“A Loving Portrait” of Peter Jennings

By Gail Shister 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Despite his “colossal ego,” Peter Jennings would have hated the new book celebrating his life, says ABC’s Lynn Sherr, one of his closest friends.

“He’d say, ‘Surely there must be more important subjects to write about.’ He’d be a little embarrassed.”

Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life hits the stands today. An “oral biography,” it includes reminiscences of the late ABC anchor from family, friends, colleagues and interview subjects.

Sherr, who dated the dashing newsman “only between wives,” edited the book, along with his widow, Kayce Freed Jennings, and Kate Darnton of publisher PublicAffairs Books.

“Peter didn’t have a small ego, but he also believed the focus should always be on the story,” says Freed Jennings. “This is more a tribute to the best values of the best journalism, not to Peter.”

Jennings grew out of 81 interviews hastily conducted for an ABC special that aired Aug. 10, 2005 — three days after his death from lung cancer.

As Sherr read through the transcripts, “I was knocked out by the power of the interviews,” she says. “People were so raw, so full of emotion, so honest. I felt it should be a book.”

Sherr pitched the idea to Freed Jennings, who said it was too soon. “I knew I didn’t want to do it, and I knew Peter would have hated a tribute book,” she says.

Instead, Sherr spent the next year putting together a “very, very limited edition” bound-volume of transcripts from interviews and from Jennings’ memorial service in Carnegie Hall. The opus “was the size of a phonebook,” she says.

After pouring over the pages, Freed Jennings changed her mind. “I realized it was an important book, and we could do something significant.”

Freed Jennings and Sherr both acknowledge that Jennings is not an objective biography, and it’s not supposed to be.

“The point wasn’t to critique him,” Freed Jennings says. “I don’t think people would expect me to edit a critical book.”

Says Sherr: “Clearly, it’s a loving portrait. There’s a lot of value in that. Let somebody else do the other book.”