President Bestows Highest Civilian Honor to Tom Brokaw

Anchor Tom Brokaw, Rep. John Dingell and actress and activist Marlo Thomas all received Presidential Medals of Freedom Monday at a White House ceremony presided over by the current holder of that "presidential" title.

President Barack Obama cited Dingell for his record-breaking years of service to the country and the goals of civil rights and affordable healthcare among many others.

The President said Brokaw had been welcomed into America's homes, including his, which had trusted him to "tell us what we needed to know and to ask questions that needed asking." He said he knew from personal experience because he had been on "the receiving end" of some of those questions. Brokaw stood ramrod straight and smiling as President Obama put the medal around his neck. That was appropriate posture given that he was also being saluted for his Greatest Generation "book that helped focus on those who helped win World War II. Many of you know him as the chronicler of the greatest generation, today we honor him as one of our greatest journalists."

He referred to Marlo Thomas as "That Girl," a nod to the TV role that brought her to prominence. But she was being saluted more for her Free to Be You and Me campaign to empower young women and her work at the St. Jude's Children's Hospital, which was founded by her father, actor and singer Danny Thomas.

The President said Thomas' "Free to Be You and Me" songs (there was also a TV special) "taught a generation of kids that they were strong and beautiful just the way they were." Obama said Thomas had recalled her father saying there were two types of people in the world, the givers and the takers. "The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better." The President said he loved that saying, and added: "Marlo Thomas sleeps very well because she has given so much."

In the citation read along with the award, the White House said Thomas had "challenged convention, defied expectations, broke barriers in television, and lifted the voices of women, while letting children know they were 'free to be you and me.'"

Of Dingell, the President said, "Over the course of six decades, a congressional career longer than any in history, john Dingell built a peerless record. He gaveled in the vote for Medicare, helped lead the fight for the civil rights act." He also pointed out that Dingell had repeatedly introduced bills for comprehensive healthcare.

"His life reminds us that change takes time, and courage and persistence, but if we push hard enough and long enough, change is possible," said President Obama.

Dingell is retiring at the end of this congressional session. He started in Congress in December 1955—not counting his service as a congressional page (his father had also been a congressman).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.