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Who Was Peter Jennings?

Peter Jennings died after a battle with lung cancer.
Peter Jennings was stationed in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent with ABC.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 April 2014
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Peter Jennings was one of the most recognizable newscasters from the 1980s until his death in 2005. He anchored ABC Nightly News during this time. He was known for a slightly liberal bent, a clipped “educated” sounding voice, and his ability to devote a great deal of time on the air when circumstances in the world required extensive news coverage. Peter Jennings spent over 60 hours on the air in the week following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and on the actual day, he worked for 16 straight hours.

Peter Jennings was a Canadian, only receiving his dual citizenship in 2003. He was born in 1939 in Ontario. His father, Charles Jennings, was the anchor for the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC). His experience watching his father made Peter Jennings one of the best self-taught anchors in the news business. He did not finish high school, and never graduated college, though he was admitted to Carleton University of Ottawa.

When Peter Jennings was nine, he hosted his own 30 minute kids show, Peter’s People on the CBC. He also enjoyed acting and appeared in several amateur productions of musicals through his teen years and into his 20s. He hosted a Canadian version of American Bandstand for a short time, as well.

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CTV, a rival of CBC, hired Peter Jennings for his first “real” news job. He quickly gained notice of American news stations during his 1964 coverage of the civil rights movement in the US. ABC offered Peter Jennings a position as correspondent, which he accepted with alacrity.

At the age of 26, Peter Jennings made television history as the youngest anchor of an American network, hosting the program Peter Jennings with The News. He was not popular at first, and his stint as anchor lasted only 3 years. Peter Jennings was criticized for his Canadian accent, which differed from the traditional news intonation that other key anchors mastered so easily. His youth was also considered a defect rather than an asset.

Though fired as an anchor, Peter Jennings still wanted work with ABC and continued to work as a foreign correspondent during a number of key events in world history. Peter Jennings was stationed in the Middle East. He is identified as a key reporter of the assassination of Israeli Olympians by Palestinians in 1972 in Munich. His time in the Middle East led him to hold the unpopular opinion in the US, that Americans should support a Palestinian State.

With public opinion now largely respectful of Peter Jennings, ABC offered him a co-anchor position in 1978. In 1983, he would become sole anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight, which he would continue until shortly before his death in 2005. Members of conservative groups still often accused him of liberal bias, and President George W. Bush refused an interview with Jennings after his election in 2000.

Peter Jennings anchored his last news broadcast in April of 2005, where he revealed to his audience that he was suffering from lung cancer. He remained optimistic about his chances of beating the disease, but unfortunately succumbed to the illness in August of 2005. Peter Jennings had fought a lifelong battle with addiction to cigarettes, which he was never fully able to quit. His demise was much lamented by his fans, and by his fellow reporters.

During his lifetime, Peter Jennings amassed numerous journalism rewards. He received 14 Emmys and 2 Peabody Awards. He was also granted the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award in 2001. Shortly after his death, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City designated part of 66th street as Peter Jennings Way, in recognition of Jennings’ sterling contributions to journalism.

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