Brokaw’s legacy: The Greatest Generation

brokaw-tom.jpgTom Brokaw anchored NBC’s “Nightly News” for 21 years. He traveled the world, covered 9/11, interviewed heads of state and followed Ronald Reagan’s political career from beginning to end. His legacy, he said Wednesday, will probably involve none of that.

Brokaw told an audience at the Los Angeles Public Library that his “single greatest contribution” will probably be his bestselling book, “The Greatest Generation.” He talked about how on the flight to Los Angeles, two flight attendants gave him handwritten notes telling him how much the book had meant to him, how it had made them see their fathers in an entirely different way.

Eleven years after publication of the book, which profiled the Americans who fought In World War II, Brokaw says “The Greatest Generation” still evokes reactions like that two or three times a week, sometimes every day.

Brokaw was in Los Angeles to receive the 2009 Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award.

He was interviewed at the library by Geneva Overholser, director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

The idea for the book came to him a quarter-century ago, Brokaw said, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Ten years later, on the 50th anniversary, he said he first used the line, “Greatest Generation,” on NBC. Four years later his book was a runaway bestseller, and Brokaw said he began to realize that its real impact was not on the veterans themselves, but on their sons and daughters who have come to see them in a new light.

Brokaw hopes to observe the 65th anniversary of D-Day, which occurs next week, by landing an interview with President Obama — probably after Obama visits the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

On journalism topics, Brokaw said he thinks the evening newscast, while trending downward in audience, is still “good to go for the foreseeable future.” But he expressed concerns about a younger generation that he said has a short attention spanned and has learned that news is free. They will have to be taught that news is not free and that “they may have to pay for information.”