1. People & Relationships

Tom Brokaw Reports on Baby Boomers

By February 24, 2010

Veteran newsman Tom Brokaw, who wrote a best-selling book called The Greatest Generation about the men and women who came of age in the Great Depression and fought World War II, is now using his reporter's eye to look at their children: the baby boomers.

On Thursday, March 4 [2010], CNBC premiered a two-hour documentary called, "TOM BROKAW REPORTS: BOOMER$."

Here's how CNBC describes the report:

"In a landmark two-hour documentary, Tom Brokaw tells the story of history's wealthiest and most influential generation. From hula hoops to civil rights, in war and politics, Brokaw chronicles the extraordinary impact 78 million baby boomers have had on American society over the past six decades, and explores the challenges they face as they begin to approach the age of retirement."

That sounds like a lot to cover in just two hours, but Brokaw is going to try.

Born in 1940, Brokaw is too young to be part of The Greatest Generation (a term he coined) and too old to be a baby boomer. How well Brokaw will capture the boomer experience and whether he will discover and share any significant insights remains to be seen. After all, this isn't the first time Brokaw has reported on the Baby Boom Generation. For his 2007 book, "BOOM!," Brokaw interviewed about 100 baby boomers, many of them famous personalities such as politicians Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, writers Nora Ephron, Tom McGuane and Gloria Steinem, and singer/songwriter James Taylor.

Writing for The New York Times, Janet Maslin gave "BOOM!" a so-so review, but had kind words for the author: "On the page, as he is on the screen, Mr. Brokaw is a canny, perceptive interviewer with an honest interest in what other people have to say." Brokaw and his book about baby boomers fared less well in the USA Today review by Bob Minzesheimer, who wrote: "It's a conventional, bland, safe and predictable book about a decade that was none of the above."

If you watch "TOM BROKAW REPORTS: BOOMER$," be sure to come back to this site and leave a comment with your thoughts about the program.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty

March 1, 2010 at 6:10 am
(1) SA says:

Not too sure I can watch this. I hate generalizations and I’m afraid Mr. Brokaw is going to lump boomers together. Even if we didn’t have it as bad as some greatest generationers, some of us had it worse. Our father’s died in military accidents and we never knew them. We bounced around from school to school and lived in government subsidized housing, while our parents had servants and free college education and housing even during the depression.

March 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm
(2) JenniferA says:

I’m looking forward to this Tom Brokaw special. It will be very interesting to hear more about the Baby Boomers especially in regards to their plans for retirement given the current state of the economy. But, what will the group just now turning 55 want in their next home and more important, what do they want to do with their retirement years in terms of activities, continued education, volunteering, etc? Looking forward to hearing more on this topic from Mr. Brokaw!

March 1, 2010 at 7:25 pm
(3) Melissa says:

Hopefully he will highlight the self serving, self centered and egocentric nature of the generation in general..they learned nothing from their parents. Have trashed the place and leave Gen X and Gen Y holding the bag. So much for humility..bad timing topically.

March 4, 2010 at 2:06 pm
(4) Aimzee says:

See, that what’s wrong with coining a term involving too many years. The first batch of Baby Boomers may be collecting our Social Security checks, enjoying our beautiful grandchildren, and worrying about Senior Living. Yes, some were at Woodstock; some were in pre-school.

March 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm
(5) Denyse Seiler says:

I am looking forward to this program. My father was part of The Greatest Generation. To this day, I am in awe of their accomplishments and ingenuity. What would the world be like today without The Greatest Generation?

As a baby boomer (60), I don’t think about “retirement.” In fact many of us get our second wind. After spending the majority of my life in corporate America, I went back to graduate school, and love my new career as an adjunct professor. Now I am thinking about a PhD.

Please, during this program, no commercials for Depends, Viagra, or denture cleaners!!!!



March 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm
(6) crusty says:

Tom Brokaw is a moronic shill.

March 4, 2010 at 11:58 pm
(7) Reta Harris, M.D. says:

I thought Tom Brokaw missed the boat. The Boomers according to him haven’t realized the change in the
world they promised. I was born in 1953 and have seen our country go from segregation to electing a black man President. I have seen women go from the kitchen to the board room. I have seen women gain control over their reproduction which is the only thing staving off a crisis in population explosion. I have seen the nation’s graduating class of medical students go from 5% women to 50%. So what if we live in 3000 square foot houses. Does he live in anything smaller? So what if we don’t want to retire at 62. We are expected to live longer and healthier lives, and what is so productive about driving around the country in motorhomes? The previous generation fought a noble war and also led us into the most unnoble war, Vietnam. How does the current financial crisis really compare to the Great Depression of the past? We have gone from snail mail to email. No generation since has produced the lasting music of our time. He was so condescending and in an unspoken way he toots his own horn in the most unbecoming way.

March 5, 2010 at 1:58 am
(8) Dave Witter says:

Tom Brokaw please stop with the smug condescending attitude.
The generation of Ronald Reagan to George Bush looked the other way while they dismantled the government that made America great. The boomers are addictied to the free easy credit and almost forced to spend. We are in so much debt it is now impossible to pay for necessities while both husband and wife work for a lower standard of living that our parents.

March 5, 2010 at 3:17 am
(9) matokie says:

I agree with Reta, and I would add the following:
Brokaw never actually asked the question: What hopes and promises WERE realized?

He totally ignored the environmental movement, without which we would be in even more dire straits concerning pollution, resource use, and climate change. The Greatest Generation gave us prosperity, but with it came a reckless disposable culture and an era of plastics and toxins. There were many young boomers who recognized this and struggled to develop such solutions as recycling and alternative energies. And always against much political and corporate pressure.

He ignored the organic farming and health food movements, which began as grass roots efforts by folks concerned about their food chain. And without which we would have very few alternatives to even more toxic farm practices and processed foods.

Brokaw’s condescending attitude came off, to me, as sour grapes – too young to be in WWII, and too old to truly be a boomer. And, in a very unprofessional way, seemed to approach the entire subject with his own preconceived notions and personal judgments.
Disdain would be a fitting word.
Perhaps a bit like an older sibling who didn’t get the perks he saw extended to the young’uns.

Had a list of hopes and promises ever been proferred, we might have expected the question: why DIDN’T more of these things materialize?
An examination of this might reveal the obvious:
No one generation exists in a vaccum. The previous generation has held sway and power throughout these 50-some years, and any attempt at actual progression, in ways that would move our society and planet forward in a healthy and cooperative way has been met with roadblocks of all kinds. That so many goals have been reached is a testimony to the perseverance of the boomers.
The charges of selfishness and materialism are far outweighed in these matters, and belong – more to the point – to the factions of each generation, including the ME’s and X-ers, who indulge in such pursuits.

Just as each faction of a population is not required to live up to its potential or expectations, an entire generation is not required to have signed on for “changing the world”.

That said, many of us boomers did tap into a collective consciousness when we were young and the world was fresh. We did see new ways to look at the world, and grand possibilities, as well as gross wrongs that needed righting. “Life” does get in the way of fully realizing each individual’s goals, but many of us tried our darnedest to walk our talk. Too bad Mr. Borkaw did not include a fair sampling in his subjects. He is apparently one who was not touched by that magic moment in time.

For me, personally, the defining issues of our first 20 years, no matter which side one took, are:
civil rights
women’s rights (still no ERA)
reproductive rights
the environment
the Viet Nam war
the bomb

That’s a lot.
Thanks, Tom, for belittling our efforts.

March 5, 2010 at 6:53 am
(10) wow says:

I was glad to see at least some of the comments as they were in line with my perspective.

I am hoping this special will answer a question I’ve been asking for some time and have not been able to get a answer to. The question is, what was the root cause that lead to the significant erosion of basic values and integrity within one gereration that has contributed to the plethora of serious problems facing the world today and directly related to the boomers stewardship over the last 20-25 years? Ultimately, many of the problems (too many to list) we face today are due to a basic lack of integrity, and I’m curious to know why certain lessons and values seem to have been compromised to a fairly large degree between just 2 generations (and which will ultimately lead to a lower standard of living for following generations for the first time).

My mother (who is 70) believes that part of it relates to the amount of free time boomers had on their hands growing up compared to previous generations. I’d be curious to hear a boomer (or pre-boomer) perspective.

Finally, to pin problems on a generation which comes after another generation doesn’t make much sense to me– who ultimately was responsible for raising that generation and instilling basic values?

March 5, 2010 at 9:20 am
(11) Miss MB says:

While the program dabbled with some of the consequences to boomers of the collapsed economy, it completely missed the 30 million of us who are caring for our greatest generation parents. In the past there were multi-generational households for sure, but in today’s economy and with the health insurace options as they are, boomers are quitting jobs and merging households in order to spare their parents the death sentence of a state run facility. The economic and emotional impact of these choices are hard to fathom.

March 5, 2010 at 11:48 am
(12) marilyn obrien says:

I have always respected Mr. Brokaw and enjoyed listening to his reports, however his opinions about raising the retirement age may work for people in his profession but not for others. He said he has never had so much money and been offered so many discounts. People who work hard such as nurses and service jobs, construction workers and such may just be wore out and need to retire early, so when you need to retire at 62 or 65 because you’re unable to continue I think the option should be there.

March 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm
(13) Jacklyn says:

I thought Tom Brokaw did an excellent job in highlighting the traits of baby boomers, their achievements, some issues they face now, and some possible shortfalls.

I totally disagree with comments made regarding him being condescending or missing the boat. Perhaps you should take another look at the documentary since itís airing again.

March 5, 2010 at 10:20 pm
(14) Carol says:

Don’t blame the boomers, Brokaw. Blame the elitist 1% of insiders, who have deliberately engineered the social and economic conditions for many decades, in order to bring this country down into submission to their agenda, called Socialism, and continue to live off the rest of us, like leeches. You know who they are. And many of us do, too. The 5th commenter ‘crusty’ got it right. Here’s to the Boomers, who won’t go down without a fight!

March 6, 2010 at 8:16 am
(15) john novosel says:

Those of us already receiving Social Security, Medicare and other senior benefits should not have to give up anything to help support or fund the baby boomers. I heard Brokaw say there should be a means test for seniors. No no no, I do not agree we should give up anything to help people who had the same chance and chose to do less. You reap what you sow…

March 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm
(16) Grace says:

I agree with Rita, Wow,and others. I plan to write Brokaw and Hanks about their praising of the WWII
generation, and Brokaw naming it the “great generation.” Yes they were war heroes, my own father among them. However, I believe that historians may view 1945-1965 as the two decades of some of the greatest missed and missused opportunies of the human race.

The WWI generation came back, procreated like rabbits with no insights about the use of not only energy, but many, many materials including the propogation of plastics, pesticides, colas (naming their children ‘the Pepsi generation’, now the diabetes generation. Little moral enlightened leadership. The Ozzie & Harriett generation promoted white supremacy, american supremacy and not only call their children selfish squanders,but are still in denial of how their ‘great prosperity’ has sqaundered the earth and many are doing everything they can to stand in the way of wise changes that will probably be too late to fix all the huge problems they set in motion 1945-1965. Those are the facts, and no one will ever convince me that they are the greatest generation. With ‘freedom’ comes responsibility, Tom Hanks, and this generation spent 20 years in denial with almost no foresight whatsoever.

March 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm
(17) Entropy says:

Just do the opposite of what baby boomers have done and we’ll be fine…

1) Be happy living off a shoestring..if you’re well adjusted and balanced person this is easy but more importantly..just be happy.
2) Cut consumption drastically;grow much of your own food, recycle clothes, eschew ‘toys’ anouncing your insecurity and lack of intelligence
3) Established multiple PIGs preferably not earned income
4)Live responsibly, save and invest on your own

Don’t feed the black hole of taxation and let’s squeeze the current and upcoming SS collectors.

Two words—-Soylent Green.

March 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm
(18) SA says:

My hat’s off to Bill Clinton’s comment that the Greatest Generation parents were the worst.

April 4, 2010 at 10:21 pm
(19) Generation X says:

Thanks, Baby Boomers,
Thanks for the huge debt. You were handed the post World War II economy and sent it off to China. You know the communists you defeated; “tear down this wall”. But these communists are ok because you make a load of money from their cheap labor. So it is ok, right.
It must have been nice to have a choice in having two parents work. Thanks, but now both parents have to work; no more choice.
You know the women’s movement was a positive thing. Of course women should be in the board room. However, stay at home moms (or dads for that matter) need to be respected. The women’s movement made women feel bad if they didn’t work. Women are the backbone of the community. Now neighbors don’t know neighbors. All unintended consequences, but consequences none the less (for your kids).
Hey thanks for the fact that education costs more but is worth less. I think you should buy a bigger house. NO, that’s not big enough. Maybe you buy a second house, perhaps a summer home at the beach. You know you “earned it” by all that hard work. Oh, yea the hard work with the nice retirement plan. oh, yea it’s sad the retirement plan changed after you joined it but don’t worry you have been grandfathered in so you have nothing to worry about.
Let’s not forget about Social Security. You know it used to be 6% coming out of your check until the 90′s when it became 12%. No we won’t move the age limit up, let put it on the back of our kids. In the 90′s they are too young to understand what’s going on and by the time they do it be too late. Hey, that was a neat little trick.

April 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm
(20) Doree Jane Crawfoord says:

I have always admired Tom Brokaw’s work and opinion. I think he should remember though that the Greatest Generation also included Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Hirohito. What’s so Great about these?

April 7, 2010 at 1:49 am
(21) Native Boomer says:

Hmmm, another “group” of boomers overlooked in all these stories about “Baby Boomers” is the Native American Indian… Always with the Black/White conflict and, oh my, what terrible things were done to the Black Community. Native’s continue to get overlooked and ignored. They called them “Reservations” but get real, just another word for concentration camps but without the barbed wire.

During the boomer era there was also the American Indian Movement trying to bring Native Indian issues into public light, fighting for preserving and the right to practice the Native traditions, traditions that were literally BEATEN out of our parents and grandparents. Woodstock was not the only gathering that happened… there was also Wounded Knee 1972.

Of course, the media has never been fair in covering the atrocities towards the orginial inhabitants of this land. As a Native Boomer, I’m getting tired of hearing the only major conflict of the Boomer Era was between Black and White. No one seems to remember the “No Indians Allowed” signs, nor the fact that many Natives joined the fight in the many wars/police actions of the United States… and this even before being allowed to be called an American Citizen.

April 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm
(22) Eddy Gugliotta says:

I had the chance to watch this excellent documentary today April 24th (perhaps I was to busy watching FOX). It confirmed some of my feelings of what’s going on the USA today, and how dramatically our generation changed civilization, sometimes for good, others for really bad, and especially it shed light on the clash of generations that we are experiencing, I would say the typewriter vs Twitter. Thanks God for Rock and Roll!

April 26, 2010 at 2:50 am
(23) Michele says:

I saw the broadcast. I thought that a good attempt was made to make it balanced. The one comment that stuck out to me was when Mr. Browkaw was asked how he viewed the boomers and he said something to the effect of “unrealized.” That is so true. I am from the Gen X and I see a double standard with the values of Boomers. They were credited for being the civil rights, equality generation when the people who actually should be credited with that accomplishment are those who died to bring the inequality out to be seen by all. Thanks to the media! Now that time has eroded the shock factor there has become a great deal more inequality in our society in secret.

I feel burnt by my coorporate employers who were mostly boomers. The culture of the Boomers was to work hard to achieve certain personal goals like having your own office, promotion, job security, house, family and retirement. Now all the rules have changed. There is no Hierarchy. There are no values to dictate when or if you will be promoted or keep your job. The bar keeps getting raised: now we need more education, experience, or youth. They based so much on things like how things appear on paper or outwardly. Words to describe people like: Bright, Articulate, Team Oriented are not measurable, and feel like a Boomers way of saying “we want young people that can be mentored, not old ones who have paid their dues and earned promotion.” Gen Xers have supported our country with our hard labor and now we can’t even afford to buy a starter home. Thanks Boomers. NOT.

September 17, 2010 at 4:36 pm
(24) gremmie says:

great accomplishments and some very big disasters. unfortunately the disasters will hurt generations to come.

October 27, 2010 at 10:21 am
(25) sallypz says:

Of course WWII was the greatest war ever fought and all the soldiers were heroes. The Media told us so. (Propaganda)

Of course Vietnam was a useless, embarrassing war and all the soldiers were to blame for it. The Media told us so. (Propaganda again)

While interesting the show missed entire segments of this ‘generation’. Single moms, one parent families. Like others have commented also much of the negatives that have emerged (huge consumerism etc..) are things put on us by the WWII generation. The Baby Boomers are kinda the ‘Damned if you do and Damned if you don’t generation’. Damned by the older generation when we acted to ‘rebel’ in our youth and damned by the older, and younger, generations when we acted to ‘conform’ in our middle years.

One thing that did come out of this generation that was alluded to is the belief of the entire generation in the power of the individual (of any individual) to succeed and to affect change. The belief that one individual, regardless of race, creed, sex, sexual preference, or the economic status they began life in, has within themselves the power to change the world. I think that strength of that belief is a great legacy to leave our country.

Outwardly what I did myself to change the world may look small but it’s a matter of perspective. Just ask the little developmentally delayed girl I adopted from a foreign country all alone as a single mom if I didn’t change the world for her—and change her entire world. Perspective.

The Baby Boomers have lived in interesting times. It’s been quite an adventure, quite a a ride hasn’t it? And guess what—-It ain’t over yet!!! The future is still out there and so are we.

April 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm
(26) mason says:

What was the reason for the cheap shot at President Clinton by Tom Browkaw over the “did not inhale comment”? Bad blood between them??

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