Remembering Peter: My Thoughts

meandpeter.jpgDeparting for a moment from all vestiges of objectivity and distance, I wanted to take a moment to reflect personally on the passing of Peter Jennings.

TVNewser and I learned late Saturday that the end was nigh, and it was rough working yesterday to prepare and gather tributes to him–knowing against our hopes and prayers that we’d likely need them much sooner than we wished.

With the exceptions of my father and grandfather, there’s no one who more inspired me to pursue journalism than Peter. Larger than life and much like a character in a novel from another era, he epitomized the glory and honor that I saw in this profession. Dashing from exciting development to insightful interview to crisis scenes, Jennings was one of the greatest journalists we’re likely ever to see.

More after the jump.

> My editor’s thoughts.

Network news loyalties are, like baseball, so deeply tied to childhood experiences. In my house it was always Peter Jennings. My earliest memories of news are of watching him anchor “World News Tonight” in his calm, sonorous, and remarkably empathetic manner. In every crisis and breaking news moment that I can remember from the Challenger and the Berlin Wall to 9/11 and the 2004 election, I always turned to Peter to walk me through it. I remember even trying to call in to his kids special during the first Gulf War (yes, at the time I was young enough to be calling in to a kids special).

Largely because of the example that Peter set, I was and always will be proud to have been a member of the ABC News family, albeit only for a summer in 2000. I remember one of the proudest moments of my life was when he said on air a sentence–literally only one sentence–that I researched and wrote for him during Governor Bush’s announcement of Dick Cheney as his running mate. I had tracked down, read, and summarized a copy of Lynne Cheney’s 1988 satirical “The Body Politic,” which featured the death of a vice president mid-coitus–but no one noticed because his job was so unimportant. I emailed the summary up to New York just in time for the announcement, and as Cheney and Bush were leaving the stage, Jennings ended the broadcast with my sentence. MY SENTENCE! My feet didn’t touch the ground for days afterwards. (One of the Political Unit producers in NY later told me he had liked the summary and my chest puffed up even more.)

I met him in person only once, during the campaign in 2003 (above left) when he visited the Dean campaign headquarters in Burlington, but meeting him was such a treat. I wish that I could have spent more time with him, shared a meal or a drink perhaps, but even those few moments were special. He was my Joe DiMaggio.

Peter was one of those rare figures who transcends journalism and enters the pantheon of great figures of our time. I cannot picture a world where I can’t turn to him to help make sense of it.