Tom Brokaw | Talks at Google

>>Stuart: This book is genuinely a set of
think pieces about aspects of the American dream. Can you tell a little bit about your
own personal background how that shaped your thought patterns into this book.>>Tom: Sure. I am not a baby boomer. I’m
actually older. I’m an old guy. I was born in 1940. So my first memories of life are
about World War II which seems like ancient history to all of you. But it was the greatest
single event in the history of mankind. I mean, the whole globe was involved. And freedom
as we know it and democracies were in peril. I mean, the Germans actually had a plan for
what they were going to do when they got here. They knew about our munitions factories in
New England and they had plans for agriculture. It was fought on six of the seven continents;
all the seas at the same time. 50 million people perished before that war was over.
In a way, it made America. We were in a deep depression before the war began. Everything
stopped and was then directed toward the war effort. And when the war ended, America became
a colossus on the world stage in terms of its economy. We’re the great manufacturing
center of the world. Russia had gone hard into communism. China was one of those places
where on the map it might as well have said ‘beyond here serpents lie’. [laughter] We
just didn’t know what was going on there. So these veterans came home who had not known
any prosperity. And they went to college in record numbers and married in record numbers.
And they built the America that you all have today. I was part of that wave as a young
man. My father had dropped out of school at the age of 10. My mother couldn’t afford to
go to college because it cost 100 dollars a year. She was 16 at the time. Very bright
woman. They had these really working class values. And that’s how they raised me. We
moved around a lot from job to job. And I had,from an early age, a real curiosity about
the world war, about social interaction in the community. I was always fascinated by
politics. And got to a small city, by South Dakota standards, which helped change my life.
I met the woman to whom I am still married there lot brighter than I am. And we have
had a wonderful adventure. And we set off not quite knowing what to expect. But we were
pure products of the 1950s when everything seemed possible for our generation. And America
was changing. The Civil Rights Movement was underway. Even though we were engaged in the
Cold War with the Russians. The field was wide open for people who had some ambition
and some ability. And in those days if you came out of college and went to work for IBM.
Steve did at one point. Probably became a lifer. The job was going to be there and you
could count on it. And things had proportion. The first home my wife and I bought in California
was $42,500 in Los Angeles. Up in the hills, beautiful home. And it was in a prosperous
little cul-de-sac. I was making, because I was in television news and doing pretty well
at the time, I was making $40,000 at the time. I was buying a home that matched my salary.
So that and gas cost 30 cents a gallon. [laughter] And California had 20 million people. Now
35 million people. So life was kind of good for us. And then the 60s hit and the boomers
— the people who came after the war — began to push back against what their parents represented.
Because even though I did call it the greatest generation, I often say it wasn’t the perfect
generation. They came out of the war with a regimented idea of how things should work.
And the counterculture grew out of the baby boomers. They had more freedom. They were
more highly educated. And they also had economic freedom, because there was real prosperity
in the land and they could drop out of school and still get a check from home and do what
they did. That’s the kind of short arc of my life. And then I rose to certain heights
in journalism. Began to write as well as to broadcast. And began to raise a family: Daughter
at Stanford, daughter at Berkeley, daughter at Duke. The Stanford daughter now is a physician
at San Francisco. The Berkeley daughter is a senior executive at Warner Music and the
Duke daughter is a psychotherapist who has a new book called Fortytude, about women in
their 40s. So we led this kind of quintessential American life. But in our family and certainly
in my profession I never stop taking the temperature of our society and where we fit in and what
was changing. And I was, always had this great curiosity. And the business that you’re now
in, I was aware of very early and made a point of getting to know some of the pioneers, Bill
Gates particularly when Microsoft came online and helped bring him to NBC because I knew
it would be transformative not just in the software but in the content of it and how
we share that information. And I wrote a book called the Greatest Generation about World
War II and that was in 1998. And it was kind of a wake up call to the baby boomers. They
didn’t realize what their parents had gone through. Through the depression and then during
the war and how they sacrificed to make life possible for their children. That started
a national dialogue across the country about values and how we invest in citizens. Then
we kind of lost our way at the end of the 20th century it seems to me. When 9/11 happened,
some of you were very young at that time or I guess all of you were alive but you were
very young. But it had a electrifying effect on the country. It just united the country
briefly. In which we began to pay attention to where we stood in the world and the fact
that we had enemies came as a surprise to us even though we’d been attacked in embassies
and on our warships in the Persian Gulf. And we let that slide away. And so, for the last
four or five years especially, it seems to me that we’ve kind of lost our way in terms
of where we want to get to and how we get there as a society as a political culture
as an economy and how we fit into the world. In 1980 when Ronald Reagan took the country
through a deliberate recession to try to correct for inflation, when we emerged from that it
was still a pretty much clear playing field for America. We didn’t have China, India,
Brazil and Russia as economic competitors. Oil was around 15 dollars a barrel. And as
you well know, the cost of energy falls through everything. In the last four or five years
it seems to me that we’ve been knocked off our bearings. So I’ll wrap up this little
narrative with a question that I hear because I go across the country more than any other
one from parents my age and younger. “Will our children have better lives than us?” Because
that’s always been the essence of the American dream. My children will have a better life
than I do. I’ve been trying to recalibrate that question. It’s meant mostly in the past
will they make more money? Will they have a larger house? Will they have more cars,
more freedom to travel because of their financial security? And so, we ought to change that
equation from quantitative to qualitative. Will the next generation give us a more just
society? More economic opportunity? Will we begin to educate all parts of America so that
they can have their place in the American dream? That led to this book. And so, in the
course of the book, I talk about proportion when it comes to housing, about the importance
of all of us getting involved in education, about the place of journalism. I’m a grandparent
now so I have a sense of urgency about what I’m leaving my grandchildren, the life that
they’ll have. And the question that I keep coming back to, and then providing an answer
for it, is the role of all of us. 100 years from now historians will look back on this
time and they won’t make a judgment just about Herman Cain and his current problems or president
Obama or Bill O’Reilly on Fox News or Rachel Maddow, what the latest Google app is or dispute
with Android they’re going to make a judgment about all of us. What did we leave behind?
How did we respond to this challenge in our nation? The 20th century was called the American
century. And I think it led us to a certain amount of hubris. We thought it would always
be that way. Conditions have changed. So what I’m trying to do is just start a dialogue.
Kick start a conversation, if you will. And all of you should be front and center in that
because you are inventing the new world.>>Stuart: Both in the Greatest Generation
and in this book, you have as one of the themes that the early experience of the depression
and then wartime — pain and heroism. It was what sort of led in a very real way to the
positive aspects of the 50s and 60s.>>Tom: I’ll just tell you one thing that
some of you probably will appreciate. When I told my daughter I was writing a book, in
effect, what I hope would be kind broadly, speaking metaphorically, a letter
to my grandchildren, she said, “I don’t want some sappy letter [laughter] about your school
days when you had to wade through the snow to get to school. You didn’t have as much
as we do. I don’t want that.” I said that’s not what it’s going to be about, Ashley. [laughter]
And the Greatest Generation which I wrote about, which I often say, these are in some
cases your great grandparents. I do think they were formed first by the Great Depression.
When they were your age there were no opportunities remotely like what you have. It was about
shared sacrifice and shared jobs and shared housing and shared food because it’s hard
to imagine how desperate times were. It was just a little passage in this book that–,
about a man who kept a very careful diary in Youngstown, Ohio, which was a great steel
mill center at the time. By Christmas in 1934, the steel mills were operating at 12% capacity.
And that was the heart of American industrial empire. People were trying to sell their passbooks
from banks for 70 cents on the dollar. Hunger marchers were walking down the streets not
like Occupy Wall Street. They were on their way to Washington, singing the Battle Hymn
of the Republic because they were in danger of starving to death. So they came out of
all that and then they were thrown into the war. And, when they got thrown into military
regimentation, in uniform and then at home, it accelerated their maturity because they
learned to work together. They developed discipline. They knew about risk management at the time.
Back here, they were inventing everything on the fly. I talked to a machinist at Boeing
who worked — he was a farm boy–, but he was very handy with his hands. They were building
the B-29, which was going to deliver the long range atomic weapons to Japan to help out
the war. They were building it 24/7 and he said engineers would leave us drawings on
yellow legal pads the night before and we would lay the parts overnight by kind of eyeballing.
Think about the invention of that. And so, that I think helped form who they were. And
it created the foundation that we’re all the beneficiaries of. You, in your own way, are
creating this whole new technology. And you’re finding new ways to advance its use every
day. So you’re a part of that. But what I would hope that your generation would do would
be to look beyond that technology. The line that I use is — and I’m fascinated by it
by the way. I’m not particularly skilled at it, but I’m on it constantly. The line that
I use is that “you’re not going to get rid of global poverty by hitting delete or change
global warming by hitting backspace. And no text message will ever replace a whispered
‘I love you’ or holding hands on a first date. Because essentially we advance in human kind
by putting our boots on the ground and getting our hands dirty and spending nights in scary
places and making a commitment that advances our own passions and our sense of justice.
And we have to do that as individuals and then find like-minded individuals to form
coalitions to advance that.”>>Stuart: Fascinating. If I can change topics
a little bit — you were the only anchor in Berlin, I believe–,
>>Tom: I think; yeah.>>Stuart: –the night the wall fell at one
of those defining moments? Curious your thoughts about the multiple outbreaks of freedom that
we’ve seen. That, of course, the opening of shackles on a number of eastern European countries
and then the past year, the quite surprising, middle eastern, genuine popular revolutions.
Your thoughts on these outbreaks.>>Tom: You are living in the age of freedom.
I mean, there has never been as much on planet earth as there is now in terms of free choice.
Not just in the individual lives you have and the technology that enables you to practice
that. But the Arab Spring was a very dramatic development in your lifetime. That part of
the world will never be the same again. It was proceeded by obviously the both fall of
the Soviet empire and the redefinition of communism in China. People always ask me about
the biggest story I covered. And I always say 9/11 was the single hardest day I ever
had. We didn’t know what was coming next and what the consequences would be and it played
out for some time. But I believe in my professional career, the more consequential story in the
long reach of history, was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The end of the communism
in that part of the world and the liberation of people in the Balkans and around the Southern
Rim of Russia. And it’s still playing out at this point. We’re still trying to find
our way. When I first went to China, it was essentially a 19th or 18th century country.
In part of Beijing I’d go for a run in the morning down to the hutong, part of the which
were the communal areas of Beijing. And people would be cooking and doing their morning toilette
outside, but it’s by lamplight and they would be cooking with charcoal stoves. And I’d come
back with soot coming out of my ears because the air was so dense. I stayed in a peace
hotel in shanghai in 1975. The rats were as big as cocker spaniels going through the hallways.
And think of the transformation since then. It’s very dramatic. It’s been exhilarating
for someone of my age to be witness of that.>>Stuart: Now at least some of the more recent
stories had very strong Twitter etc. aspects. Of course the fall of the Berlin wall was
heavily televised. And, you know, the media really had an impact. What are your thoughts
on the role of both the communication media and the human media in these activities.>>Tom: Well, I get asked that a lot. And
I have a surprising answer for older audiences. I say there’s never been a richer journalistic
environment than the one we live in now because on your macros or on your PCs, for those of
you who still have one [laughter] Or for any of you that have that gives you access to
the Internet, you can with, a key stroke, dial up the financial times from London if
you want. You can get the latest release from the Saudi foreign ministry. You can get the
offerings of the think tanks in Washington. I’m on the board of the Council of Foreign
Relations. We got a first rate website that every day you can dial into it, in effect,
and get a quick brief what’s going on that’s very important internationally. But you can
no longer be a couch potato. My generation grew up with the idea you go to the front
porch, get the paper, read it in the morning, see a little bit of the Today Show, come home
at night watch the evening news; that’s it. Those were your choices. That’s no longer
the case as you well know. But you have to be proactive in where you get that information.
And develop your own test for whether it’s reliable and credible and useful to you. I
have a friend in Montana who’s a very apolitical woman and she goes on the Internet a lot and
she’ll come to me wide-eyed and say, “You’re not going to believe what I read on the Internet
this morning.” And I said, “You’re right. I’m not going to believe it.” [laughter] So
I do think that we have to develop a new kind of vigilance, if you will. Bill Clinton says
that we’ve got an atomized society. That’s a pretty appropriate way of putting it. We
probably s ought to have some sites that are fact checking sites and places we can go to
make sure that that’s true or not true.>>Stuart: Have you any thoughts, following
upon that if I may, this tension between integration/disintegration of groups — not everybody got to watch you
every night with a reasonably authoritative news story. But as you said you won’t believe
this one. Or more to the point, you will believe it but you’re not talking to anybody else.>>Tom: It’s a fraction of the landscape.
I’ll give you the short, short history of especially television news at the network
level. That was, in some ways, domestically as transformative as what you’re doing. When
Huntley, Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite began their broadcast across the country for the
first time if you lived in the remote reaches of the Cascades Mountains in Washington or
in the piney woods of Georgia, you were seeing the same thing at the same time and you could
make decisions about the direction of your country or what was going on in Washington
and be aware of the culture that was growing up in different parts of America. Now, of
course, that screen is much wider. It’s got many more — many, many, more — parts to
it. And there should always be a role for what we do in the evening news. Brian Williams
and Diane Sawyer and now Scott Pelley. They still deliver to lots of viewers every night.
Lots of eyeballs. Here’s a question some of you don’t think about a lot because you’re
going to a different media but I do this with older audiences. Bill O’Reilly is a hugely
popular figure in the cable universe and he never tires of telling you how popular he
is by the way. [laughter] And he often says I’ve got the No. 1 show. And people think
he has this enormous audience. He has half the audience of the last rated show on the
evening news — Scott Pelley. And when Katie was there, the audience had really gone down.
She still had twice the audience Bill O’Reilly does. Every night those broadcasts deliver
23 million viewers. Divided by 3, Brian is gratefully still in the lead. That’s still
a lot of people looking for reliable sources of information. The culture of journalism
should always be important to us in our lives. It will come to us in different ways now.
We must remember that the press is the oxygen for a free society. People need access to
information that is fairly gathered and tells them about what’s going on in their name around
them so they can make decisions about their own life. Now, I’m going to just let you in
on one other small conversation I had over the weekend with my friend Walter Isaacson.
I worry that this book would become road kill on the Steve Jobs expressway, by the way,
[laughter] because of the enormous and appropriate, understandable popularity of that book. And
Walter and I were talking. –we were both on Meet the Press on Sunday–. and he said
something that I hadn’t thought enough about. We’re both old traditional book people. We
like printed pages and we like covers that are first editions. And he said, “I’m making
a real point of buying as many first editions as I can, because 20 years from now I don’t
think it’s going to be as easy for me to call up again the electronic books and to know
where they are and to keep that library in the same way.” And he said, “there’s still
a magic about the printed page.” I guess I feel that way as well.>>Stuart: I’ll ask one or two more questions,
if I may. People should be thinking about questions they’d like to ask. We have two
mics set up. In both the Greatest Generation books and this one there’s a very interesting
emphasis — partly reflective of your background growing up in middle of the country, small
America — and then these various explosions. It’s fascinating comments about your own now
extended family which has people from — everything from east coast, Russian Jewish family to
Cherokee background and so forth. It’s sort of a fascinating counterpoint. To what extent
do you think that the shaping of America is being affected by the shifts of the center
of gravity of people and of backgrounds like that.>>Tom: Well, you know, America is always
a petri dish. There’s always something going on within it. That’s what makes it such a
fascinating place. We have always been and we always be an immigrant nation. Outside
of our native American population, the rest of us all came from somewhere else. And there’s
kind of a social Darwinism about that. They came here because they had ambition and they
wanted opportunity. And they wanted to, you know, advance their — not just their families,
but their dreams and their ambitions as well. And you know, we are seeing a different mix
now in our population. There’s a lot of paranoia in the southwest about illegal immigration
coming across the border. Some of it is justified because of the violence that has been visited
on those parts of the world and the influence of the drug cartels. I often say, however,
that there’s less concern for example about Asian Americans moving into the neighborhood.
In part because they come here with a well-defined idea of what they want to do — for the most
part, I can’t make absolute generalizations, but that’s mostly the case. When I was a young
reporter in Berkeley, in the 1960s, in the free speech movement with Mario Salvio and
the place was filled all day every day with protests against the war, protests for free
speech. I go to Berkeley now and most of the faces are Asian Americans and they’re engineering
students. You know they have a whole different kind of destination in mind for them. And
that’s how this country works. We’re constantly evolving and changing. And I hope always trying
to become more than the sum of our parts. That’s I think a simple formula, but I think
it’s an important one. With my grandchildren, I want to — my eldest granddaughter is now
a freshman in high school. But when she was in the 7 grade I went to her school with other
people about my age and the teacher did a smart thing. She said, “write down — the
grandparents and the 7th graders — what were the best memories that you have the most — I
suppose — striking memories you have of your 7th grade experience and we’ll ask the 7th
graders here to do that. We all talked about the fact we were segregated racially. There
was only one who grew up in the Bronx who went to school where they had people of color.
The rest of us all went to all white schools. And of course, they began the 7th graders
with computers and the place they play in their lives and the fact they had access to
them. We were the radio generation. [chuckles] That’s how antiquated we were. I thought it
was a very useful exercise to see how the country has changed.>>Stuart: One final question, if I may, before
asking other people to line up if you would. The basic structure of this book is a series
of chapters on various topics. Each chapter basically begins with a quote or vignette,
then a section about quote “the past”. They’re neatly labeled. Then the “present” and then
the “promise”. I’m very curious what you think is the real promise — what you think we should
be doing to get there.>>Tom: Well, the promise of this country
— and our rule of law, and foundation in law and in opportunity and the migrant experience
that we have and the pluralism of America to say nothing of the extraordinary resources
we have both natural and man-made. I live all across America from the west to the east
and back and forth and it still takes my breath away when I fly over this country. And I believe
that the 100 best high institutions of higher learning in the world here. People come here
because they can be educated here. Companies like Google. I mean, which didn’t exist that
long ago and it’s now defining this new world. So that’s the promise. The promise then requires
the rest of us to work even harder at fulfilling that promise and keeping it alive and keeping
it elevated. Yeah, some of it is hard. There’s no question about that. But when the historians
look back on our time I would like to think they would say America lived up to its promise
and it’s not just a matter of trying to be “We’re number 1; we’re number 1”. It’s how
you provide a quality of life for your citizens. That’s what the ultimate promise is. There
are great challenges out there, but it seems to me that we’re up to it. I’ll just tell
you one other thing about Bush, when he talked about the past president — the promise. When
I began to write this book, there were two things that prompted it. One was that I interviewed
President Obama in Dresden in the spring of 2009, the 65th anniversary of Normandy, the
greatest military invasion of World War II. And Dresden had been fired bombed to rubble
during World War II and then it spent the next 40 years behind communist lines. But
here was a city and a country that was reinventing itself after its shameful past of the 30s
and really doing a pretty amazing job. So when I was interviewing president Obama, our
first African-American president an extraordinary transition in my lifetime, I said casually
to him. I was in Berlin the night the wall came down. And he said to me, “Yeah, I know,
Tom, I watched. I was in law school at the time.” “Oh my God, he was in law school at
the time.” [laughter] So that was kind of the opening that I had in mind for the book.
My editors came back to me and said, “you know? People buy books based, now, on the
really first two pages of it. And that’s a wonderful opening, but we need to come out
a little faster and a little harder.” In journalism, it’s called tightening up the lead. And I
got it. I was a journalist. So I went back and rewrote the opening to try and engage
people. And the line I came up with which is central to the book is “what happened to
the America I thought I knew?” And it’s been pretty interesting to me. That’s the one I
get repeated back to me by a lot of people because they read that.>>Stuart: Thank you very much. Let me just
start going to the — we appear to have at least four people on each side.>>Tom: If you would speak right up. One of
the conditions of people my age in broadcasting is we all have severe hearing loss. We all
had those things in our ears all those years.>>Stuart: Ouch
>>Tom: And Walter Cronkite in a setting like this — wonderful man — he was asked a couple
questions. He was having a hard time with them. He said, “the acoustics” — and he said,
“oh, it’s not the acoustics, I’m deaf as a damn post.” [laughter] So speak right up.>>Stuart: And let me ask our colleagues back
there to adjust accordingly please.>>Male #1: Tom, first of all it’s a great
honor for you to be with us here today but even a greater honor is for me to ask you
a question. Can you give us a commentary on the Republican nomination process, who do
you think is going to winning this? [laughter] t Also what’s the general election — the
presidential election — going to be like.>>Tom: I’m going to hand this out free of
charge. [laughter] I’m going to give you the best line to keep in mind for the next nine
months — maybe even longer. It’s been my vote. And I’ve been covering American presidential
politics for almost 50 years. I believe in the if UFO theory. The unforeseen will occur.
We don’t know yet what conditions will exist when we go into the booth in November of next
year. We don’t know who the candidates are going to be at this point, what the tickets
are going to be. A perfect demonstration of how quickly things can change is this past
week with Herman Cain and charges of sexual harassment. The hardest thing in the world
to do — I honestly believe — in terms of having personal courage that doesn’t require
you to face enemy combatants, is to run for president of the United States. Friend of
mine who was a senior political advisor so Jack Kennedy said if you want to run for president
of the United States you have to be prepared to strip naked every day at high noon and
take a bath in the most popular public square in town. [laughter] Every day during the campaign.
Because that’s how you’re examined. I would hope that we would break out in terms of the
dialogue and conversation that we’ve been having. Most of these Republican debates thus
far have been either kind of persnickety attacks on one another or only about job creation.
And that’s the central question. But they have made what effectively are kind of grandiose
promises without any backing them up. There hasn’t been enough examination of that so
far. I was struck a week ago by the fact that Rick Perry was going hard after Mitt Romney
because he may have hired, unwittingly or otherwise, an illegal gardener. And the next
day Muammar Gaddafi was shot as we changed the future of Libya. So the contrast between
arguing about illegal gardeners or getting rid of Gaddafi was fairly striking to me.
[laughter] And I think we need to worry a little more about that — the Gaddafi experience
— than the illegal gardeners, quite honestly.>>Female #1: Thank you so much for coming.
I was wondering who your most challenging interview was.>>Tom: Pardon me?>>Female #1: Who your most challenging interview
was.>>Tom: I get asked that a lot. I was the
first journalist to ever interview a general secretary of the communist party in the Soviet
Union and it was Mikhail Gorbachev. It was a signal about how they were changing. That
was tough because we knew that he wanted to send a message to the west but at the same
time he had to play to the hard liners back in Moscow. And it was going to be one hour
simultaneously translated. It was quite successful. It got a lot of good reviews and it was the
beginning of a long friendship that I have with him to this day. But it was very tough
because he had no experience with a reporter before, certainly with an American reporter.
When I went in to do the interview, the arrangements had taken nine months. Typically, the Russians
in those days were still doing things in a Stone Age way. They had put their own microphone
on him and it looked like a bad sculptor’s idea of a clenched fist. It was this piece
of iron hanging off his jacket. So I just signaled to our audio technician, “we need
to change that.” And I reached over and I took his microphone off. And as I was taking
it off. “My God, I’m just reaching over without telling him I’m taking the general secretary
of the communist party who has an entire nuclear arsenal without saying.” He’s staring at me.
And I said, “I’m sorry Mr. Secretary, but this is what I have to do on my job every
day.” Through the translator. And it came back through the translation and he said,
“you would not believe what I have to do on my job every day.” [laughter] And that was
a challenging interview. But I would say this. When you interview heads of state, they’re
pretty practiced and it’s tough to get them to get spontaneous with you. Margaret Thatcher
was always an enormous challenge. She would just eat us for breakfast. The reporters would
sit there and she would just swat us aside. She was very self-confident about what she
was doing. Bill Clinton could talk about anything. You just light him up and he’d take off in
about nine different directions. [laughter] So that was always fun, but it was also challenging.
But the fact is in the long many years I’ve been doing this, the most impressive people
I’ve interviewed are people whose names I didn’t know because they were people doing
courageous things not expecting any attention or credit for it. It really began in the Civil
Rights Movement in the south. I’ll never forget a night in America’s Georgia. The town was
a tinderbox. It was ready to go up. The African-American community had gathered in their end of town
to decide whether to march. And the white red neck population, including the Klansmen
had said anybody who marches tonight will be dead by morning. That was just advertised
up and down Main Street. Streets were lined with pickup trucks with broad axes and with
shotguns and pistols. And when the small Baptist church where the small African-American leadership
had gathered broke up the meeting about midnight this beautiful young woman maybe 19 came out
wide-eyed. And I said, “what have you decided?” And she said, “well, we’re going to march.”
And I said, “My God are you terrified?” I was scared. And she said, “Of course I am.”
I said, “why are you going to march?” She said, “We have no other choice.” And marched.
And that has lingered with me forever because it showed the strength of her conviction.
And the Civil Rights Movement changed our country so much for the better that it’s almost
hard for me to tell a young audience what it was like then and how much better off we
are now. Dr. King liberated not just black America. He liberated all of us. Even the
most tolerant of us, he liberated through law and non-violence. And he did it without
a cell phone. [laughter] He didn’t have tweet. He didn’t have texting. He didn’t have e-mail.
He was able to do it through the power of his conscious, the strength of his voice,
and his trust in the rule of law in this country. It was pretty amazing.>>Female #2: The anecdote actually feeds
nicely to my question. You’ve seen social and political movements rise and and be successful
and I’m sure you’ve seen some wither away and just die. What are your hopes and predictions
about the Occupy Wall Street movement?>>Tom: Well, I watched a lot of social protests
from the ground up in years and this one has as little definition as any one I’ve ever
seen. [laughter] I understand the rage. I don’t know what the goals are at this point.
And because it’s kind of amorphous. And it has gotten the country’s attention. What I
have said to — I have a number of friends on Wall Street. And some of them are even
responsible. And I’ve said to them, “if you don’t begin to change from within, there are
going to be more restrictions placed on you and people will have less to do with you.”
It’s always going to be an important part of our economy. That’s how we finance things.
Google couldn’t exist without people providing money for Google to get started. Now Google
can buy the world, of course, [laughter] but in those days it was different. And there
are people doing good work every day on Wall Street. They need to get together and send
a message, “you can’t have the government bailing out Wall Street to the tune that it
did and then having everyone at the end of the first quarter paying themselves these
enormous bonuses and not expecting some kind of a pushback. But I think Occupy Wall Street
has to look within itself and say, “what is it we’re trying to achieve here?” There’s
a wide range of opinions everything from nihilism all the way across to labor practices. And
as a result I don’t think they’re having the impact that they might otherwise. That’s what
I think.>>Stuart: Please.>>Male #2: Umm [clears throat]– do you see
a relationship between the growing inequality and distribution of wealth — the concentration
of wealth in the hands of the few and the decline of the communism and the decline of
the laborer — the power of labor.>>Tom: Yeah, I do. The 99 versus 1 percent
I think is a very smart way of positing that. I happen to be in the 1 percent and I’m grateful
for that. I won the lottery in my business in some way, but it doesn’t mean that I’m
unmindful of what’s going on in the other 99 percent because I have members in my family
who are in that. And where I grew up, that’s where a lot of people are. Again, the whole
CEO compensation disparity between those at the top and those on the factory floor needs
to be addressed I think. I believe very, very much in a meritocracy incentive and providing
that incentive for people to do well. I know that there are business leaders that have
a very marketable skill and they can go to the marketplace and get rewarded for that.
But we’ve kind of just lost control. The middle class is losing ground. It’s not even stalled.
It’s losing ground. As you go across the country, you find so many 2-parent families where both
parents are working just to keep up. And then when the housing bubble burst, they may have
lost their home or it certainly declined in value for them. Those are the seeds of what
I call “domestic insecurity” — the strong economy provides domestic security in this
country. Well being. A sense that anything is possible. It’s very hard for people to
think of doing other big jobs like reforming education or changing anything including politics
if you don’t provide them with opportunity for economic security. I just don’t think
it’s been addressed very much. Perfect example. Almost none of the political dialogue that
we have going on at the moment really specifically offers any kind of solution to the mortgage
meltdown in America. We have 20 million homes in America that are either in foreclosure
or are stress state or in peril of going into a stress state. And I have yet to see an imaginative
idea for relieving that some. A lot of people in those homes want to pay something. You
know, they’re determined to hang onto their home. It’s their entire net worth in many
instances. And they’re not getting very much help on that. It’s that kind of boldness that
we need to hear more of and less about illegal gardeners in my judgment.>>Stuart: Matt.>>Matt: Well, the first thing you said was.>>Stuart: Louder.>>Matt: The first thing you said was how
World War II was a tremendously important event. And you, yourself, were to a certain
degree at the forefront of a lot of lionizing that went on about 10 years ago, cultural
touch stones like Saving Private Ryan that sort of thing. Do you feel there’s some danger
in that we see now in the era of fourth generation warfare where no war going on really properly
resembles World War II that we have a tendency to paint things as being World War II. That
there’s — at least in our political discourse– there’s this idea that if there’s ever a question
about going to war people who say no are Neville Chamberlain. There’s a Hitler, a final boss
of this country, that if he’s killed then freedom will prevail. And World War II looms
so large in our imagination that it colors how we react now even in places where it doesn’t
fit.>>Tom: That’s a very important question.
When political leaders decide to go to war. They did in Iraq. It kind of triggers a form
of nationalism which everyone wants to be in the parade to see the boys and girls go
off to war. Except people who’ve gone to war. They all have different feelings about those
who’ve seen combat first hand. Especially the military leaders. But the military leaders
are there to carry out orders and to offer their best advice. When we went to war in
Iraq, I had some real doubts about the long-term possibility for it. I’d been over there a
lot. I was inclined to believe he had weapons of mass destruction. I wasn’t for sure. But
I’d been with the UN inspectors they were led around on merry chases. He was a bad guy.
I could see that. Around every corner, when you were in Baghdad or in the outlying areas,
about how people lived in utter fear. But my long-term concern was that it was going
to be harder than anybody in the administration was saying that it would be. That it would
be more expensive in terms of blood and treasure. And that at the end, Iraq would revert to
kind of tribal governance. That it would be the Shiite versus the the Sunnis; the north
versus the south. And I knew the country was so broken that despite these promises of the
administration that they could finance a lot of the war by getting oil revenue — 70 billion
dollars out of it. They haven’t been there. The intel on the ground was terrible. So you’re
quite right. We don’t learn the lesson from war to war. Vietnam, you would have thought
you said you can’t have a war and have guns and butter at the same time. Just have one
piece of it. I write in here about Robert McNamara about how at the end of his life
he went around and had a kind of a natural confessional about how we went to war on the
wrong terms. But the emotion of war often takes over. Honestly it’s harder to stop a
war than it is to start one. And that’s the terrible commentary on where we are.>>Matt: Thank you.>>Male #3: Thank you so much for coming.
It’s nice to have someone speak who’s near to my age than the average age here. [laughter]
I was — I confess I’m a pioneer boomer. I was born in 1948. And I further confess from
my personal history that I was a pioneer nerd as well. Sir, there’s a great deal in your
description that I don’t recognize particularly about the 1950’s upbringing. In our household
World War II and the depression particularly the threat of persecution hung over us like
a paw. I also don’t recognize a lot you said about opportunities to be educated. I’m fortunate
my greatest achievement in this life is that I raised a son who is now gainfully employed
in a job with benefits. The reason is we taught him to write and we taught him to negotiate.
We live in a suburban district, wealthy school district, high achievement scores that gave
a totally inadequate education and threw me off the school board because I wanted to change
that. Where in your description do I hear about this? I think this is the biggest threat
to our country — the lack of skills in the general population — what can we do? We are
unwilling as a people to do it. How can we change it.>>Tom: Well I actually talk a lot about that
in this book. The one encouraging part about public education that I have seen recently
is that people are beginning to talk about it. If I were to give you a quick synopsis
it would be very much what I presume is your thinking. Those of us who could move to the
suburbs or send our children to private schools and we left the inner city to its own devices.
And it was kind of one size fits all and we walked away from our moral obligations to
these schools in the inner city and in the great urban areas of America. That is beginning
to change. People are now beginning to pay attention to it. New York is certainly imperfect
process at the moment. Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg said we are not going to allow this
to go on the way it has. There are lots of private enterprises that are trying to help
out. I’ll just tell you about two in the book that will be of interest to you. There is
a very successful commercial real estate developer in Atlanta by the name Tom Cousins. I really
didn’t know him for a long time but I’d always hear the same thing. He’s a great man people
would say. But I’d be skeptical about that. So I set out to find out about him. He’s a
third or fourth generation Georgian. He developed a new form for commercial real estate development.
Made a lot of money. But he was always troubled by what was going on in the inner city and
in the African-American neighborhoods. So he read about a place called East Lake in
Georgia. Right outside of Atlanta, southern perimeter of Atlanta. And it was called Little
Vietnam because it was a war zone because of drugs and school dropouts. Five percent
of the kids graduated from high school in that area. It had in the middle of it a historic
golf course called East Lake. It’s where Bobby Jones, the legendary golfer, played his first
round and last round of golf. Tom is a golf aficionado. He went down and he had a hard
time selling to his community. He said, “I want to start by restoring that golf course
and I can sell big memberships and we’ll take the money and we’ll begin to change the area.”
To cut to the chase, he did restore the golf course. He took all the money and a lot of
his own. He built mixed income housing. He brought in black middle class families and
working class families, put them there. He created a charter school, named it after a
prominent African-American physician by the name of Charles R. Drew who did a lot of work
in the blood area. Named the school after him and made him the hero of the school. It
is now the number 1 school in the state of Georgia. They are now called purpose-built
communities. Warren Buffet saw a documentary about him and said, “Sign me up.” They’ve
done it in Indiana, they’re doing it in Charlotte, they’re going to do it in Omaha. They did
a big project in New Orleans. There’s another school in Cincinnati called Taft, worst school
in the Cincinnati school system; one of the worst in Ohio. The Cincinnati school district
did a very bold thing. They said, “We’re going to take down the old school, in effect. We’re
going to leave the physical building. We’re going to make it a magnet school for technology.”
They sent out a very aggressive principal. He said to the teachers at lunch, “If you
don’t want to work harder than you have been and be part of the most successful school
I don’t want to see you after lunch.” Most of them came back. He went into the city of
Atlanta and talked to a service club and the man who runs Cincinnati Bell, Jack Cassidy,
went to him and said, “I’m your partner.” And he went out there and put computers in
every classroom. He wired the neighborhood for wireless. Gave the kids a cell phone number.
And it’s now the number one school in the state of Ohio. A lot of that is going on.
We just need to connect the dots all over the place.
>>Male #3: Yes, there’s many–>>Tom: You’re quite right. I did a documentary
one year in Milwaukee because Springdale is the name of the suburb, I think. They got
a great school system. One block away, you have a bombed out Milwaukee school system.
And the good folks in the wealthy suburb were providing
some scholarship but never enough. We need to break down those barriers, And make it
available to everyone. I think there’s going to be a lot more choice. I think they’re going
to get more people in the teaching profession. And the business that you’re in is going to
make it easier for people to have access on a daily basis if they want to home school
or go home and work on things.>>Male #3: There’s one in Middlesex County
too. My son went to. It’s brilliant. We just have to do more of it. Thank you very much
for coming.>>Tom: Well, one of the things I say in my
book my generation if we want to leave any kind of a legacy, that is one place to begin.
We are all beneficiaries of good education for the most part. My wife has a book club
in a school in Harlem. I’ve been helping in a school in the south Bronx, an elementary
school, with a wonderfully innovative public school administrator. So we’ve been involved
in these kinds of things. And we all need to find a way to do it. Thanks very much.>>Stuart: Try to squeeze in a couple more
people. But succinct please.>>Female: #3: Hi. You mention that the fall
of communism in the Soviet Union is one of the greatest moments you lived through and
that happened in no small due to America’s involvement. You also touched briefly on the
Arab Spring. What do you see as we go forward and we try to find our way as a country, what
is our role in the larger global humanity and what role should we be playing as other
countries are struggling to find their identity as well.>>Tom: Well, I do think a challenge for your
generation, and you are emblematic what’s possible, is to repair and restore the American
education system. Because that’s going to be the great leveler in the future of the
global economy is how well-educated we are. You know, my guess is that most of you have
already traveled physically to different places and so on. I’ve got grandchildren who have
— who are ages 14, 12, 5 and 3. All four of them have been to Europe already. [chuckles]
I didn’t get there until I was 28. I was just the only one story that comes out of the book.
This is the adaptation of my generation to that generation. When my San Francisco granddaughters
and I were in Hawaii, at one point we all — I took them down to the beach, the girls,
when they were 11 and 9 at the time. And we were on the beach. And we’ve been out kind
of body surfing and we came back in. And I could see the waitress coming down the beach
at the resort hotel where we were. And my mind is racing, “how can I order for the girls?
what am I gonna order for them?” And before I could say anything, the 11-year-old said
to the waitress, “Ma’am, we’d like two virgin piña coladas, would you like to join us Tom?”
[laughter] I don’t have to worry about that anymore. But I do think education is the place
to begin. And understand the acknowledgment that we’re not colossus America without challenges.
We’re still an enormously powerful country with the greatest cyber technology in the
world that was invented here and the greatest possibilities. But we can’t take it for granted.
We have to work at it every day. And so, that’s why I used the phrase reenlist as citizens.
Find something that you care about personally that will also be greater advantage of this
country.>>Female #4: Hi. Thank you so much for coming.
I watched my grandfather who was a World War II vet and my dad connect to Walter Cronkite.
I’m thankful for your time with us because I started watching you on the Today Show.
So you were my Walter Cronkite. [giggles] And we looked to journalism through folks
like you and Mr. Cronkite as really — yes, being the oxygen for us. I feel like there’s
so much pollution now in journalism. There’s not as much oxygen to breathe. I feel like
much of it is editorialized so that middle America just gets the opinion before they
actually hear the news and then discuss it at the dinner table or at McDonalds or via
blog or whatever you do now. Is there recalibration that needs to happen with journalism so we
keep our government leaders to task and everything else.>>Tom: I think you need to work harder at
finding straight reportage because opinion is the flavor of the moment. I mean, even
in the New York Times in their weekend review, now has shifted so that it’s a lot of opinion.
But they make it clear. I don’t have trouble with opinion as long as it’s labeled opinion
so that you kind of know, “Well, this is somebody who’s going to tell me what he or she thinks.”
And then there are other places you can get the information. But again, it just goes back
to what I was saying originally you just have to work harder at it. You have to be more
proactive as a news consumer. And you know on these small screens, there’s a world of
possibilities in terms of what you can get. And that’s pretty exciting. I also think by
the way — we were talking about education — the whole business of online education
and what’s available out there, what you can access, is just phenomenal. I mean, you can
stay at home and home school yourself at my age as it were about what’s going on in or
on any interest that you have. Our family has been going to Turkey for the last couple
of years because it’s intersession between the the east and the west. It’s a beautiful
country and it’s got great, not just Byzantine sites, but ancient Roman sites. I go online
and I get this virtual tour and read the best archaeologist and find out where to go. That
wasn’t available not so long ago.>>Stuart: Let me take one last one thank
you.>>Tom: Last one? OK
>>Male #4: As the gentleman mentioned there’s a lot of people in this company in their 20s.
Very young company. I was just wondering if you could talk about what your conversations
have been like of people of that age right now specifically your views on the character
of our generation in the 20s right now and how they compare to other generations at our
age.>>Tom: Well, frankly I’m in awe of your generation.
I mean, you’re so smart. You know, the cliché about you teach your parents to drive this
new technology. But it does not mean there are some things I think I can kind of alert
you to. I was at Stanford giving the commencement address a few years ago. My daughter, the
Stanford graduate, I saw her in San Fransisco, she said you better read the Stanford Daily,
Dad or the Cardinal as it’s called. So I read it and they had surveyed the graduating seniors
about what they think of me as a commencement speaker. [laughter]And one of the young women
said, “Brokaw? That’s like listening to adult radio.” [laughter]So she gave her name unfortunately
and I gave her a shout-out when I got to the podium. I’m not going to tell you who it was
now. But I said, “Ba Ba Ba, turn your iPod to adult radio and listen to whatever pleases
you. I’ve got something to say to these students.” And what I said to them is what I said earlier
about not all the answers are in your laptops or your PDAs; you have to figure out. These
are really just tools. It’s your heart and your mind that will use them most effectively
and that’s what you have to decide for yourself. I was at Stanford recently doing something
else about H 1 B visas about how we can keep the best and brightest who come here from
around the world. And a law school student, a senior, I was working in the law school
courtyard before I went out on my next appointment and this young man came up to me had I thought
a very appropriate question. It’s one I’ll leave in the room for the final question.
And that is, he said, “Mr. Brokaw, is my generation going to lose the true meaning of friend?
What does friend mean? Is it a verb? Do we have lots of friends just because they show
up on our Facebook? Do we use it too casually or should we be thinking more about the definition
of friend?” I think it’s a really good question. Who’s a friend and why are they a friend?
And how do you measure a friend beyond friending someone on Facebook.>>Stuart: Thank you very much Tom.
[applause]>>Tom: Thank you. [Applause].>>Tom: Let me just end with one Google story
because I’ve actually been. like everyone else, I’ve been fascinated by your business
and your company since the beginning of it and I’ve gotten to know it pretty well. I’ve
been on the campus in California a couple of times and then I went to the Google zeitgeist
conference in — when they had the first one I think in Palo Alto as I remember. And they
asked me — I guess I can say this. This is going to get streamed at some point, right?
[laughter] I got to tell you this story. It’s already been out there. Eric Schmidt asked
me to do something. He asked me to come and speak. He said I’m going to have your friend
Yvan Chouinard come as well. Yvan Chouinard is a man who founded Patagonia — that company.
He’s one of the great great environmentalists of our time. And one of the most inventive
people that anybody ever will know. He reinvented all the climbing equipment. But he’s a Luddite
when it comes to technology. He just doesn’t — he thinks that man was given hands as tools
and we ought not to lose the opportunity to use those tools. and I said, “well, you don’t
want Yvan to talk. He’s not very good at speaking. Why don’t I interview him?” That’s a great
idea. So we waited till the morning was over and they had a lot of highbrow stuff about
the philosophy of the Internet. John Chambers from Cisco was there talking about the global
routing questions that are going to be involved. And so, I went out with Yvan after this. He’s
about 5 foot 2, or 3. He’s one of my very closest friends. And he’s had just a phenomenal
life. More first routes in Yosemite And everywhere in North America than anybody else. Climbed
all over the world. Built this company from nothing. And we sat down. And I said, “I think
most of you know who Yvan Chouinard is.” There was a lot of nodding. “so we’ll begin with
basic questions.” Yvan, do you have a cell phone? He said no. And I said “do you have
Blackberry or a smart phone”? “What’s a Blackberry?” [laughter] I held one up and he said, “why
would I have one of those?” I said “well, you have a company that has a lot of online
business. You have a lot of stores.” And he said, “yeah, but when I want to talk to my
manager, I go in and see him or I call him on a regular phone. But they don’t need me
pestering him. I don’t need one of those things. I don’t need for people to know where I am
all the time. I don’t want to be a part of that.” Then he went into — he said to the
audience. We were given these hands as tools. He said, “I started my business, in effect,
as a teenager fixing old cars. 1938 cars taking apart, building them back again; rappelling
off cliffs to do falconry. My hands allowed me to do that and I strengthened my legs and
I learned how to climb vertically. I was in a ice cave for ten days in Monte Fitz Roy
in Chile. And I had a lot of time to think. Because I had no other devices to distract
me. That’s where I got the idea for the company that I now run. I needed better clothing that
would last.” Then I said to him, “but Yvan, in your passion, climbing, cyber technology
has now moved in. People are now taking their laptops with them when they go to Himalayas
or when they go to climb somewhere.” You could just see the energy drain out of him. And
he said, “Yeah, there are probably some of you in this room who have done this. You’ve
hired an outfitter for 50,000 dollars in the Himalayas. You picked out a peak that you’re
going to go climb. You got your little espresso machine. You’ve gotten your laptop. You’ve
gotten yourself, bought a lot of Patagonia gear. We’re thankful for that. You got yourself
all dressed up. And then you fly to the Himalayas and your guide and outfitter meets you and
the sherpas carry all your stuff up to base camp so you don’t have to carry anything.
And you get there and you get a little satellite dish and you go online and you say to your
wife and family, “I’m here it’s going to be the greatest adventure of my life.” And the
morning you’re supposed to summit, the guide wakes you up fixes your breakfast and then
one ropes up in front of you and one is behind you to get you up to the summit and get you
back. And then you come back to base camp and you write to your friends and family,
‘I summited today. I have one of the great achievements of my lifetime’.” He looked out
on the audience. “I don’t know how else to tell you this except, you’re an asshole when
you left and an asshole when you got back.” [laughter] It went totally viral on the Internet.
And he got a standing ovation from the room. So I saw it. We got to keep that perspective
in there as well. Thank you all very much. [Applause]

13 thoughts on “Tom Brokaw | Talks at Google

  • Reminds me of when Jill Denner visitited Google's Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss "Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat as part of the Authors @ Google series.
    They should have posted this in 3D

    Thanks for sharing the new videos
    John Guitar Solo

  • "Your not going to get rid of global global poverty by hitting delete, or change global warming by hitting backspace and no text message will ever replace a whisper "i love you" or holding hands on a first date…essentially we advance in human kind by putting our boots on the ground and getting our hands dirty and spending nights in scary places.." 12:35

  • He’s no Chester Robert "Chet" Huntley(b. Dec. 10, 1911,Cardwell, MT) but Brian Williams(b. 5/5/59) is current anchor of “NBC Nightly News”. Unrelated to Stonehill College physics professor Chet RAYmo, ray beam attack, or human circulatory system: famed Boston Pops conductor John Williams composed NBC News theme, “The Mission”. RAYmo’s book, “The Exhilarating Connection Between Skeptics And True Believers” having back jacket blurbs from edWARD D. WILSON and StePHen JAY evokes watch?v=7pkiaXc0gfo

  • The Truth is you must be Born Again to enter the Kingdom of God. We got into this 5 senses world by being born into it. Like wise we come into Gods world/Kingdom by being Born into it. The first birth is of the flesh the second birth is of the Spirit. In the first birth we had no say in the second the choice is ours. The first is temporal the second is for ever. In the first a human male is our father in the second The Holy Spirit [GOD] is our Father.Start by being obedient to Romans 10:9 &10.

  • Tom's an example of wat is wrong wit mainstream journalism. He's a elite rich guy who honestly looks at othr super rich peps an thinks that they'r American Heroes an that are all rich becuas of their own skill an special qualities. Thats the problem, most peps who'r rich are cuz their parents were rich an they most certaintly arent heroes! He's also a creature of the propoganda the US pumped into its citizens back in the 50's an 60's, communism's evil an Americans are the better than every1 else

  • Alohaaaa! Have you ever tried – Supreme Panic Magic (probably on Google)? Ive heard some great things about it and my buddy after a lifetime of fighting said ta ta the panic breakdowns with it.

  • Tom, how is that 5000 acre ranch in Montana treating you? Why did you leave the big city and move to a lily white state? Are you a hypocrite?

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