Departing “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw began Wednesday by choking up a bit on NBC’s “Today,” the program he anchored as a young man with Jane Pauley.
After he chatted about his 38-year NBC career, he teared up when Katie Couric read a few touching fan letters and they brought out the champagne and his staff gathered behind him.
“Nobody does it better and no one ever has, Tom,” Couric said.
“Well, it’s very sweet,” Brokaw said, clearly moved. “I’ve … it’s been a great, great privilege.”
Brokaw was more scripted later when he ended his 21-year “Nightly” run by telling viewers that his only objective had been “to get it right.”
“When I failed, it was personally painful, and there was no greater urgency than course correction,” he said. “On those occasions I was grateful for your forbearance and always mindful that your patience and attention didn’t come with a lifetime warranty.”
Brokaw noted that he didn’t operate alone at NBC News.
“I am simply the most conspicuous part of a large, thoroughly dedicated and professional staff that extends from just beyond these cameras across the country and around the world in too many instances in places of grave danger and personal hardship. And they are family to me.”
Brokaw, 64, will now produce and host documentaries at NBC. Brian Williams, named Brokaw’s heir in 2002, takes over Thursday. Williams inherits 10.8 million viewers and the No. 1 evening newscast, a spot NBC has held for years.
Brokaw plans to take a break until President Bush’s inauguration in January, when he’s expected back to help with coverage.
Veteran network news producer Steve Friedman, who has worked with Brokaw for decades, starting in 1968, says the veteran anchor “is a guy who, at least in his own eyes, didn’t stay too long at the party.”
“He has been a fixture in people’s homes for the past 30 years,” Friedman says. “When he walks away, viewers are going to feel it, maybe not at the beginning, but when there’s a big story, they will.”
As anchor, Brokaw said he learned “more than I have time to recount this evening, but the enduring lessons through the decades are these: It’s not the questions that get us in trouble, it’s the answers. And just as important, no one person has all the answers.”
He cited his long-standing admiration for the World War II generation, subject of two of his books.
“They did not give up on the idea that we’re all in this together. We still are.”