An era in broadcast journalism in the United States ended late Sunday with the death of ABC network television news anchor Peter Jennings. Mr. Jennings was the last of a mighty triumverate of network anchors who dominated television news in the United States for more than two decades.
Mr. Jennings' voice was stilled just four months after he announced he had been diagnosed with a virulent form of lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker for much of his life.
Mr. Jennings traveled the globe, first as a reporter, later as network news anchor, interviewing world leaders and newsmakers.
Known for his smooth delivery and urbane persona, Peter Jennings was a high school dropout from Canada, who only became an American citizen in 2003. "Lots of differences in the country. But there is a common denominator I think about being an American and of this society that breeds hopefulness," he once said.
Mr. Jennings' father was the first news anchor for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation when it started in the 1930's, and young Peter got his first job in radio at the age of 9. By the time he was in his early twenties, he was co-anchoring a Canadian news program.
He joined ABC in 1964, opened the network's Middle East Bureau in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1968 and later served as a correspondent in London and Rome. He rose to become sole anchor in 1983. Mr. Jennings reported on the major events of his lifetime. He was in Berlin to cover the building of the Berlin Wall and he was there again almost 30 years later when it fell. He was in the shipyards of Gdansk, Poland, to report the birth of the solidarity movement. He traveled to the killing fields of Cambodia. But he was at home in New York on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the city and he stayed on air for more than 60 hours as the story unfolded.
Former ABC correspondent Brit Hume, who worked with Mr. Jennings, says he set an extraordinary example. "He spent decades in some of the armpits of the world covering news," he said. "And he knew the world. In that sense, there was nobody like him. So he had this combination of this relentless curiosity that he had of anything and everything, which is a great gift for a journalist plus this extraordinary ability as a broadcaster. And the combination made ABC news number one for many, many years," he said.
Despite his superstar image, Mr. Jennings once said he took his job seriously because it mattered to a lot of people. "I think that is when I feel A: that I have a very big responsibility and I also think is when I feel really great about what I am doing," he said.
Mr. Jennings and his counterparts Dan Rather at CBS News and Tom Brokaw at NBS were the faces of U.S. television news for more than two decades. Mr. Brokaw retired in December and Mr. Rather stepped down amid a controversy in March. Mr. Brokaw says Peter Jennings' knowledge of the Middle East was particularly intimidating. But despite the competition, he says the three anchors were friends who shared confidences.
"I think that Dan, Peter and I were always, despite our appearances, slightly insecure in those jobs because we were worried that we could not measure up to them," he said. "Peter would confide in me about that and say 'Are we well educated enough? Do we know enough about the world? Are we doing the right thing?'"
Peter Jennings marked his 67th birthday July 29 at his home in New York City, where he died Sunday.