John McCaslin


"War is a dreadful thing, but there are things more dreadful even than war; one of them is dishonor." -- William Randolph Hearst, former New York Democratic congressman, journalist and publisher (1863-1951)


As sole anchor of "NBC Nightly News" for 20 years, Tom Brokaw has encountered his share of difficult moments. Last Friday was one of his toughest.

"I always worry about getting too emotional on air," he tells this column. "This one cut deep to the bone."

Flanked by four senior retired members of the U.S. military, Brokaw was narrator to literally millions of TV viewers who, for this inaugural war of the 21st century, have been given unprecedented front-row seats.

It is called "real-time reporting." When hundreds of Western reporters, producers and photographers, "embedded" with the troops as they chip their way toward Baghdad and Saddam Hussein, granted he's still breathing, bring new meaning to the term "reality TV."

As they marveled at the technological advances of war, Brokaw was informed that a Nancy Chamberlain wished to address the nation.

What was surprising was that just a short time before, this well-spoken mother from Winslow, Maine, had received horrific news that her son - Capt. Jay Thomas Aubin, a helicopter pilot who had dreamed one day of flying the president aboard Marine One - perished in the Kuwaiti desert with the 11 other men in his chopper.

Chamberlain said she "knew for some reason" that her son wouldn't be coming home, long before she was officially notified of his death.

Military families, she explained, find themselves watching TV constantly, seeking reassurance that their loved ones are safe. These families at home, it turns out, are seeing more of the war than the soldiers in combat.

They experience the terror, she said, feel the stress. Brokaw was moved to tears. When he was unable to respond at one point, a general jumped in to address her concerns.

"Here is a mother who was just told that she had lost her son," Brokaw told us later. "And she appears on television with this important message about (military) families living 'in terror' in their homes. And we (the news networks) needed to hear that. These images are spectacular and violent. And there is going to be death," he says. "And nobody could have (reminded us) as eloquently as this woman. Our switchboard lit up."


Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has taken to complaining that the Senate has more pressing matters to debate - namely, the war in Iraq - than to "rush through the 2004 budget.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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