Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tom Brokaw outed: He doesn't write his books

November 11, 1999
New York Post
Neal Travis’ New York
WHILE network news organizations have adopted many tabloid-TV practices, they don't like to admit it - and certainly don't want anyone getting air time to talk about the way standards have changed. Burt Kearns, in town to launch his book, "Tabloid Baby," just learned the power of establishment television. Kearns was scheduled the other evening to do John Gibson's MSNBC show, talking about the way the tab stars of "A Current Affair" outperformed traditional news anchors - including NBC's Tom Brokaw - at the tumbling of the Berlin Wall 10 years ago. Kearns was pre-interviewed and the cable channel arranged a limo to take him to their studios over in New Jersey. Just an hour before the car arrived, they canceled him. He was told Brokaw - who has his own memoir to plug and who regards the news very seriously - was taking his place.

In the Eighties, Tom Brokaw, cock o' the walk "anchorman" of a deadly-dull NBC News show, would run into WNBC-TV news producer Burt Kearns at the 30 Rock elevator and, with impunity, snatch the young man's copy of the next day's New York Times.

In 1999, Kearns would be a tabloid television pioneer whose new book pulled back the curtain on NBC's co-opting of tabloid techniques and Brokaw was threatened by his presence.

Ironic, isn't it, that of the two, Kearns was the one who wrote his own book? James Brady reveals in Forbes that Brokaw cannily admits in the acknowledgments to his latest NBC Gift Shop item that he's just the frontman for a team he calls "Team Brokaw":

"Listen to what he says about the work of authoring:

"'I had at the ready the best team any author could want. Liz Bowyer, the captain of the team, a tireless and persuasive interviewer; Frank Gannon, suggestions, observations, contributions, encyclopedic knowledge of the '60s; Michael Hill, fact-checker extraordinaire; Meaghan Rudy, now part of the NBC family; and John Balz, who tracked down players, facts, trends and under-reported consequences of the '60s.'


Brokaw then thanks computer techies for keeping the machines going, and someone else who keeps in touch with him as he slaves away on the manuscripts 'in the remote regions of Montana.' Additional kudos go to a score of Random House execs and editorial people who helped with the work, as well as to Robin Rolewicz for being able to 'corral the people I interviewed into sending me their personal photographs.' Robin was 'helped in the research effort' by Carol Poticny and Abby Plesser. Tom also praises the people who edited and designed and produced the book, the lawyer who vetted it and so on. But those helpful folk work on every book. I am talking here mostly about NBC staffers and others who don't work in the book biz but were recruited for or volunteered in the Brokaw effort.

"Reading all this, I went back to Greatest Generation. Had he issued similar acknowledgments nine years ago? Yes, right up front. Elizabeth Bowyer yet again, plus a Ph.D. in history named Phil Napoli and Brokaw's research assistant at NBC News, Joan Huang, who had provided the author with "an unending supply of stories, facts, insights and ideas." Tommy Fine 'got the project started," Erin O'Connor, 'who runs my NBC life,' was thanked for her work. 'So many ideas came from so many places.' Among those 'places,' Boston columnist Mike Barnicle, authors Stephen Ambrose and Bill Styron, magazine editor Ellen Levine and writer/editor Kurt Anderson, who used to (with Graydon Carter) run Spy.

"Then Brokaw names colleagues at NBC who worked on the parallel TV documentary, also called The Greatest Generation. They incorporated some of Brokaw's stories in the video, but also, one hand washing the other, helped him 'get some of them [stories] on the pages of the book.' Contributions to 'his' book from the TV news side. Is that really writing, or something else?"

It's something else, all right, and it's what the book business has become, sellers of TV shows and pop culture souvenirs. and the pioneer of that tabloid innovation is none other than the speech-impaired "anchorman" Tom Brokaw.

What a fraud.

Brady wonders what happened to the authors who "did their own research, actually went places, met people and filled notebooks with local color"? Hey, that's how Tabloid Baby was written. And it's still the perfect Christmas gift.


Anonymous said...

It's laughable that you believe "Tabloid Baby" is a more important and more newsworthy book, and that Burt Kearns should be given the same respect as Tom Brokaw. That simply is never going to happen, nor should it happen.

Which is more newsworthy: a book by a household name who formerly released a book which was on the bestseller list (Tom Brokaw), or a book which most people have never even heard of, by someone few people have ever even heard of (Burt Kearns)? Viewers would always prefer to see an interview with Brokaw, and for very good reason.

It sounds like you're desperately grasping for straws by claiming Brokaw didn't write the book himself. Nobody cares whether he physically put pen to paper, or whether he did his own research. What is important is the message the book conveys, which he obviously endorses.

Anonymous said...

Tabloid Baby - all the news that's fit to wipe your ass with, and only $1.82 on Amazon!

Anonymous said...

The Greatest Generation - all the propaganda bullshit that wasn't even really written by the blowhard whose name is on the cover, and only $0.01 on Amazon!


brian williams said...

the first commenter obviously isnt aware of the history here. brokaw has treated kearns as a competitor and threat since 1990 when kearns and the aca team showed him up at the berlin wall.

and he obviously hasnt read tabloid baby or seen kearns on tv.

Anonymous said...

I think its outrageous that a public figure would put his name on a book he didn't write.

Anonymous said...

Brian: So what if Kearns and Brokaw have a spat, or why they have a spat? It doesn't change a word I said.

No, I've never seen Burt on TV, and in fact have never even heard of him except on this blog (which kind of proves my point about his level of importance when compared to Brokaw). I have never read the Tabloid Baby book, either. So? I just look at this blog every once in a while. If there's more to it than what's on the blog, it's incumbent upon the blog author to give that background. I'm certainly not going to buy a book I don't want, just so I can make sense of a free blog, LOL.

brian williams said...

well, anonymous, I would recommend that you do pick up a copy of Tabloid Baby, or at least peruse a copy at your library. Your professed cultural ignorance-- having never heard of Kearns, who is well-known in journalistic circles-- is not something to be proud of.

Which brings us back to the words you wrote originally: "Nobody cares whether (Brokaw) physically put pen to paper or whether he did his own research."

Yes, many people do care. We care greatly. Many talents finer than Brokaw have been destroyed by such flimflammery.

Brokaw's credibility, as far as I, and James Brady are concerned, is somewhere below James Frey's.

Have you heard of him?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm supposed to, for some odd reason, be in awe of you and your near-encylopedic knowledge of virtual unknowns like Burt Kearns.

I assure you, I am not. In fact, I'm laughing at you even as I write this.

Does it make you feel important to assert your superiority on a free blogspot blog, in a nonsensical argument with a complete stranger wherein you assert that what is mere obscure trivia to others is, in fact, a matter of great importance?

Apparently so. How sad (and, yes, even pathetic) for you.

But hey, thanks for playing. Most of all, thanks for the lulz.

brian williams said...

Gee, Anon, you brought it up.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:12, you missed the point.

The actual storytellers may not be 'famous' enough to put their name on a book. So in flies Tom Brokaw to proclaim 'the greatest generation,' while others do the writing and research and he takes all the credit.

You're buying into the perception that only household names have credibility. Brokaw himself cites a dozen or more people for writing the story. Developing a story is the work of an author. The name you see on the book's cover is not necessarily the author.

I'm disappointed that Brokaw can't write an independent account without the support of NBC staffers. It's deceptive, regardless of the voluminous credits thrown around in 8-point font.