From the Archives: Tom Brokaw with Richard Nixon

From the Archives: Tom Brokaw with Richard Nixon
July 19, 1990: Camera's roll as former President Nixon is interviewed by NBC's Tom Brokaw by the reflecting pool at the Nixon Library. (Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

To cover the dedication of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, NBC dispatched Tom Brokaw and a large news team. Los Angeles Times staff writer Dennis McLellan reported the next morning:

YORBA LINDA — Inside an air-conditioned trailer in the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace parking lot Thursday morning, "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw was on the speaker phone to his senior producer in New York.


"I think you're going to want to do more than that — we've come all this way," he said, requesting more air time for the dedication story, which he planned to use as the lead story for his live broadcast from the library that afternoon.

"There is an enormous crowd here and it has really captured the fancy of Southern California."

NBC News had predicted that the Nixon library dedication would be a major story — big enough to warrant sending Brokaw out from New York to anchor the "Nightly News." Brokaw was astounded that the celebration would generate a crowd of 50,000. …

As the "Nightly News" broadcast started to take shape at 9:35 a.m., the library dedication was vying with Pete Rose's five-month prison sentence as the top story of the day.

Brokaw, who spent the night in a Beverly Hills hotel, had arrived at the library 15 minutes earlier with Linda Ellman, West Coast producer of the "Nightly News."

Five NBC camera crews were already filming various aspects of the ceremony.

As managing editor of the news show, Brokaw would consult the news wire and keep in touch with his senior producer in New York throughout the day to determine which stories would be included in the half-hour program's 22 minutes of news. …

Ten minutes before the 3:30 broadcast, which would air live in New York at 6:30, Brokaw stepped out of his office and announced, "Well, boys and girls, it's almost time for me to go on television."

He returned to the reflecting pool where he mounted a platform. A make-up man dabbed his face with powder and a technician ran three different cables up the back of his sport coat.

In the remaining minutes, Brokaw ran a comb through his hair and practiced reading his opening.

And then, with the white farmhouse where Nixon was born as his backdrop, Brokaw gazed into the camera and said in his carefully modulated delivery:

"Headlines: A bad day for Pete Rose. He's sentenced to prison. A big day for Richard Nixon. He gets a library — and lots of presidential attention.

"Good evening from Yorba Linda, California. Pete Rose and Richard Nixon, love them or hate them, no two men have been more dominant in the national pastimes of baseball and politics. They share something else — a long fall from grace. …"

McLellan's full story is online: Dedication Draws NBC to Yorba Linda