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Peter Jennings dead at 67

Peter Jennings died of lung cancer this Sunday.

He is the first of the great anchors (in fact, he was from the last generation of the monolithic network anchors) of my generation. Borne of the style started by Walter Cronkite, whose origins stem from the beginning of television.

Walter Cronkite is not someone I remember. Cronkite was the first of those longterm, legendary network news anchors that was there with this country during some of the most incredible events of the past century.

I grew up in a post Cronkite era Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel. These were the anchors of network television that I have memories. Ted Koppel, in my mind the least of the three. I was once told I sounded like Ted Koppel, I took that as a compliment.

The greater of the three was always Tom Brokaw. Brokaw seemed taller, had a deeper voice, had more of the Cary Grant look. Brokaw’s books about the greatest generation were quite touching, especially considering my happy memories of my grandparents (one still living). Brokaw also had the bigger ratings. Brokaw recently retired and passed the torch to a lesser Brian Williams.

However, the book that I own is not the Greatest Generation, but it was Peter Jennings “The Century”.

I liked this book, it was a scrap book of writings and photos from the greatest century of our race’s history. It wasn’t just a glittering generality of a generation of Americans like Brokaw’s book. Jennings had a broader view and took history in a scope befitting an historian more than a journalist.

Jennings was a classic story. A high school drop out that got a job in radio, later got his big break in TV but lost to entrenched veterans, he proceeded to build his reputation and resume by going international. He did reports from the Middle East, South America, all around the globe.

He later became the anchor of ABC News World Tonight.

To me, Jennings was the most personable of the great anchors. Brokaw was always drenched in an holier than thou shroud. Koppel has grown on me, but I first found his show intolerable. Jennings was the man.

I have to admit one of the cracks in my conservative credentials here. I actually like the news coverage provided by the networks more than I like anything on cable.

With all due respect to FoxNews, I’d take an arrogant Tom Brokaw over Bill O’Reilly anyday.

And I know that Jennings, Brokaw, and Koppel are biased. I know that the networks are liberally biased. I didn’t care. I take everything with a grain of salt, and do so quite easily.

There is just something authoritative about network news. I can’t fully describe it. I don’t watch a lot of television, and in the last five years, when I’ve had a television around, it typically didn’t have cable. So maybe my viewpoint is skewed.

But I just get the feeling that cable news networks are a little shrill. Twenty-four hour coverage is overhyped, louder, obnoxious, anxiety inducing. Jennings had a calming effect. I remember that it was ABC News that was piped into the auditorium in the Moos Towers at the U of M in 2001 when the WTC fell. It was Jennings, in the fifth of his more than 60 hours of broadcasting that week, who described the horrors of 9-11.

There was always something about him though, that even when he was getting choked up, that better times were ahead, and bad times were behind us. The network anchors all had a stiff upper lip, and Jennings started smoking again after 9-11 to give him the calm he needed to maintain composure.

It was good to see that Jennings was human. It’s uplifting to know that even Peter Jennings was stressed. It was also good that he kept that internal anxiety inside himself for the most part. It shows the rest of us that we don’t need to wear our emotions on our sleeves, despite how strong those emotions are.

Jennings was the most human of the great anchors of my childhood and young adulthood. His loss is a reminder of how things have changed. Network news is changing in ways I don’t appreciate, and the holders of those anchor positions are a modern breed of journalist. The modern breed of journalist sees the world as a game, and ratings as the goal. Jennings was a journalist with an historical mind. He was someone that didn’t see world events as seperate from himself and his viewers. He knew world events effected his audience, and they effected him.

I remember Walter Cronkite reporting the death of JFK from a documentary. Cronkite was emotionally effected and obviously drained. However, Cronkite reported the news with a stiff upper lip that was once an expected trait of masculinity. I remember Jennings maintaining that same composure on 9-11-01.

Peter Jennings, goodbye and God Bless.

From his bio on ABCnews.com:

As one of America’s most distinguished journalists, Peter Jennings has reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world. He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and there in the ’90s when it came down. He covered the civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and ’80s. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and on the other side of the world when South Africans voted for the first time. He has worked in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain. He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland’s communist leaders were forced from power. And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise. He was one of the first reporters who went to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s to remind Americans that, unless they did something, the terror would return.

In broadcast journalism, Peter Jennings has a reputation for putting the most complex and difficult issues on the agenda when others have largely ignored them. From his early days in the Middle East and South Africa, to the contemporary challenges in Africa and the former Soviet Union, on education, health care and tobacco — these are issues with which Jennings’ stewardship at “World News Tonight” and his special series, “Peter Jennings Reporting,” have been associated.

He is the author, with Todd Brewster, of the acclaimed New York Times best seller, “The Century.” Structured as an epic tale about “ourselves,” it is a lavish book that features astonishing first-person accounts of the great events of the century. In 1999, he anchored the 12-hour ABC series, “The Century,” and ABC’s series for The History Channel, “America’s Time.” He and Brewster have recently published a new book, “In Search of America,” a companion book for the ABC News series.

On December 31, 1999, Jennings anchored ABC’s Peabody-award winning coverage of Millennium Eve, “ABC 2000.” 175 million Americans watched the telecast, making it the biggest live global television ever. “The day belonged to ABC News,” praised The Washington Post, “with Peter Jennings doing a nearly superhuman job of anchoring.” Jennings was the only anchor to appear live for 25 consecutive hours.

Jennings led the Network’s coverage of the September 11 attacks and America’s subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the Network’s longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised for providing a reassuring voice during the time of crisis. TV Guide called him “the center of gravity,” while the Washington Post wrote, “Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage.”

Jennings joined ABC News on August 3, 1964. He briefly served as the anchor of the “ABC Evening News” from 1965 to 1968. In 1972 he helped put ABC News on the map with his coverage of the Summer Olympics in Munich, as Arab terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage.

Prior to his current appointment, Jennings served as chief foreign correspondent for ABC News and he was the foreign desk anchor for “World News Tonight” from 1978 to 1983. He established the first American television news bureau in the Arab world when he served as ABC News’ bureau chief for Beirut, Lebanon, a position he held for seven years.

Jennings was named anchor and senior editor of “World News Tonight” in 1983. In the only five years that the Washington Journalism Review gave an award for the country’s best anchor, Jennings was named each time. In 1995 the Boston Globe noted “the passing of Edward R. Murrow’s mantle to Peter Jennings.” He has won the Harvard University’s Goldsmith Career Award for excellence in journalism and the coveted Radio and Television News Directors Paul White Award, chosen by the news directors of all three major networks. This year, “World News Tonight” was honored with the Edward R. Murrow award for best newscast.

His extensive domestic and overseas reporting experience has proven to be invaluable during “World News Tonight’s” coverage of major crises. He has reported from all 50 states and locations around the globe. During the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 War in Iraq, his knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs brought invaluable perspective to ABC News’ coverage. During the historic transfer of sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, Jennings was one of only two television journalists to witness the historic transfer of power and one of only three Western journalists to be in the room for Saddam Hussein’s first appearance before an Iraqi court. He has anchored the ABC News coverage of every major national election since 1984.

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6 Responses

  1. I know Dan Rather is a lying sack of slander – but any discussion of the big three in the modern era would be Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather. I’m not even sure Koppel would be #4 – he is at least a distant fourth in the echelons that include Brian Williams, Connie Chung, Katie Couric and Brian Gumbel.

    Is there some blogger code that Rather is never to be spoken of again, or was this just an oversight?

  2. I agree. Dan Rather was a major anchor and he took over Cronkite’s position.

    Very moving tribute to Jennings. I agree with you about cable news. I listen to CNN for international stories when those are big, but otherwise don’t listen any more.

    I’m not interested in hearing about Michael Jackson trials or that sort of thing.

    Don’t feel you have to be in lockstep with all other conservatives, Marty. Always think for yourself. Noone else can do your thinking for you.

  3. Rest in peace, Peter Jennings.

    But is network news worthy of the authority it claims? That’s the whole point of the blogosphere. Walter Cronkite may have been able to say “And that’s the way it is,” but no network anchor should ever say that again.

    Some people consider the calming manner of Jennings to be the spoonful of sugar that makes people forget about the bias.

  4. Dan Rather…

    He’s another giant, but he was a slain giant. Mentioning him in the same piece as Jennings, Brokaw and Cronkite would be like talking about Cain with the likes of Samuel, Magdelin, and Peter; if the Bible is not your thing than try Benedict Arnold with the likes of Washington, Horatio Gates and John Sullivan.

    Rather was a good anchor and journalist and had many of the fine properties I talked about, but he fell. I can’t even think about Rather as an equal. That, and Rather doesn’t have a book in our household. I have Jennings book, and Captain Bogs has Brokaw’s book.

    Koppel might be 4th in that list, but I have plenty of high school memories of watching Koppel’s show, more so than anything Rather did. But Koppel is a league ahead of the rest of the pack, Couric behind him, Chung, Gumbel and Williams are in a different race.

    Doug:

    It’s no secret that I’m an independant media type of guy. I’m passionate about the blogosphere, and I’m a huge advocate of talk radio. I also know networks have their bias.

    I think that network news and the MSM as a whole can be saved. It can be saved by admitting the impossibility of objectivity and admitting their bias. CNN was playing some interviews between Jennings and Larry King, and Jennings talked about how objectivity wasn’t always possible. He also said that was okay.

    I don’t think any of the other network anchors have said as much. The religion of objectivity it still quite strong, and Jennings always seemed honest about journalism.

    I also think that most people are “propaganda resistent” which is why independant media works.

  5. As I was reading your post on Jennings, playing in the background was a science fiction story that Martin’s brother Matt is watching, and a telling bit of dialogue came over: “What I need is the real truth.” I stopped watching network news when I felt that I was not ever going to get the real truth from them. As good as Jennings was, I never felt that I was getting a balanced look at the news from ABC. I’n not sure it was a reaction from the fact that he was Canadian, and had a north of the border feel to his reporting, or that I felt that WORLD News Tonight slighted my native country I was always slightly disquieted. Unquestional talent, though.

    I have never mistaken Fox news with actual news; most of it is informational entertainment. That being said, I think Shep Shepard has the best voice in the news business today, and his programs are a good look at current events. Most of the rest of that networks programs are beginning to wear on me. I can do without Greta from Grenada forever.

    Another good voice in the news is Bernard Shaw at (horror of horrors) CNN. I watched him during the Air Florida crash in Washington DC coverage, and he was outstanding. Later, as his news programs became more and more unbalanced, I have stopped watching both him and his network.

    Rather? Ugh.

    Cronkite had gone from an anchor who read the news to a person who felt that the news revolved about his coverage. He was the story, and the news was just the incident that allowed him to lecture and instruct. “That’s the way it is” wasn’t necessarily so.

  6. ugh,

    yeah, that was exactly the same reaction I first had when Rather was brought up.

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