In Powell, Brokaw takes pulse of America

Posted 8/1/17

Years ago, while visiting a friend on the South Fork of the Shoshone River, Brokaw stopped at Larsen’s Bicycles for a bike part.

“I was so struck by what a wonderful, prototypical small town it was,” he recalled last week.

Over the …

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In Powell, Brokaw takes pulse of America


Veteran newsman spends day here for upcoming feature

When veteran newsman Tom Brokaw decided to do a story on President Donald Trump’s first six months in office, he knew exactly where he wanted to start: Powell, Wyoming.

Years ago, while visiting a friend on the South Fork of the Shoshone River, Brokaw stopped at Larsen’s Bicycles for a bike part.

“I was so struck by what a wonderful, prototypical small town it was,” he recalled last week.

Over the years, whenever Brokaw thought of the perfect example of small-town America, Powell immediately came to mind.

“I just thought that this is picture postcard,” he explained. “I’ve kept it in my mind when I was coming here, and then I saw that Powell voted 70 percent for Trump. How do they feel now?”

After asking that very question at the Skyline Cafe and the Park County Fair on Friday, Brokaw said he found the answers interesting.

“There is some diminishment of the enthusiasm, but the people we saw at the county fair said it’s all our fault — the liberal media’s fault, not Trump’s. So I thought to myself, ‘This is the chance to do the other America.’”

Brokaw had approached fellow NBC correspondent Pete Williams, a Casper native, with the idea of using Powell as the backdrop to his story.

“He [Williams] told me ‘That’s the perfect place to go; you’ll get the real feel for it,’” Brokaw recalled. “So now, we’re going to go back and tell people there is another America out there.”

As he made the rounds, Brokaw said he was struck by the responses he received as to what weighs heavy on the minds of small-town Wyoming.

“Nobody was saying to me [Friday], ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do about Reince Priebus?’” Brokaw said. “They’re not talking about that. They were talking about how it’s too damn dry out here and what’s going to happen with the solar eclipse. There are a lot of other things on their mind.”

What was almost universally agreed upon by those he spoke to, however, was the role the media has played in the Trump narrative.

“Mostly they blamed the press,” he said. “They told me, ‘You guys are too liberal, you don’t give him a chance.’ The country needs to hear the other point of view.”

Brokaw also spoke with local doctors about health care and covered the 2017 Heart Mountain Pilgrimage — an annual reunion of surviving incarcerees of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp and their families held at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. His piece on the Pilgrimage is set to air this (Tuesday) morning on NBC’s Today Show. The air date of the NBC Nightly News segment featuring Powell has not yet been announced.

Brokaw grew up in South Dakota on the banks of the Missouri River — what he called a “Mark Twain childhood.” Despite a love of the outdoors and wide-open spaces, he was drawn to the bright lights and big city and the career that awaited him there. Once his career took off, however, he realized how much he missed being back in the West.

“I came out to Montana to address the Montana Bar Association, and my fee was that they drop me and my wife at the entrance of the Scapegoat Wilderness and pick us up four days later,” he said. “We backpacked through, and fell in love with Montana at that point. Then I took up fly fishing and that was the killer, that’s what did it.”

That was 30 years ago, and Brokaw — who now owns a ranch in Livingston, Montana — said the lives of his kids and grandkids have been changed by the time they’ve spent in this part of the country.

“They live in cities, but they come out here and they ride, they look for fossils,” Brokaw said. “I have a granddaughter who has a big box every summer that’s called, ‘Great Horned Owl Scat.’ She goes around and sees what the Great Horned Owls have been eating the night before. So being able to come out here has given them a whole other part of their lives.”

His two granddaughters from New York, ages 11 and 9, look forward to spending their summers with their best friends: two little boys the same age in Livingston.

“These two boys are real cowboy-tough kids,” he said with a chuckle. “The four of them get along famously. They go swimming together, they hang out together. It’s important for them to see that other part of life.”

Brokaw also recounted how, as a youngster, his fascination with one of Minnesota’s lakes almost cost him his life.

“I had strayed too close to the lake and fallen in,” he recalled, adding, “I wasn’t in a panic; I just remember going down and seeing these bubbles. I was 2 1/2, and this girl jumped in and got me, got me to shore and got me to my mother. My mother said we never knew her name; she disappeared right after that.”

Brokaw’s producer, Clare Duffy, couldn’t resist a little good-natured ribbing at the former NBC Nightly News anchor’s expense.

“And so began a lifetime of ladies saving your hide,” Duffy said, to laughter from the crew.

Ah, the life of a media legend.