Brokaw's 'Pearl Harbor': Poignancy amid sloppiness

Critic's Choice: Television

May 27, 2001|By David Zurawik

"Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack" has as much to tell us about the relationship among media, national memory and the rituals of holiday remembrance in American life today as it does the events of Dec. 7, 1941.

The two-hour special that premieres tonight features NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw telling us what happened at Pearl Harbor that day and what it all means. Part of Brokaw's authority, of course, comes from his best-selling books with the men and women who fought World War II, "The Greatest Generation" and "The Greatest Generation Speaks."

I applaud Brokaw, his publishers and anyone who might have helped him write the books for giving voice to members of that generation. But I weep for our culture insofar as it gets its history from anchormen and prime-time specials.

"Legacy of Attack" is a sloppy production, but with moments of tremendous emotional resonance. Those moments are the words of the men and women Brokaw interviews and the mini-biographies of them. The sloppiness comes from trying to serve too many corporate masters, especially its joint producers, NBC and National Geographic.

The special makes its debut at 8 tonight on cable channel MSNBC, and then at 9 on the network. Gimme an S. Gimme a Y. Gimme an N-E-R-G-Y.

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