Thursday's Today show on NBC showed an excerpt from Tom Brokaw’s upcoming documentary, "American Character Along Highway 50," during which the former NBC Nightly News anchor plugged Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson – a friend of President Obama -- and delivered a puff piece on Johnson’s life and political goals, giving Johnson several soundbites to promote himself without being challenged, with Johnson proclaiming that he ran for mayor partly because "there’s a lot of inequality in our country."
But, even though at one point Brokaw recounted that Johnson founded the St. Hope foundation to help provide education, the former NBC anchor did not bring up Johnson’s history of corruption, specifically the finding that he misused $800,000 in AmeriCorps funding at St. Hope.
Last June, in an interview on FNC’s Fox and Friends, former inspector general Gerald Walpin of the Corporation for National and Community Service – who had just been fired by the Obama administration – recounted his findings against Mayor Johnson and theorized that Obama had fired him because of his aggressive stance against the President's political ally. Walpin:
We found out that Johnson had misused the members of the AmeriCorps volunteers for his own personal purposes, had used them in political campaigns, had used them to wash his car, and had even taken them to New York to lobby for him, and they're supposed to be working tutoring students in Sacramento. He took them to New York to lobby for him to get a charter school charter here in New York.
Walpin further charged that Johnson had not been required to pay any portion of the money back:
Well, he never has paid back a portion. The settlement agreement signed behind our back, and remember, we're the referring agency, and U.S. attorneys always deal through the referring agency. They ignored us and they entered into a settlement agreement that doesn't require Johnson to pay anything back.
But instead of challenging Johnson, Brokaw was more interested in nudging the corrupt mayor toward higher office. Brokaw contended that Johnson is "boosting expectations in a wider arena," and suggested to him that his current position could be a "stepping stone," prompting the Sacramento mayor to deliver the modest reply that "I've got to figure this [current position] out first."
Below is a complete transcript of the piece from the Thursday, December 24, Today show on NBC:
LESTER HOLT: Our colleague, Tom Brokaw, has spent the past year traveling across the country on famed Highway 50 for a special documentary airing next month on the USA Network. And he's just reached the end of the road.
TOM BROKAW: It's been called the backbone of America, one highway that cuts through the heart of a changing nation. And at every crossroad, a new story – 3,073 miles on Highway 50 in search of the American character. Mile 3,073, where Highway 50 ends just west of California's capital. You think one day he'd be the mayor of Sacramento?
MOTHER OF MAYOR KEVIN JOHNSON: No, I didn't think he'd be the mayor. That's the last thing I thought.
BROKAW: It's a future Kevin Johnson's own mother wouldn't have dared to imagine when she gave birth to him at the age of 16.
KEVIN JOHNSON, SACRAMENTO MAYOR: I'm a kid that grew up in a ghetto community, being elected not only the first African-American mayor, but the first native-born mayor. It was one of the greatest days of my life.
BROKAW: Johnson was elected by a landslide on the same day as Barack Obama in a city where just 15 percent of the population is African-American.
JOHNSON: Both of us represent, I think, a new breed of politician. We're representing a multicultural world.
BROKAW: Both economies were in a freefall.
JOHNSON: Our unemployment rate is extremely high. The foreclosure rate has hit our region harder.
BROKAW: Only months into his first term, this rookie mayor was forced to address a shameful truth.
JOHNSON: There were a lot of homeless people camping along the river.
BROKAW: With its echoes of the Great Depression's Hoovervilles, Sacramento's tent city became a national symbol of just how bad things had gotten.
JOHNSON: My responsibility as a mayor was to not allow us to sweep this dirty little secret under the rug, let's deal with it head on.
BROKAW: Johnson is new to politics, but says his first career as an all-star player in the NBA prepared him well.
JOHNSON: I thought that all the trash-talking and the elbow-throwing only happened on the basketball court. Politics, there's more trash talk and more elbow-throwing.
BROKAW: His hoop dreams may have been Johnson's ticket out, but his greatest cause is education.
JOHNSON: I always knew I wanted to come back to my community so that kids would be able to experience the same thing. And basketball may not be their ticket out, but certainly education and college will be.
BROKAW: With the money he earned in the NBA, Johnson started a foundation, St. Hope, which now runs his old high school. So graduation rates were what?
JOHNSON: Twenty percent before we took over the schools, a charter school, and now 80 percent of our kids are graduating and going on to four-year college. If you lay out high expectations for parents and kids, they want it.
BROKAW: As mayor, he is boosting expectations in a larger arena.
JOHNSON CLIP #1: I don't want to waste a moment.
JOHNSON CLIP #2: We've made great strides, but the job is not done.
JOHNSON TALKING TO BROKAW: There's a lot of inequality still in our country, and that's partly why I decided to run for mayor is trying to level the playing field.
BROKAW: This is the mayor's office, could be a stepping stone.
JOHNSON: This stone right here is pretty heavy in and of itself, so I've got to figure this one out first, Tom.
BROKAW: Mile 3,073, the end of Highway 50, and the end of our journey.
HOLT: We should let you know "American Character Along Highway 50" airs January 18th on our sister network, USA.