Peter Jennings, one last time

jenningsgoodbye.jpgYes, this story has already received a lot of coverage; Anderson, don’t be mad. But this week, ABC re-launched “World News Tonight” without Peter Jennings, and the newsweeklies weighed in (even People had him on the cover!), and, well, it has seemed right to mention it one more time. What’s amazing is the fact that Peter Jennings has given a jolt of new life to another ongoing story: lung cancer, and trying to beat it. Newsweek has Jennings on the cover asking who is at risk, and within its pages Jonathan Alter notes that “for all his achievements, Jennings’ death may prove as influential as his life.” His column, or “Appreciation” as it is designated, is beautifully done, and celebrates Jennings as a champion of international reporting even when the ratings showed that viewers wanted something less distant”, and commends his “search for truth in a world that doesn’t always want to hear it.”

In New York Magazine, Dan Rather remembers his friend’s generosity and sympathy about his own “dumb-ass mistakes” (which shall go unmentioned), and calls him “both prescient and wise” for his far-reaching reporting:

[H]is wsas a necessary voice of conscience amid an industrywide impulse to cut back on international news. Now it is up to all of us in the journalistic craft to preseve one of the most important parts of his legacy: a commitment to open American eyes to the world, to keep them open, and to share what we have seen.

This, incidentally, is how Jennings’ close friend Pamela Wallin, Canadian Consul-General in New York and high-profile Canadian broadcast journalist, remembers him, too: “Peter was a true journalist – curious, passionate and a believer that information truly is the lifeblood of a democracy….We will all have to work a little harder now that he is gone.” (More personal memories from Wallin after the jump).

Over at TVNewser, who probably has the broadest and deepest coverage of any news source outside ABC, I kid you not, Brian Stetler did just that, working overtime to bring together every facet of coverage in a trubute to Jennings, all tied together in his final post, “Remembering Peter: Saying Goodbye” which links his over 50 posts (some of them from us and Garrett Graff at FishbowlDC, who has his own memories of being inspired by Jennings). It’s kind of amazing to see how strongly the next generation of journalists feel about Jennings. I’d like to think it bodes well for the future.

That is, I think, what’s been nicest about the coverage: the sense of celebrating a life, but also a legacy. As Alter writes:

After all the old video deteriorates, Peter Jennings will be remembered for two things: standing up for international reporting and driving home the risks of smoking. Each, in its own way, has the power to save people’s lives. He did, and he will.

Respected, Admired, Remembered: Peter Jennings, 1938 – 2005.


Peter was a true journalist – curious, passionate and a believer that
information truly is the lifeblood of a democracy. He was insatiable in his search for more –more information, more facts, more truths about our world so that more people could make more well-informed choices. He also understood the burden of choice. What information we choose to hightlight and expose as journalists, and what facts we choose to hear and incorporate into our decision-making is a tough responsibility for both reporter and audience. He was so confident, so well-read – yet, he was also a compelling bundle of contradiction. This incredible journalist – a man to whom so many turned in times of crisis for his calm and reassuring demeanour – always doubted whether people were truly interested in what he had to say. We once did a fundraising event for cancer research together in Canada and I, as a former journalist and the emcee, was to interview him after he delivered a speech! We knew each other well and so we called several times before that evening to discuss logistics. But he also wondered whether anyone would truly be interested in his experiences and what he had to say. It was not a false modesty — he was a man who despite his incredible ability,achievement and success, still saw himself as a “just a reporter”, who simply shared his very privileged vantage point on the world with those who wanted to hear. We will all have to work a little harder now that he is gone. Like Peter, we will have to do our homework if we are going to make this democracy real.