Born Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings in 1938 in Toronto, and “doing the news” since age 9, Peter Jennings is a famous Canadian that anyone who doesn’t, should know about. He’s a legend of broadcast journalism.
“He was the best of the breed. I don’t think there was anybody as good as Peter Jennings,” CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson once said of his former colleague, just after he died of lung cancer Sunday at the age of 67 back in August of 2005.
For more than 20 years, Jennings was the face of ABC News, anchoring World News Tonight. His elegant delivery and reassuring presence brought the world to Americans during turbulent times.
He is remembered as a journalist who covered a broad scope of stories from around the world, whether it was the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Genetics may have had something to do with Jennings’ passion for journalism. His father, Charles Jennings, was the first nightly anchor in Canadian television journalism and later headed the CBC.
Peter always kept a picture of his dad prominently displayed in his office at ABC News. Here he is with his wife at the time, Kati Morton.
His first major story as a foreign correspondent was in 1972, when he covered the hostage-taking of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists during the Summer Olympics in Munich. He was as close to the story as possible, hiding with his crew in the athletes’ quarters.
A decade after leaving as anchor for ABC News for the first time, Jennings was ABC’s chief foreign correspondent.
He was a greatly respected reporter who had covered stories from some of the most violent regions of the world.
In 1978, ABC turned its news show into World News Tonight, and made Jennings one of its three anchors.
The multiple-anchor format was scrapped in 1983 and Jennings took the desk by himself. He he is in 1984.
Though years before he had been criticized for being too young and too inexperienced, he now commanded a great sense authority. His years of reporting the world’s events enabled him to take complex stories and find their essence.
World News Tonight focused on international stories, while the other networks relied more on domestic reports. Americans responded favourably to the style, and after 1986, World News Tonight won top ratings for a decade.
Even as anchor, Jennings continued to report from around the world. Over the last 30 years, he traveled to eastern Europe where he covered the Cold War and the loosening control of communism.
As an ABC biography states, he worked “in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain.”
He never neglected America, either, and reported field stories in all 50 states.
His most popular newscast came during ABC’s millennium special, ABC 2000, on December 31, 1999. Jennings anchored the show for a staggering 25 consecutive hours. It drew 175 million viewers.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Jennings put his knowledge of foreign affairs and his ability to concentrate on the important elements of the story, to report on the events. He anchored for over 60 hours that week, and earned ABC News a Peabody Award.
It was when Jennings missed a chance to report from Asia after the tsunami crisis that it became obvious his health was failing. Eventually, he made the sad announcement that he had lung cancer.
“I will continue to do the broadcast,” Jennings re-assured millions of viewers. “On good days, my voice will not always be like this.”
His voice, a gateway to the world’s events for many, was never heard on ABC News again.
Highlights from Jennings’ television news career:
1962 – Co-anchor for CTV News.
1964 – Joins ABC News.
1965-1968 – Anchor of “ABC Evening News” while still in his 20s.
1968-1974 – Established first American television news bureau in the Arab world as ABC bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon.
1975-1976 – News anchor for “A.M. America,” predecessor to “Good Morning America.”
1977 – Chief Foreign Correspondent.
1978-1983 – Chief Foreign Correspondent for ABC News and foreign desk anchor for “World News Tonight.”
1983-2005 – Anchor and senior editor of ABC’s “World News Tonight.”