JENNINGS, PETER

U.S. Broadcast Journalist

Very few names in broadcast journalism are as recognizable as Peter Jennings. His father, Charles, was the most prominent radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Thus, it seems perhaps predictable that Peter Jennings would have his own successful career in the news industry.

Jennings was ten years old when he received his first anchor job for Peter's Program, a Saturday morning radio show which showcased young talent. As a student, he exhibited little interest in formal education. However, his interests and talent in the area of news would demonstrate his capacity and willingness to learn. He began his professional career as a disc jockey and news reporter for a small radio station in Brockville, Ontario, and like many reporters who achieve major success his opportunity to make a name for himself came with breaking news. In this case it was the story of a train wreck he covered for the CBC that brought attention. But the story got him a job with CTV, Canada's first private TV network, rather than with the public broadcaster. On CTV he was noticed by ABC News' Elmer Lower, who recognized Jennings' good looks and charm as elements that would sell to the American public. Shortly after, in 1964, Jennings joined ABC as an anchor for a 15-minute evening news segment.

A year later, in an unprecedented rise to the top, Jennings, at 27, became the youngest ABC Evening News anchor. His competition at the time--Walter Cronkite on CBS, the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC--stood as the most credible anchors of their time. In this competitive environment, Jennings' was unable to break through and establish a strong share for ABC News. In 1968, he left the anchor desk and was sent to Rome to become a foreign correspondent and sharpen his reporting skills. Jennings was credited with establishing the first American television news bureau in the Middle East and served for seven years as ABC News Bureau Chief in Beirut, Lebanon. After building a stong reputation for world-class reporting, Jennings was put back in an anchor position for A.M. America, the predecessor for Good Morning America, where he delivered five-minute newscasts from Washington.

The experience and contacts in the Middle East paid off for Jennings. He established a reputation as Anwar Sadat's favorite correspondent after completing a documentary on the Egyptian president and in 1977, when Egypt and Israel were about to make peace, Jennings was called to the scene. In 1978 he was the first U.S. reporter to interview the Ayatollah Khomeini, then in exile in Paris. When the Ayatollah came to power in Iran, Jennings was the first reporter to be granted an interview and accompanied the Ayatollah on the plane back to Iran.

Shortly after, on 10 July 1978, the first ABC World News Tonight aired. There Jennings was to become a star. His breadth of experience in national and international reporting served him well while he was a reporter for World News Tonight, and in 1983 he was named lead anchor.

During the late 1980s, Jennings anchored several highly acclaimed programs including a live series called Capital to Capital, which broadcast communications between Soviet officials and members of the American Congress. News specials on political volatility in China, Iran, and the former Soviet Union also won praise. His contributions include a live, via-satellite, town hall meeting between American citizens and Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. This show, with its question and answer format, gave Americans unprecedented exposure to the Soviet leaders.

Although Jennings' political reports have won him the most praise at World News Tonight, they do not stand alone. Jennings also anchors Peter Jennnings Reporting. These one-hour, prime-time specials address important issues facing the nation and the world. He has explored issues ranging from abortion, gun-control, and rape to funding for the arts and Ross Perot's presidential campaign. Jennings' most recent accomplishments include a series of news reports for children. In 1994 he served as moderator of a special question and answer broadcast from the White House in which American children questioned President Clinton about issues important to their lives.

For his work, Jennings won several Emmy and Overseas Press Club Awards, and the prestigious Alfred I duPont Columbia University Award for journalism. In 1989, a Times Mirror poll found Jennings to be the most believable source of news. Jennings was also named "best anchor" by the Washington Journalism Review in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992.

Peter Jennings died of lung cancer on August 7, 2005.

-Clayland Waite

 


Peter Jennings
Photo courtesy of ABC

PETER (CHARLES) JENNINGS. Born in Toronto, Ontrario, Canada, 29 July 1938. Attended Trinity College School and Carleton University, Ontario, and Rider College in New Jersey. Married: 1) Valerie Godsoe (divorced), 2) Annie Malouf (divorced), 3) Kati Marton, 1979 (divorced, 1994); children: Elizabeth and Christopher. Began career in Canadian radio and television as news correspondent; parliamentary correspondent and network co-anchor, independent Canadian Television Channel (CTV); New York correspondent, ABC television, 1964; nightly news anchor, 1965-68; overseas assignment, 1968-74; Washington correspondent, news anchor, AM America, 1975-76; chief foreign correspondent, 1977; foreign desk anchor, World News Tonight, 1978; anchor, senior editor, ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings, since 1983. Named Best Anchor in US Washington Journalism Review, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992. Member, International Radio and Television Society. Recipient: duPont Columbia Award; several Emmy Awards; several Overseas Press Club Awards. Died in New York City on August 7, 2005 at the age of 67.

TELEVISION SERIES

1964            World News Tonight (co-anchor)
1965-68       World News Tonight (anchor)
1975-76       AM America (news anchor)
1978-2005   ABC World News Tonight With Peter               Jennings (anchor)

TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)

1985  45/85
1988  Drugs: A Plague Upon the Land
1988  Why This Plague?
1989  AIDS Quarterly
1992  Men, Sex and Rape
1993  President Clinton: Answering Children's          Questions
1994  ABC Viewpoint: Whitewater: Underplayed?          Overplayed?

PUBLICATIONS

Atkins, Norman. "The A-B-Cs of Peter Jennings." (interview), Rolling Stone (New York), 4 May 1989.

"Moose Jaw, U.S.A.? Never! Jamais!." Maclean's (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 25 June 1990.

"ABC News' Peter Jennings." (cover story, interview), Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.), 27 September 1993.

FURTHER READING

Attanasio, Paul. "Anchors Away: Good Evening, Dan, Tom and Peter. Now Buzz Off." New Republic (Washington, D.C.), 23 April 1984.

Corliss, Richard. "Broadcast Blues." Film Comment (New York), March-April 1988.

Fensch, Thomas, editor. Television News Anchors: An Anthology of Profiles of the Major Figures and Issues in United States Network Reporting. Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland, 1993.

Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg. Anchors: Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, and the Evening News. Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol, 1990.

Goldenson, Leonard. Beating the Odds. New York: Scribners, 1991

Kaye, Elizabeth. "Peter Jennings Gets No Self-Respect." Esquire (New York), September 1989.

Murphy, Ryan P. "Voted Most Trusted of the Anchormen." Saturday Evening Post (Indianapolis, Indiana), November 1988.

Moore, Mike. "Divided Loyalties: Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace in No-man's-land." Quill (Chicago, Illinois), Februrary 1989.

 

See also Anchor; News, Network