Tom Brokaw Trashes Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio on Ingraham Show

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw took his publicity tour for his Sixties book "Boom!" into (at least somewhat) hostile territory on Monday’s Laura Ingraham show. Ingraham played an old clip in which Brokaw slapped talk radio as "instantly jingoistic and savagely critical" of people questioning war.

Like many other journalists who instantly let conservatives know they haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh, Brokaw insisted Limbaugh "doesn’t want to hear another point of view, except his." Ingraham disagreed. Brokaw added: "The problem with talk radio is they only want to hear one note...The problem with talk radio is they mock anyone else’s point of view, and they do it often in a mindless fashion." This is rich talk coming from a man whose network hired Bill Moyers as his newscast’s only commentator in 1995, and a man who wrote a syrupy tribute to hot liberal mock-jock Jon Stewart for his "Athenian" ideals in Time magazine. Audio clip (5:05): MP3 audio

Brokaw appeared on two segments with Ingraham, and they carried on a friendly discussion about the themes of his Sixties book. Before the talk radio exchange, the only other notable point of contention was Ingraham’s suggestion that Phyllis Schlafly could have been interviewed next to Gloria Steinem in his women’s lib section. Brokaw said she didn’t accomplish enough to be considered worthy of inclusion, but noted he did interview Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Here’s the transcript of the talk radio exchange:

INGRAHAM: One thing that we heard you talk about recently – a couple of years ago – you were talking about talk radio. I want to play the clip, then ask you about it.

BROKAW (from his 'Telephonic Jihad' speech from 2003): Radio stations have become instantly jingoistic and savagely critical of any questions raised about any decisions leading up to, for example, the war in Iraq, motivated not by ideological or intellectual passions, but by the raw commercial possibilities of creating a mob mentality.

INGRAHAM, playfully: Mob mentality? I took that personally. You know, I said ‘wait a second, I don’t think I’m about the mob mentality.’

BROKAW: I didn’t single you out, Laura --

INGRAHAM: All right.

BROKAW: – because you do have a greater range. You know as well as I do that across the country, uh, and this happened on the left in the sixties, by the way, and it became, what it became was the mantra of conservative talk radio in the 19, in the late 1990s and into 2000, that any one who raised their hand and said ‘Look, I have some real reservations about this,’ you know, they were all but called treasonous. And there are a lot of wannabes out there, and they do it for commercial reasons, and they try to rally the crowd. And what happens is you don’t have civil discourse. You don’t have a forum then for this country to come together and try to make decisions and hear each other. And my big issue for going into 2008, was Republicans and Democrats, libertarians, independents, we all have to reenlist as citizens. This is a critically important election. It’s going to require the attention of all of us. And in a hundred years, when they look back on it, what are they going to say about the role of citizens in this country?

INGRAHAM: Well, yeah, I agree. From Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert to what happened on Air America –

BROKAW: – Air America –

INGRAHAM: – a lot of people, Tom, make a lot of money trashing Bush, or trashing faith or trashing, so –

BROKAW: – Air America –

INGRAHAM: So I just resent the whole, you mention Rush Limbaugh in the book, you [have] kind of a throw-away line about Limbaugh and it’s in the Drug section, and without a doubt, Rush Limbaugh is the most influential boomer, I think, in the media today. There is no person who’s had more of a profound impact on the way people think about politics than Limbaugh, and he gets a line in kind of the Drug thing. And I just, don’t think that’s right.

BROKAW: My problem with the whole spectrum [of talk radio] is there is not, you know what Rush’s, what his whole drill is. He doesn’t want to hear another point of view. Except his. That’s my issue.

INGRAHAM: Oh, I disagree. He talks to all sorts of people. Well, he doesn’t interview people like I do, I mean, I have guests on.

BROKAW: He doesn’t interview people, and he mocks people on –

INGRAHAM: But he’s not an objective person. He doesn’t say he is. That’s the difference between him and anchors on some of our networks who have a political agenda, but then pretend that they’re objective.

That's a strong punch. If Brokaw had ever "wasted" an hour of his life listening to Limbaugh, he'd learn that liberal callers are often featured on the Limbaugh program, some times for long periods of time that make conservative callers jealous. He should really learn from others who've made this factual error and actually listen to the program and apologize, as Washington Post columnist William Raspberry did. (See Brent Bozell on that.)

After the two segments, Ingraham started noting that other talk radio hosts, from Sean Hannity to Michael Medved to Hugh Hewitt, love to engage liberal guests and callers. Brokaw should have been asked which major host or which "wannabe" is a fake conservative doing it all for the cash. Who would Brokaw name?

But in this interview, Brokaw just threw up his hands rather than defend the objectivity of network anchors:

BROKAW: But Laura, we’re never going to resolve this. You know you have your point of view and I have mine.

INGRAHAM: But that’s the thing. And you know I like you, but I’m trying to get to this point. Sixties is all about free speech, and everyone has their opinions, but then when you have this really successful movement called talk radio, people get their opinions out, and you say it’s getting kind of nasty.

BROKAW: No, but here’s my problem with talk radio. The problem with talk radio is they only want to hear one note. I have a problem with the Sixties. The problem with talk radio is they mock anyone else’s point of view, and they do it often in a mindless fashion. You know that as well as I do. Because it’s a hot button for the choir that’s listening to them, and it works for them commercially. There are very few programs like you, like yours, in which you’ll interview people across the political spectrum. It’s mostly go out there and hit the hot button all day long.

Laura then noted that cable hits hot buttons, too, but they’re usually celebrity-gossip or murder-of-the-month hot buttons, and then there was a long pause. "Let's have more dialogue." He then repeated: "We've lost the ability to have civil discourse in America and it's a big cancer on our political system as well."

In 1995, with liberals unsettled by the Republican sweep of Congress, Brokaw's show had a commentator with "only one note" -- once and future PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers, who was sold by NBC as fair and balanced. (The gig didn't last long, as Moyers resigned citing health problems later that year.) On March 7 of that year, he denounced Newt Gingrich for incivility to liberals:

"Gingrich uses words as if they were napalm bombs....He sent conservative candidates a long list of words to smear their opponents -- words like `sick,' `pathetic,' `traitors,' `corrupt,' `anti-family,' `disgrace.' With talk radio quoting it all back to us, our political landscape is a toxic dump."

That sounds a lot like a Brokaw speech. Gingrich wasn't offered a rebuttal by NBC. Before that, of course, NBC's sole commentator was liberal former NBC anchor John Chancellor.

Back in a year-end Time magazine in 2005, Brokaw hailed liberal Comedy Central mockery specialist Jon Stewart:

During the Democratic Convention in Boston, I told him I was heading next to Athens for the Olympic Games, and asked, "You ever been to Athens, Jon?" He laughed and said, "No. Brokaw, you forget. I'm a comic. I've been to Akron, but Athens, no." I am not so sure. Perhaps he was there in another life,in many ways last year, Jon Stewart was our Athenian, a voice for democratic ideals and the noble place of citizenship, helped along by the sound of laughter.

Brokaw might want to remember that this is the same Jon Stewart who suggested conservative columnist Robert Novak was a "115-year-old vampire demon" without a heart, and an "enemy of American democracy." Was that helping the cause of noble citizenship? Or was Stewart hitting the hot button of his liberal audience for commercial gain?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis