Peter Jennings

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Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings, CM (July 29, 1938August 7, 2005) was the lead news anchor for the ABC network from the 1980s to the 2000s. He had anchored ABC World News Tonight since 1978 and was the sole anchor from 1983 through April 2005. Jennings died of lung cancer on the evening of August 7, 2005 at the age of 67.

Peter Jennings
Peter Jennings
Born July 29, 1938
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died August 7, 2005
New York, New York, USA


Early life

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Jennings was the son of Charles Jennings, the first news anchor and head of the news department at the CBC. After the family moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Peter grew up there and attended Lisgar Collegiate Institute. He also attended Trinity College School in Port Hope Ontario. Although a member of the class of '57, Peter left in 1955 to pursue broadcasting. Jennings also attended Carleton University, University of Ottawa, and Rider College in New Jersey. He never graduated from high school or college.

He got his start in broadcasting at the age of nine, hosting a weekly half-hour CBC Radio kids' show called Peter's People. In his late teens and early twenties, he appeared in a number of amateur musical theatre productions with the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society, including Damn Yankees and South Pacific. He later hosted a local television program called Club Thirteen, similar to American Bandstand. He also worked as a Royal Bank of Canada teller before his journalist days. At the age of 23, he was hired by a Brockville, Ontario radio station. After his coverage of a local train wreck was picked up by the CBC, Canada's first private TV network CTV (a competitor of his father's network) hired Jennings to co-anchor its late-night national news. He was assigned to cover civil rights activities, where he was quickly noticed by American network ABC and in 1964 was hired away as a correspondent. Barely a year later, he was given several high-profile reporting opportunities for what was then a 15-minute news broadcast on ABC Evening News.

Anchor career

In 1961, Jennings became, with Baden Langton, the first anchors of a Canadian private national news program. The two were the first coanchors of CTV National News. The program had varying anchor teams in its first years, although Jennings was the sole constant. He was with the program until 1964. During his years at CTV, he also covered the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, being present at the Dallas police station where Lee Harvey Oswald was held.

His first stint as ABC's anchor took place in 1965 on the appropriately named Peter Jennings with the News. At 26, he was and is the youngest-ever American network news anchor. He could not compete with older anchors of other networks such as Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. His Canadian English accent, grammar, and diction and mistakes from inexperience with American topics led to his being replaced in 1968, and derided by critics as "glamourcaster" or "anchorboy."

Determined to rebuild his career, Jennings stayed with ABC as a foreign correspondent. He reported from the Middle East during the Yom Kippur War and the Lebanese civil war. Jennings's expertise served him well, as he received notice as the ABC reporter on-scene during the Munich Olympics Massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists.

Beginning in 1978, Jennings was part of a three-anchor team on World News Tonight, with Frank Reynolds in Washington, Max Robinson from Chicago, and Jennings from London. A year later, he married his third wife, author Kati Marton, with whom he had two children, Elizabeth and Christopher.

Peter Jennings, anchoring a newscast in October 2004
Peter Jennings, anchoring a newscast in October 2004

After Reynolds' unexpected death in 1983, ABC News President Roone Arledge first chose Tom Brokaw, NBC's White House Correspondent, to take the top job as main news anchor. Brokaw turned down the offer and took over as sole anchor on the NBC Nightly News. Jennings was then selected, starting on August 9, 1983, and became a very influential TV personality. On December 31, 1999, 175 million people tuned into at least a portion of his network's Millennium Eve special "ABC 2000," also known as "ABC 2000 Today."

Jennings conducting an interview
Jennings conducting an interview

For more than two decades, Jennings was a presence in many American homes every night. Along with the two other pillars of the so-called "Big Three"—Tom Brokaw of NBC and Dan Rather of CBS—Jennings had, in the early 1980s, ushered in the era of the TV news anchor as lavishly compensated, globe-trotting star. The magnitude of a news event could be measured by whether Jennings and his counterparts on the other two networks showed up on the scene. Jennings was second in the ratings race behind NBC's Tom Brokaw and later to his successor Brian Williams. Brokaw's retirement in December 2004, followed by Rather's forced resignation from the evening news in March 2005, and finally Jennings's death, brought that era to a close.

Jennings was a frequent target of charges of "liberal bias" by certain conservative groups, such as the Media Research Center.[1] He was criticized for being biased in favor of Proposals for a Palestinian state due to his personal romantic relationship with Hanan Ashwari, a one-time spokeswoman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, by many conservatives and some Jews, although it should be noted that both his third and fourth wives were Jewish. Supporters of Jennings contended that most critical reports of him consisted of inaccuracies or out-of-context quotes. Nonetheless, George W. Bush was the first President in recent memory who did not sit down for an interview with Jennings.

During his career, Jennings had reported from every major world capital and war zone, and from all 50 U.S. states, according to the network. According to his official ABC biography, he was "in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up," and there again "in the late 1980s when it came down." He seemed to draw on that collective experience—as well as his practiced ability to calmly describe events as they unfolded live—not long after two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Over the course of that day, and those that immediately followed, he would spend more than 60 hours on the air in what Tom Shales of The Washington Post praised as a tour de force of interviewing and explanatory broadcast journalism. Many would also take notice of his absence in Rome, Italy at the death of Pope John Paul II as well as in Asia during the aftermath of the tsunami.

Leaving the chair

Peter Jennings at his desk, from which he anchored World News Tonight for more than twenty years
Peter Jennings at his desk, from which he anchored World News Tonight for more than twenty years

On April 1, 2005, Jennings anchored World News Tonight for the last time. Four days later, on April 5, Jennings informed viewers through a taped message that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was starting chemotherapy treatment the following week. (According to his sister Sarah, Jennings reportedly started smoking when he was 11 years old but quit in 1988, then briefly resumed following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.) Though he said he would continue to host World News Tonight when possible, April 5 would prove to be his final broadcast. ABC News' Charlie Gibson, co-host of the network's Good Morning America program, and Elizabeth Vargas, co-host of the network's 20/20, served as temporary anchors until his death from lung cancer.

Married four times, he was survived by his wife, television producer Kayce Freed, and two children, Elizabeth and Christopher (who were from his third marriage, to Kati Marton). He had also been married to Valerie Godsoe, followed by Annie Malouf. Gibson announced Jennings' death at 11:41 PM (Eastern Time) on August 7, 2005, with an ABC News special report that included the reading of his life story. Barbara Walters gave her comments during this, as did fellow ABC anchors Diane Sawyer and Ted Koppel. Later on during the day, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and former CBS News anchor Dan Rather spoke fondly of him. In the days that followed ABC would run a number of memoriam showings saying, "The American Broadcasting Company and ABC News mourn the death of Peter Jennings, Anchor, Journalist, Leader, Friend." ABC News followed up their special report on August 10 with a two-hour special entitled "Peter Jennings: Reporter" consisting of interviews with colleagues and friends and clips from his reports. The special was hosted by Charles Gibson, who ended it standing in front of Jennings' empty anchor chair, giving way to a trumpeter, playing the ABC News division's theme music in the manner of a military bugler playing Taps; he did not play the final phrase, leaving the piece unresolved.

The Jennings family held a private service in Manhattan in which the anchor's cremated remains were split in half. Half of his ashes will be in his home in Long Island and the other half in his summer home in Gatineau Hills.


Jennings was a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, having become an American citizen on May 30, 2003. He was said to have been very proud of scoring 100 of 100 on the U.S. citizenship exam. Even though Jennings became a dual citizen, he was still a proud Canadian, and would often retire in the summer to Wakefield, Quebec near Ottawa. He was given the key to the city by former mayor Jim Watson and he received an honorary degree from Carleton University. Jennings donated a sculpture to the city's By Ward Market and was often seen there during the summers.

Jennings' official biography on ABC mentioned nothing of his Canadian origins as that had been the target for much criticism. However, Jennings did cover a number of Canadian events that were largely ignored by other U.S. networks. He also often brought up Canadian examples during intense policy debates in Congress. Most notable was his coverage of the 1995 Quebec referendum where Jennings went to great lengths to explain why it was important to Americans.

In an interview on CBC's The National the evening after Jenning's passing friend and former rival, CBS anchor Dan Rather, noted in a tribute that Jennings' Canadian upbringing allowed him to get a different perspective on events from both inside and outside the US. That same day, the big three Canadian anchors, Peter Mansbridge at the CBC, Lloyd Robertson at CTV, and Kevin Newman, himself a former ABC correspondent at Global also gave their thoughts about Jennings and his Canadian roots; Robertson, in an interview on CTV's morning news show, Canada AM, and Newman, on Global National, which opened its broadcast with news of Jennings's death and closed it with Newman's thoughts. Newman later recalled these thoughts on his blog. ABC anchors Barbara Walters and Ted Koppel also appeared on Canada AM and shared their thoughts about Jennings and his Canadian roots.

Only a few days before his death, Jennings was told he would be receiving the Order of Canada. His family will accept the award on his behalf. Since the Order of Canada cannot be awarded posthumously, the award will be dated as of the day the investiture committee approved the nomination, June 29.

The memorial service for Peter Jennings, which was held at Carnegie Hall in New York City on September 20, featured an RCMP honour guard, paying tribute to Jennings' Canadian roots.



  • Jennings was the youngest anchor ever of an American prime time network news program, at 26.
  • Jennings was parodied in Team America: World Police.
  • In 1999, he anchored the 12-hour ABC series, The Century, and ABC's series for the History Channel, America's Time.
  • Jennings once relayed a report from memory after a correspondent's taped report broke during broadcast.
  • Jennings was the only American News Media reporter to broadcast from Montreal during the 1995 Quebec Referendum (which ended in a "No" vote).
  • Jennings was a certificated private pilot.
  • Jennings logged 25 hours on air for the millennial new year, December 31, 1999January 1, 2000.
  • Jennings logged more than 60 hours on the air during the week of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including 16 hours straight on the 11th.
  • Jennings visited the stadium of the Portland Sea Dogs minor league baseball team in 1996. He stayed there for a week and took batting practice several times with the Sea Dogs, wearing a full Sea Dogs uniform. [2]
  • Jennings was the last to die of the original American network Evening News anchors (because of ABC's late start).
  • Jennings left an estate of over fifty million dollars the bulk of which went to his wife and children.

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Preceded by:
Peter Jennings with the News / ABC Evening News (ABC World News Tonight) anchor
Followed by:
Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith

Preceded by:
Frank Reynolds
ABC World News Tonight anchor
September 9, 1983-August 7, 2005
(remained credited anchor until August 15, 2005)
(last broadcast on April 5, 2005)

with coanchors Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson

Followed by:

August 8, 2005 -
(ABC has not named an official successor yet. Gibson and Vargas are temporary.)

Preceded by:
CTV National News anchor
with coanchors Baden Langton, Charles Lynch, Peter Stursberg, Ab Douglas, Larry Henderson and Harvey Kirck
Followed by:
Harvey Kirck
1965 - 1984

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