Jennings an anchor in many respects

  • By Victor Balta / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, August 8, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

It’s entirely appropriate that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings took all that is television news with him when he died Sunday.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw called it quits in December, and CBS’s Dan Rather was shamed into semi-retirement in March after getting swept up in the nation’s deep political war.

But Jennings, the sole anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight” for the past 22 years, pushed forward as the last keeper of trust in TV news until he announced in April that he had lung cancer, and finally succumbed to it at the age of 67.

It’s particularly jarring and disturbing in the new world of raging cynicism toward journalists and cries of media bias at the drop of a hat, that the three most trustworthy faces and voices of our generation have vanished within nine months of each other.

Add to that Ted Koppel’s impending departure from ABC’s “Nightline” in December and we’ve nowhere to turn.

These men continued the legacy of the great news anchors who laid a foundation of expectations for a relatively new medium over the past half-century. But I never saw their predecessors. Edward R. Murrow, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite are just names of people I know everyone trusted.

I’m 28 years old now and everything I’ve ever known and counted on in television news is gone.

I can’t tell you I watched every one of Brokaw, Rather or Jennings’ broadcasts.

But I’ve always known that when news broke and I needed somebody to give it to me straight, I could turn to any one of them.

We don’t have that anymore.

That isn’t a knock on Brian Williams, who is perfectly fine as Brokaw’s replacement at NBC, or on whoever will permanently take the anchor seats at CBS and ABC.

It just can’t be the same again.

Not in the era of cable news, where Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity yell at me every night.

Where Larry King interviews celebrities about their diets.

Where Bob Novak drops expletives and storms off the set.

And where people from “each side” of a news story are planted in little boxes to shout over each other for five minutes in the name of balanced coverage.

Jennings, a Canadian high-school dropout, was ironically the last of a uniquely American ideal that expected and for many years got an objective, tough and fair news anchor.

He asked the tough questions of newsmakers and turned his career into an international game of “Where’s Waldo?”

Whenever news happened, you could bet Jennings was there, from the hostage crisis at the 1972 Olympics in Munich to the recent developments in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein’s first courtroom appearance and the handover of sovereignty in that country.

Jennings wasn’t content to sit in an air-conditioned studio and report the events of the day, and we were the beneficiaries of his passion.

“I’m fascinated by everything,” he said early in his career. “There’s just too much going on in too many places that I just daren’t miss.”

Sadly for us, with Jennings and his TV news brethren now out of the picture, there is far too much that we will miss.

Columnist Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or

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