Tom Brokaw Tells Press to Suck It Up on the First Amendment, Obama Isn't Nixon

In an interview with TV Newser, former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw lined up against the journalists who are outraged at the Obama Justice Department’s historic attempts to prosecute leaks and investigate journalists, and he wasn’t buying that Obama was Nixonian.

“My friend Jim Goodale says they are worse than the Nixon administration. I don’t buy that,” Brokaw said. “I think they have been very tough, but the Nixon administration had an enemies list, and a proactive campaign to go after individual reporters and correspondents.” Brokaw didn’t like so much “screaming” for press freedom:

“It is always a complex subject,” Brokaw added, noting that he read a thoughtful piece by Walter Pincus about the matter. “I think that the press always has to be careful about having a glass jaw, and going down with the first punch and screaming first amendment rights. Many of the same reporters who are tough on the gun lobby when it comes to Second Amendment rights, run behind the shield of the First Amendment, without doing it in a way that is qualitatively analytical, and not just a knee-jerk reaction.”

Brokaw certainly sounded just like the Pincus column he cited, about a "knee-jerk circling of the media wagons" around Fox News and James Rosen. When the White House Correspondents Association board proclaimed, “Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of the press and nothing is more sacred to our profession.” Pincus added: “I worry that many other journalists think that last phrase should be “nothing is more sacred than our profession.”

On that, we can agree. There’s a different between the freedom to report, and the general desirability or effectiveness of individual reports and reporters. The First Amendment also protects the speech of people who think reporters like Tom Brokaw are blatantly partisan.

Speaking of knee-jerk reactions, Brokaw has expressed sourness toward the First Amendment when it came to the free speech of his critics, like a 2003 National Press Club address attacking the “telephonic jihad” of conservative talk radio against liberal bias:

"What troubles me is a disturbing trend of using the popular appeal of those [conservative] beliefs in some quarters as cover for a kind of commercial nihilism....They suffocate vigorous discourse, the oxygen of a system such as ours, by identifying those who refuse to conform and encouraging a kind of e-mail or telephonic jihad which is happily carried out by well-funded organizations operating under the guise of promoting fair press coverage....What is so unsettling about the current climate is the ruthless efficiency of the attacks on those who refuse to conform."

That certainly sounds like a knee-jerk anchorman abandoning any attempt at qualitative analysis and leading with a glass jaw.

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