Villain, victim, instigator or pawn?
Veteran NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw became many things to many people Sunday when the 78-year-old made inflammatory remarks about Latinos on “Meet the Press” ... then attempted several botched apologies via Twitter.
During a panel discussion on the NBC news program, Brokaw commented that “Hispanics should be working harder at assimilation… You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities, but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities,” he said, and added that it’s a view he's been sharing “for a long time.”
Fellow panelist, PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor, pushed back, calling Brokaw’s comments “troubling.” (Read the full transcript of the conversation here.)
But the chorus had already begun on another platform. Within minutes, the journalist who became a trusted name in the halcyon era of slow-breaking news became grist in a fast-breaking outrage cycle. Twitter rants for and against Brokaw shared space with debates on the broken love between POTUS and Ann Coulter, Steve Martin’s “Saturday Night Live” rendition of Roger Stone and the unfortunate “Rent” actor who busted his ankle right before the musical’s live TV broadcast.
Brokaw’s comments — tone deaf at best, xenophobic at worst — were the perfect fodder for a polarization-hungry platform that seemed to be starving since Chris Brown, the Covington Catholic High School student and the Native American elder were, like, so last week.
Immigration reporter Aura Bogado of RevealNews.org said Brokaw was “arguing classic white-supremacist talking points in a deeply racist rant on national television.”
CNN commentator Maria Cardona said that she loves Brokaw, but that “he's a little out of touch.”
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson weighed in on Twitter, saying no apology was needed for Brokaw telling “truths people don't want to hear.”
Brokaw did what many have done before him (Kevin Hart, Lena Dunham, Anyone Famous Who’s Ever Tweeted) and tried to make it better by apologizing on Twitter, which, of course, made it worse:
“I feel terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture,” he wrote. “ALL sides [have] to work harder ... at finding common ground — which I strongly believe.”
But the moment had already been weaponized in a ferocious if not predictable cycle that makes any sort of measured response impossible.
“Don’t tell a daughter of Mexican immigrants who now attends an Ivy League university that her community can’t speak English,” responded one Twitter user.
Brokaw has been both a hero and villain in the revolving-door court of Twitter justice. He was lauded for publicly discussing his terminal cancer diagnosis and treatment in a 2016 New York Times commentary: “...three years of chemotherapy, a spinal operation that cost me three inches of height, monthly infusions of bone supplements, and drugs to prevent respiratory infection.”
But by April of last year, the good Brokaw was deemed bad when he was accused by a former colleague of sexual harassment. He became that hour’s symbol of systemic sexism and/or martyrdom for all the men who were being unfairly flattened under the wheels of an indiscriminate #MeToo movement. Then he was defended by more than a 100 women, including Andrea Mitchell and Rachel Maddow, and he was good again, at least for an additional eight months or so.
Ridicule eclipsed the indictments and defense of Brokaw on Sunday when the seasoned anchor tried to apologize for his earlier apology with this bizarre communiqué: "My Twitter failed me at the worst time” and then “my tweet portal is whack. i hv been trying to say i am sorry i offended and i so appreciate my colleague.”
Most painful was that Brokaw seemed to be aware there was no way out of the mire, and turned to his instincts as a newsman to point out that he, in fact, was now making the news: "it worked! I got your attention. 'night."