom Brokaw was recently one of 19 people awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for “devoting their lives to their fellow citizens.” The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor. 

Even as a young child, Brokaw knew that he was interested in politics. He says that he used to stay up until 1:00 A.M. to see the results of election night on TV. He eventually went to college at the University of South Dakota to study political science, where he graduated in 1964 and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as an honorary member in 1983. While there, he married Meredith Lynn Auld, an author and a former Miss South Dakota. They had three children. 

After graduation, Brokaw started his career in broadcast news at a small station in Sioux City, Iowa. He eventually moved to KMTV in Atlanta, Georgia to cover the civil rights movement. 

In 1966, Brokaw began his career at NBC, anchoring the 11 p.m. news in Los Angeles. Just seven years later, he became the station’s White House correspondent, reporting during the Watergate era. He covered both the 1976 and 1980 Democratic and Republican conventions. 

Brokaw took over as host of the Today Show in 1976, where he remained until 1982. After that, he anchored NBC Nightly News in New York, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was one of the “Big Three” network anchors, along with ABC’s Peter Jennings and CBS’ Dan Rather. Brokaw stepped down in 2004, and was replaced by Brian Williams.  

During his time as anchor of NBC Nightly News, Brokaw had the first American television interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, moderated a live television presidential election debate, and covered the Oklahoma City bombing. He also covered the September 11 terrorist attacks, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Since leaving NBC Nightly News, Brokaw has returned as a Special Correspondent with several reports and has reported numerous documentaries, including Separate and Unequal, about poverty and race, and In God They Trust, about the religious revolution around the country. 

Brokaw has also published a number of books, including The Greatest Generation, about Americans who fought in World War II, The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections, and, his most recent book, The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation about America, which compares Brokaw’s own family history with “inspiring stories of Americans who are making a difference.” 

He also served as the interim host of Meet the Press following the death of Tim Russert in June 2008. He stepped down from the post in December of that year, and was replaced by David Gregory.

In August of 2013, Brokaw was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and is still undergoing treatment. He and his wife currently live on a ranch in Montana. Brokaw currently serves on the board of directors fro the Council on Foreign Relations, on the International Rescue Committee, and on the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

Aside from the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Brokaw has also won multiple Peabody Awards, several Emmy Awards, and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. 

“At pivotal moments, Tom got it,” said President Barack Obama when he awarded Brokaw with the Presidential Medial of Freedom on November 24, 2014.

Julia Bianco is a junior at Case Western Reserve University. She is a double major in cognitive science and political science, with a minor in English. Case Western is home to the Alpha of Ohio Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.