Jennings, Peter (Charles Archibald Ewart) 1938-
JENNINGS, Peter (Charles Archibald Ewart) 1938-
PERSONAL: Born July 29, 1938, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; immigrated to United States, 1964; son of Charles (a broadcast journalist and television programming executive) and Elizabeth Ewart (Osborne) Jennings; married Valerie Godsoe (a journalist; divorced, 1972); married Annie Malouf (a photographer; divorced); married Kati Ilona Marton (a writer and former journalist), 1979 (divorced, 1993); children: (third marriage) Elizabeth, Christopher. Education: Attended Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ontario, Canada; Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Rider College, Lawrenceville, NJ. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, sailing, reading thrillers and adventure novels.
ADDRESSES: Office—c/o ABC Media Relations, 47 West 66th St., New York, NY 10023-6201.
CAREER: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Montreal, Quebec, Canada, host of Peter's People (radio program of news and music for children), c. 1948; Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, teller, c. 1954-56; host of Club Thirteen (television dance party), c. 1957; CFJR-Radio, Brockville, Ontario, Canada, reporter and interviewer, 1959-61; CBC, interviewer for several radio and television programs, including Close-Up, and host of Let's Face It (public affairs program) and Time Out (afternoon talk show), 1960s; CJOH-TV, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, special events commentator and host and coproducer of Vue (late-night interview program), 1960s; Canadian Television Network (CTV), Ottawa, reporter for and co-anchor of CTV National News, 1962-64; American Broadcasting Companies Inc. (ABC-TV), New York, NY, 1964—, news correspondent, 1964, anchor of Peter Jennings with the News, 1965-67, roving news correspondent, 1968-73, head of Middle East bureau, 1969-74, Washington, DC, correspondent and news reader for A.M. America, 1975, chief foreign correspondent, 1975-78, foreign-desk anchor of World News Tonight, 1978-83, anchor and senior editor of ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, 1983—; anchor of ABC's Peter Jennings Reporting, 1990—. Involved in the production of numerous documentaries and series for ABC-TV, including Sadat: Action Biography, 1974; Personal Note: Beirut, 1982; We the People, 1987; Ethics in America, 1989; The AIDS Quarterly; Southern Accents: Northern Ghettos; The Century, 1999; and In Search of America, 2002. Lecturer.
MEMBER: International Radio & Television Society Foundation Inc., American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, Overseas Press Club of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Headliner Award, c. 1972, for behind-the-lines coverage of civil war in Bangladesh; George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, 1974, for Sadat: Action Biography; recipient of at least nine Emmy awards from Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, including 1982, for outstanding coverage of a single breaking news story for Personal Note: Beirut, and for ten-part series on ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings titled "U.S.-U.S.S.R.—A Balance of Powers"; Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in Broadcast Journalism, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, c. 1982, for "U.S.-U.S.S.R.—A Balance of Powers"; Bob Considine Award, St. Bonaventure University, 1984, for excellence in news reporting; named best anchor by the Washington Journalism Review, 1988, 1989, and 1990; Overseas Press Club of America awards for coverage of the Falkland Islands War, for coverage of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and for coverage of life in the Soviet Union; Goldsmith Career Award, Harvard University; Radio and Television News Directors Paul White Award; LL.D. from Rider College; honorary degrees from Loyola University, University of Rhode Island, and Carleton University.
(Editor) Face to Face with the Turin Shroud, Mayhew-Macrimmon (Great Wakering, England), 1978.
(With Eamonn McCabe) The Pope in Britain: Pope John Paul II British Visit, 1982, Bodley Head (London, England), 1982.
(With Todd Brewster) The Century, Double Day (New York, NY), 1998 adapted by Jennifer Amrstrong as The Century for Young People, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Brewster) In Search of America, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of introduction to The '84 Vote; cointerviewer, Children of the Troubles: Growing Up in Northern Ireland, 1986. Contributor to periodicals, including Christian Science Monitor and Maclean's.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Jennings, the Canadian-born anchor of the American Broadcasting Company's (ABC) World News Tonight, is one of America's most visible, and sometimes controversial, television journalists.
He is actually in his second tenure as an ABC anchor. In 1965, a handsome but inexperienced Jennings anchored the ABC evening newscast, Peter Jennings with the News, amid uproar among media counterparts who questioned his credentials. He left the anchor desk three years later, continuing to work for ABC as a foreign correspondent. Over the next twenty-five years, Jennings proved himself as an exemplary reporter, receiving prestigious journalistic awards—George Foster Peabody, National Headliner, Emmys—and earning a reputation as an expert on the Middle East. More importantly, he won the respect of his colleagues, stilled his critics, and resumed the role of ABC evening news anchor.
Jennings was born in Toronto, the son of Charles Jennings, a pioneering journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Jennings was introduced to broadcasting at age nine, when his father picked him to host a weekly half-hour radio program of music and news for children, Peter's People. After dropping out of high school in the tenth grade—"bored," Jennings freely admitted—he spent three years as a teller in a Toronto bank before returning to the media.
Jennings then worked three years as a radio interviewer at CFIR, in Brockville, Ontario, a small city in the Thousand Islands region. In the early 1960s he joined CBC as host of Let's Face It, a public-affairs program, and Time Out, an afternoon talk show. After just a few months, he signed on with CJOH-TV in Ottawa. There, he served as special events commentator, and host and co-producer of the late-night interview program, Vue. The CBC then lured him back by offering him the chance to host several radio and television shows, including the prestigious documentary series, Close-Up.
In 1962, the CTV Television Network Limited debuted the CTV National News, Canada's first nationwide newscast. For the National News Jennings covered the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meetings in France and Ontario; he was the first Canadian journalist to arrive at U.S. President John F. Kennedy's assassination scene in Dallas, Texas, in November, 1963; and he reported on the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. While broadcasting at the convention, Jennings caught the eye of Elmer Lower, then ABC News president. Lower offered Jennings a job with his young, fledgling news organization, which the Canadian refused, terrified at the prospect of covering the news in the United States. "America was enormous," he told Norman Atkins many years later in a Rolling Stone interview. "I'd only been here once before, to go to a Broadway show. I'd never seen buildings so tall." Three months later, realizing he missed the opportunity of a lifetime, Jennings wrote the ABC News president back, asking if he would reconsider.
In September, 1964, Jennings was assigned to ABC headquarters in New York. One of Jennings's first reporting assignments was on the burgeoning civil rights movement in the American South. He followed civil rights activists from one small town to another, often finding himself in harrowing situations—members of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan chased Jennings and his camera crew out of Natchez, Mississippi. After Jennings had been with ABC for only a few months, network executives, desperate to attract viewers faithful to Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) news icon Walter Cronkite and the well-liked National Broadcasting Company (NBC) team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, offered Jennings anchor position of the nightly newscast.
Ryan Murphy wrote in the Saturday Evening Post that upon receiving the promotion, Jennings cried "tears of sorrow and extreme bitterness." It was the last thing he wanted to do, fearing a lack of freedom to travel and cover world events. Jennings finally heeded the advice of veteran newsman Howard Smith, who told him: "It's like being nominated for president. You can't turn it down." Furthermore, the network assured him he would still be a working newsman. When Jennings took the anchor desk on February 1, 1965, at age twenty-six, he became the youngest person ever to anchor a national network newscast in the United States.
"It was a little ridiculous when you think about it," Barbara Matusow quoted Jennings in The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor. "A twenty-six-year-old trying to compete with Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley. I was simply unqualified." Derided as a "glamorcaster" by television critics and "anchorboy" by his more seasoned colleagues, Jennings antagonized those in the media who complained that his looks got him hired. Furthermore, many resented his aristocratic air and Canadian dialect—he said "leftenant" for lieutenant and "shedule" for schedule. Viewers, at first favorable, resented his Anglicized diction and his ignorance of American history and culture. On the air he had mispronounced the site of the famed Civil War battleground, Appomattox, and misidentified the U.S. Marine Corps's official anthem, "The Marine Hymn," as "Anchors Aweigh." Animosity forced some affiliate stations not to air his newscasts or bury them in traditionally low-viewing time slots.
Nonetheless, Jennings anchored The ABC Evening News for three years, and earned modest ratings gains for the organization. He excelled at on-location reporting from world trouble spots such as Santo Domingo and Vietnam, and was commended for Southern Accents: Northern Ghettos, his television documentary exposing the plight of poor Southern blacks living in squalor in Northern urban areas. Late in 1967 when ABC was to expand its newscast from fifteen to thirty minutes, Jennings requested reassignment. His superiors agreed, and he returned to the field.
Jennings resumed his duties as a roving reporter again in January, 1968. He spent much of the following decade abroad, reporting from such places as Cuba (because it was closed to Americans—Jennings entered as a Canadian) and Bangladesh, winning a National Headliner Award for his coverage of that nation's civil war. In 1969 he helped establish and was named head of the ABC News Middle East bureau in Beirut, Lebanon, the first television news desk in the Arab world. Jennings had developed a great interest in the Middle East two years earlier, when he was a correspondent following the Arab-Israeli territorial conflicts in the Six-Day War. Soon Jennings's expertise in Middle Eastern affairs was unmatched among broadcast journalists; he was noted for filing insightful, comprehensive, and accurate reports with a fresh perspective. "I felt very strongly—and I still do—that there is much more than the Israeli side to the Middle East story," Jennings told Atkins. "There are nineteen countries in the Arab world, and I worked in them all." Jennings conducted the first televised interview with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat. His 1974 profile of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Sadat: Action Biography, won a George Foster Peabody Award, one of journalism's highest accolades.
Jennings was providing routine coverage for the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in 1972, when members of the Arab terrorist group Black September seized the Israeli compound and took athletes hostage. Well-versed in the history and goals of the terrorists, Jennings filed a series of exceptional commentaries. "He also displayed considerable moxie as a reporter," Matusow recalled, "hiding himself and a camera crew inside the grounds, close enough to the scene to obtain clear pictures of the guerrillas in their floppy hats and stockinged faces, darting in and out of the balcony of the Israeli building. It was among the most gripping episodes ever shown on live television." Jennings's reports helped ABC win an Emmy Award that year for outstanding achievement in special events coverage.
In early 1975 Jennings returned to the United States as Washington correspondent and news reader for A.M. America, ABC's answer to NBC's popular morning news and feature program, Today. After ten months with A.M. America—it was canceled in October—Jennings was reassigned overseas as chief foreign correspondent. In July, 1978, in an innovative move to make ABC's news division more competitive with CBS and NBC, ABC executives created a three-part anchor system for the retitled evening broadcast, World News Tonight. Frank Reynolds would be based in Washington, D.C., Max Robinson would report from Chicago, and the now-seasoned Jennings, still chief foreign correspondent, would anchor from London.
Jennings enhanced ABC News's global coverage with his exposure to the European perspective, and, being based in London, could scoop rival networks on world stories. His curiosity in Middle Eastern affairs led him to interview the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he was only an obscure Iranian cleric living in exile in France. In 1979, when the Ayatollah and his followers overthrew the Shah of Iran, and later when his followers seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took fifty-two hostages, Jennings provided extensive background information and in-depth commentary. In 1981, when Sadat was assassinated, Jennings noted the subdued response by the Egyptian people, who usually mourn more demonstrably. He realized that although Sadat was a hero to the West, the Egyptian president had fallen out of favor with his countrymen after signing a peace treaty with Israel. In addition, Jennings's notable coverage of the Iran hostage crisis, his Emmy Award-winning documentary, Personal Note: Beirut, and his penetrating insight into tumultuous world events made him the new model of the foreign correspondent.
In 1979 Jennings married Kati Marton, a reporter from ABC's Philadelphia affiliate, sent to London to replace a foreign correspondent. The two became engaged on their second date. They had two children within the next three years before divorcing in 1993.
In summer, 1983, after Reynolds died of cancer, ABC adopted the single-anchor format, to which CBS and NBC had returned. Jennings, not surprisingly, was asked to be sole anchor of the newly titled ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. He still chafed at being tied to the anchor desk, but he accepted the job, in part to give his family greater stability and the "continuity of a home," as Good Housekeeping quoted him.
"He seems finally to have overcome first impressions," Joshua Hammer wrote in People magazine, recalling Jennings's abysmal treatment in the 1960s. Still, in the 1980s, some predicted Jennings's sophisticated manner would not appeal to American audiences. "Jennings has a great big liability," Matusow said. "He doesn't look, sound or act like Middle America, and the news is aimed at Middle America." But Harry F. Waters and Trey Ellis, in Newsweek, wrote that "viewers weary of studied folksiness in their newscasters might embrace Jennings's cerebral, no-nonsense demeanor as a refreshing alternative." Jennings, who reassured critics that his verbal gaffes were in the past, was convinced his decade overseas would give him an edge over his fellow anchors. "For much of the major news of the last five years," he said in Newsweek, "I was there."
When Jennings became solo anchor on September 5, 1983, it signaled an intensified battle among the three networks for the early-evening audience and the millions of dollars in advertising revenues the viewers represent. ABC, in last place in the ratings for decades, had been slowly gaining on the second place NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. CBS Evening News with Dan Rather had been well in the lead for a year. By summer, 1986, however, the competition among the three newscasts was so intense a television critic likened the ratings race to a presidential campaign. During the second week in July, all three newscasts were tied; the next week, Jennings took the lead. Three years later Jennings was consistently on top in the ratings. He is reportedly the most popular anchor among big-city audiences and the preferred choice among viewers with university degrees. "Peter is urban, projecting an image with which a more youthful market can identify," Edwin Diamond wrote in Rolling Stone.
Jennings can improvise in intelligent, complete sentences when broadcasting live. When TWA Flight 847 was hijacked near Athens, Greece, in June, 1985, Jennings was on the air throughout the day for seventeen straight days. After the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, ABC received 10,000 letters commending Jennings for his stabilizing presence. In September, 1988, when he moderated the first debate between presidential hopefuls George Bush and Michael Dukakis, some television critics declared Jennings the winner. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001, Jennings contributed a marathon anchoring job as ABC and the other news services scrambled to provide updates.
Because his statements can steer the political thought of tens of millions of people, Jennings claims neutrality in his news coverage. He learned as a reporter in the Middle East that most issues have many angles, and, he noted in Rolling Stone, he inherited a sense of fairness from his father. Some political writers, however, maintain that his Middle East stories displayed a pro-Palestinian slant.
Andrea Levin, in the Jerusalem Post, pointed out Jennings's broadcast on the lynching of two Israeli reservists who had inadvertently entered Arab-occupied Ramallah in October, 2000. The anchor, she wrote, "introduced his report with characteristic reticence to blame the Palestinians directly. He meandered around the point, saying, 'It has been another terrible day of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.'" The rest of the segment, reported by Gillian Findlay, "focused on Israeli retaliation [for the lynching] and Arab anger," Levin continued. While Findlay described the damage done to Palestinian police stations and broadcast transmitters, the report "failed to mention that the Israelis gave a three-hour warning of the attacks to enable evacuation and that, as a result, there were no Arab fatalities." Former New York mayor Ed Koch, in a 2002 radio address reprinted on the Web site ZCPortal, said Jennings has "specialized in vicious and unfair portrayals of Israel intended to injure the Jewish state and lionize Palestinians."
But others see more objectivity in Jennings. The Washington Journalism Review named him anchor of the year three consecutive years. In 1995, the Boston Globe declared that Jennings had inherited the mantle of perhaps the greatest news broadcaster of all time, Edward R. Murrow. Nor is his influence lost on television audiences—Jennings finished second only to the retired Walter Cronkite in a 1986 Gallup Poll survey of what is most important in an anchor—believability in the media.
Jennings and co-author Todd Brewster have written broadcast-related books. The Century also appeared as a millennium-themed series on ABC and cable television's History Channel, narrated by Jennings. USA Today contributor Robert Rothenberg called the show a "sweeping panorama of the 20th century" that focuses on defining moments.
The Century became a bestseller that appealed to all ages. "I was in a bookstore one day and I saw an older man buying [the book] for his grandchild, and some younger people buying it for their parents," Jennings told Shannon Maugham of Publishers Weekly. "That led to some wonderful conversations about how kids were enjoying the book." Jennifer Armstrong adapted the work as The Century for Young People. The adaptation was smooth, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer who said the volume "combines the authors' affecting storytelling style with an exceedingly appealing design."
Another Jennings-Brewster collaboration, In Search of America, was published, and broadcast in six parts, in autumn, 2002, nearly a year after the terrorist attacks. Though some work on the book was completed before September 11, after the attacks "I was gone," as Jennings told Ron Hogan in a Publishers Weekly interview. "I didn't get up out of that [anchor's] chair for weeks on end. We decided we needed to go back and see how 9/11 had changed the lives of the people in our stories." "In many ways, September 11 presented people with the realization the 'American experiment,' as the founders themselves called it, is a fragile thing and that it is important for Americans, as a people, to understand their country and its ideals in order to preserve them," Brewster commented in an ABCNews. com interview. "So that's the premise we began with."
Each of the volume's six chapters explores what the authors call an "arena" of American life: race, government, business, immigration, religion, and culture. Jennings and Brewster use case histories, such as a South Carolina school board's interpretation of the separation between church and state "as the community campaigns to build a more 'moral' society," as Booklist's George Cohen remarked. Though the book had some favorable reviews and a tie-in to the television presentation, In Search of America was lost amid a spate of September 11 anniversary books.
For all his special moments and accomplishments, Jennings recalled one encounter on his fiftieth birthday with particular fondness. During a toast, he told Murphy in the Saturday Evening Post interview, "A colleague . . . said of me, 'He has got this far and there are no bodies.' That's it for me. I just dissolved. What else would you want anybody to say of you?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg, Anchors: Brokaw, Jennings, Rather and the Evening News, Carol (Secaucus, NJ), 1990.
Matusow, Barbara, The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.
Newsmakers 1997, Issue 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Booklist, November 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Century for Young People, p. 611; November 22, 1999, Shannon Maugham, "'The Century' Adapted for Kids," p. 23; August, 2002, George Cohen, review of In Search of America, p. 1883.
Christian Science Monitor, September 18, 1985.
Detroit Free Press, April 26, 1990.
Economist, December 4, 1999, review of The Century: America's Time, p. S5.
Esquire, September, 1989.
Good Housekeeping, April, 1991, p. 46.
Jerusalem Post, November 1, 2000, Andrea Levin, "Eye on the Media."
Jewish World Review, January 6, 2000, Evan Gahr, "Looking Backwards: An Anchorman's Version of the 20th Century."
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 9, 2002, Paul D. Colford, "Jennings Book Seems to Be First Stumble of Fall Publishing Season," p. K7418.
Maclean's, July 21, 1986.
Newsweek, September 12, 1983.
New York, November 30, 1987.
New York Review of Books, July 15, 1999, Garry Wills, review of The Century, p. 24.
New York Times, August 10, 1983; September 9, 1985; September 3, 2002, Neil Genzlinger, "Founding Fathers, How Are You Faring?," p. B5.
New York Times Magazine, July 27, 1986.
Parade, October 15, 1989.
People, August 15, 1983; February 13, 1984; August 30, 1993, p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1999, review of The Century for Young People, p. 69; December 13, 1999, Daisy Maryles, "Sequels Rule," p. 19; August 5, 2002, review of In Search of America, p. 64, Ron Hogan, "PW Talks with Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster," p. 65.
Rolling Stone, October 9, 1986; May 4, 1989, p. 60.
Saturday Evening Post, November, 1988, p. 42.
TV Guide, November 22, 1997, p. 67.
USA Today (magazine), July, 1999, Robert Rothenberg, review of The Century, p. 81.
CNSNews.com,http://www.cnsnews.com/, (May 1, 2003), "Pro-Marxist Slant Pushed at ABC, Retired Correspondent Claims".
ZCPortal,http://www.zcportal.com/, (December 20, 2002), "Ed Koch Commentary: Support of Israel."*