This tribute comes a tad late. News travels a bit slower in southern Italy where I am vacationing.
I am sure others have used the adjective, but to me, one word sums up the late Peter Jennings: class. Not a splashy, flashy class but a dignified, distinguished and direct class. He was the Anchor’s Anchor.
My first memory of Jennings is from the ‘60s. I am probably one of a relative handful who actually remembers his first turn as anchor for ABC. Yes, he was in his 20s, his show was only 15 minutes, it ran before the “real” news programs on CBS and NBC, and he didn’t last that long.
To me, though, a much younger tyke but certain I would become a TV journalist, he was the ultimate in cool.
My next memory is from my time as producer at ABC’s flagship station, WABC, in New York. I met Jennings at the network’s London bureau. He was holding court with others in the office, very much keeping the Edward R. Murrow tradition alive.
As he came into his own in the ‘80s and made “World News Tonight” the No. 1 news program on TV, his was the show to which I often turned.
When I, myself, became an anchor on the PBS-aired “European Journal” in the ‘90s, I must confess to borrowing a few of Jennings’ on-air “licks.” (I am probably not the only talent guilty of that!)
As FOX News foreign correspondent, I crossed paths with Jennings again.
My last memory of him is in June 2004, when I was in Baghdad for the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis. Those of us invited were held in a conference room next to where it was to take place.
Amid all the confusion (and ego-clashing), there was Jennings, in a crewneck sweater, quietly sitting off to the side chatting with his staffers and checking his notes — an anchor but also a down-to-earth reporter.
Much has been made of the passing (real or professional) of the last batch of network anchors. The concept of an evening news host does seem a bit passé in this age of live, breaking, 24/7 coverage.
But the principles of clarity, objectivity and articulation that Peter Jennings stood for are still worthy today. For that, and more, he will be remembered ... and emulated.