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Brokaw-speakingDuring his lecture at UT on Wednesday, renowned journalist Tom Brokaw shared his list of America’s “big ideas” and urged students to engage in some form of public service to help move the country forward.

Brokaw spoke to a capacity crowd in the 900-seat Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Memorial Building.

Brokaw, author of several books, including the best-selling The Greatest Generation, delivered the Baker Distinguished Lecture. He also was the special guest at a fundraising luncheon to support the lecture series sponsored by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

The Baker Distinguished Lecture Series honors notable individuals who exemplify the values of Senator Baker. Previous honorees include Senator George Mitchell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

During his lecture, Brokaw recounted some big ideas that have shaped the nation—from John F. Kennedy’s push for America to explore space to Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent battle for civil rights to Richard Nixon’s wisdom in opening diplomatic relations with China.

During his lecture and at a press conference with local reporters before the event, he talked about the big ideas coming out of Silicon Valley that have revolutionized technology and communications.

“We’re really at the beginning of (the digital age), not the end,” he said. “It will condense the world in ways we cannot now even anticipate.”

Brokaw said Twitter is changing the nature of news. For example, he said, a Tweet from a Pakistani village was the first word the world got that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

“It’s a form of journalism, but it’s on the fly,” he said.

He said he tweeted for the first time during Today’s sixtieth anniversary program last year.

“I got online and said, ‘I hear it’s the sixtieth anniversary of the Today show. Where’s the keg?’ All of a sudden I had 20,000 followers.”

Brokaw poses with Senator Baker, seated, and his wife, Senator Nancy Kassebaum.
Brokaw poses with Senator Baker, seated, and his wife, Senator Nancy Kassebaum.

Brokaw served as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. He is the only person to host all three major NBC News programs: the Today show, NBC Nightly News, and, briefly, Meet the Press. He covered many significant news stories, including the Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Hurricane Andrew. He did the first one-on-one American television interviews with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After September 11, 2001, Brokaw postponed his retirement to cover the terrorist attacks. He said that day was one of the most difficult of his career.

“It took everything I knew as reporter, as a father, as a husband, as a human being to get through that day. It took a lifetime of experience to get through that day.”

Brokaw concluded his lecture with a pitch for his own big idea—a way to encourage more people to engage in public service.

“Let’s take six land grant schools and create within them public service agencies,” he said. He proposed that before taking a full-time job, graduates could do a sort of corporate Peace Corps, completing a couple of years of field service for sponsoring companies to help them make discoveries and advancements that could benefit society.

“Make no mistake of it, we’re still the best nation,” he said. “But we have to work harder at it.”

Before leaving the stage, Brokaw joined Baker Center Director Matt Murray to lead the standing-room only crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Senator Baker, who attended the lecture. He turns eighty-eight on Friday.

After the event, Murray said he didn’t know whether Brokaw tailored his talk to fit in with UT’s “Big Orange. Big Ideas.” campaign—or if it was a coincidence.

“He never mentioned it so I really don’t know,” Murray said. “But he is the kind of person who would do his homework.”

For more information about the Baker Center, visit the website.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,