As one of America’s most distinguished journalists, Peter Jennings reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world. He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and in the 1990s when it came down. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in the United States in 1965, and on the other side of the world when black South Africans voted for the first time. He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland’s communist leaders were forced from power. And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise.
Born on July 29, 1938 in Toronto, Canada, Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings was the son of Charles Jennings, the first news anchor and head of the news department at the CBC. Although he attended Lisgar Collegiate Institute and Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario, 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, and, by age 23, Canada’s first private television network, CTV, hired Peter to co-anchor its late-night national news.
Peter joined ABC News on August 3, 1964. He served as the anchor of Peter Jennings with the News from 1965 to 1967. He established the first American television news bureau in the Arab world in 1968 when he served as ABC News’ bureau chief for Beirut, Lebanon. He held the position for seven years.
He helped put ABC News on the map in 1972 with his coverage of the Summer Olympics in Munich, when Arab terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage.
In 1975, Peter moved to Washington to become the news anchor of ABC’s morning program A.M. America. After a short stint in the mornings, Jennings returned overseas to Rome; he later moved to London to become ABC’s chief foreign correspondent. In 1978 he was named the foreign desk anchor for World News Tonight. He co-anchored the program with Frank Reynolds in Washington, D.C., and Max Robinson in Chicago until 1983.
Peter was named anchor and senior editor of World News Tonight in 1983, a position he would hold for more than 20 years. Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather recalled, “Peter took his work very seriously. But he did not take himself seriously. And he was a little uncomfortable—very uncomfortable—with the word ‘star,’ and a little uncomfortable with the word ‘anchor’ because he really did think about himself as a ‘reporter.’”
He reported from all 50 states and locations around the globe. His extensive domestic and overseas reporting experience was evident in the World News Tonight coverage of major crises. The series also tackled important domestic issues such as gun control policy, the politics of abortion, the crisis in funding for the arts, and a highly praised chronicle of the accused bombers of Oklahoma City.
Peter also led ABC’s coverage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and America’s subsequent wars. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network’s longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised. TV Guide called him “the center of gravity,” while The Washington Post wrote, “Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage.” That coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.
In fact, he was honored with almost every major award given to television journalists, including 16 Emmys®, two George Foster Peabody Awards, several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, several Overseas Press Club Awards, and two consecutive Edward R. Murrow awards for best newscast.
Peter Jennings passed away on August 7, 2005, in New York City.