By Julie Garisto, AliveTampaBay Correspondent
Holiday cheer and a spirit of free-speech camaraderie blended for a star-struck evening as Tom Brokaw accepted the 2016 Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Friday evening at St. Petersburg’s Hilton Carillon.
Brokaw’s in-person commemoration was the highlight of the second annual Bowtie Ball, attended by a sold-out crowd of about 460 business, community, political, and media leaders and supporters of the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. Guests arrived decked-out in bow ties and their finest cocktail attire for the occasion.
The celebrated news anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004 emerged onstage in a baby-blue bow tie after a stirring video homage presented by current NBC Anchor Lester Holt.
Holt saluted the multiple DuPont, Emmy, and Peabody Award winner for reporting on the front lines of major wars, milestone events and talking one-on-one with all the U.S. presidents since Richard Nixon.
Tampa-Hillsborough County Poet Laureate James E. Tokley Sr. read a poem he wrote and dedicated to the famed newsman, which offered evocative verse and eloquent couplets conveying Brokaw as a “sentinel voice in a realm of change” along with his Native American heritage and humble working-class beginnings in South Dakota.
After reading the poem, Tokley, aided by his signature walking cane, which doubles as a reed instrument, presented Brokaw with a framed copy of The Man Who Knew History By Its First Name.
During an on-stage interview with event emcee and News Channel 8 Co-Anchor Keith Cate, Brokaw balanced self-deprecating humor with colorful storytelling. He praised recently deceased astronaut and politician John Glenn as a “quintessential American hero.” He also reminisced about the late Tim Russert, a close friend and fellow NBC reporter; related the amusingly bureaucratic and unusual circumstances around the collapse of the Berlin Wall; and regarded the impending Trump presidency as the newspeak phenomenon of a “UFO” — an unforeseen occurrence.
When asked about the election, Brokaw took Hillary Clinton to task for not taking into account the frustrations of Middle America, and predicted next year’s big story could be either about the disintegration or rejuvenation of the Democratic Party.
An urgency to keep alive and support a free press and uphold high standards of journalism were recurring themes throughout the evening; topics touched on with particular urgency during Brokaw’s talk and the preceding speech by Philadelphia Inquirer Publisher Terry Egger — who accepted the 2016 Distinguished Service to Journalism Award for H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.
After purchasing the Inquirer and its sister publications, Lenfest donated the properties to the Philadelphia Foundation, a nonprofit media institute, to ensure quality journalism continues in the Philadelphia region.