Peter Jennings was the anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight," where he established a reputation for independence and excellence in broadcast journalism. He was the network's principal anchor for breaking news, election coverage and special events.
As one of America's most distinguished journalists, 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 there in the '90s when it came down.
Jennings covered the civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and '80s. He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965, and on the other side of the world when South Africans voted for the first time. He worked in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain.
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 former Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise.
He was one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s to remind Americans that, unless they did something, the terror would return.
In broadcast journalism, Jennings had a reputation for putting the most complex and difficult issues on the agenda when others largely ignored them. From his early days in the Middle East and South Africa, to the contemporary challenges in Africa and the former Soviet Union, on education, health care and tobacco — these are issues with which Jennings' stewardship at "World News Tonight" and his special series, "Peter Jennings Reporting," were associated.
He was the author, with Todd Brewster, of the acclaimed New York Times best seller, "The Century." Structured as an epic tale about "ourselves," it is a lavish book that features astonishing first-person accounts of the great events of the century. In 1999, he anchored the 12-hour ABC series, "The Century," and ABC's series for The History Channel, "America's Time." He and Brewster also published "In Search of America," a companion book for the six-part ABC News series.
On Dec. 31, 1999, Jennings anchored ABC's Peabody-award winning coverage of Millennium Eve, "ABC 2000." At least 175 million Americans watched the telecast, making it the biggest live global television event ever. "The day belonged to ABC News," praised The Washington Post, "… with Peter Jennings doing a nearly superhuman job of anchoring." Jennings was the only anchor to appear live for 25 consecutive hours.
Jennings led the network's coverage of the September 11 attacks and America's subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network's longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised for providing a reassuring voice during the time of crisis. TV Guide called him "the center of gravity," while the Washington Post wrote, "Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage." The coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.
Jennings joined ABC News on Aug. 3, 1964. He served as the anchor of "Peter Jennings with the News" from 1965 to 1967.
Jennings established the first American television news bureau in the Arab world in 1968 when he served as ABC News' bureau chief for Beirut, Lebanon, a position he held 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, Jennings moved to Washington to become the news anchor of ABC's morning program "A.M. America." After a short stint there, Jennings returned overseas to Rome where he stayed before moving 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.
Jennings was named anchor and senior editor of "World News Tonight" in 1983. In more than 20 years in the position he was honored with almost every major award given to television journalists.
His extensive domestic and overseas reporting experience proved to be invaluable during "World News Tonight's" coverage of major crises. Jennings reported from all 50 states and locations around the globe. During the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 War in Iraq, his knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs brought invaluable perspective to ABC News' coverage. Jennings interviewed the most important national and international figures of our time and anchored the ABC News coverage of every major national election since 1984.
In "Peter Jennings Reporting," which debuted in 1990, Jennings covered challenging issues in depth during prime time. Millions watched the critically acclaimed "The Search for Jesus" in 2000 and "Jesus and Paul — the Word and the Witness" in 2004. "Peter Jennings Reporting" focused extensively on international news, with specials on tense relations between India and Pakistan, the conflict in Bosnia, the crisis in Haiti, the war in Iraq, and the drug trade in Central and South America. 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 Jennings Reporting" earned numerous awards, including the 2004 Edward R. Murrow award for best documentary for "The Kennedy Assassination — Beyond Conspiracy."
Jennings had a particular interest in broadcasting for the next generation. He has done numerous live news specials for children on subjects ranging from growing up in the age of AIDS, to prejudice and its effects on our society. After the events of September 11, and again on the first anniversary, he anchored a town hall meeting for children and parents entitled, "Answering Children's Questions."
Jennings has been honored with many awards for news reporting, including 16 Emmys, two George Foster Peabody Awards, several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and several Overseas Press Club Awards. "World News Tonight" was recognized with two consecutive Edward R. Murrow awards for best newscast, based on field reporting done by Jennings on the California wildfires and the transfer of power in Iraq.