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May 31, 1991 - Image 38

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-05-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

PETER'S PRINCIPLES

Jennings in
Vietnam in 1967.

The Jennings family
in London around
1952. Peter (far
left) with his father,
whom he called the
Canadian equivalent
of Edward R.
Murrow.

At the 1972 Munich
Olympics: The
seminal event that
persuaded
Jennings' critics he
was pro-Arab.

The Transmogrification
Of 'Pretty Peter'

eter Charles Jennings came
to the television manor
born. His father, Charles,
was a distinguished Cana-
dian Broadcasting Corporation
journalist whom his son once called
"roughly the equivalent on Cana-
dian television of Edward R. Murrow.
The Jennings' house on Ava
Street in Toronto, Jennings' sister,
Sarah, has recalled, was "always
filled with the most talented and
interesting and eccentric group of
people. There were obscure French
horn players, dancers, the people
who started Canada's national
opera company and the National
Ballet."
The Scottish-Protestant Jenn-
ings, said Sarah, were "the only
gentiles in a Jewish neighborhood.
We were adopted by the synagogue
for holidays. Rabbi Abraham
Feinberg lived right across the
street. Peter and I have always
thought of ourselves as half-
Jewish."
"I may have gone to a bar mitz-
vah or a bat mitzvah before I went
to a confirmation or a christening,"
said the ABC anchor recently. "But
to assume or to even suggest that it
had some kind of indelible effect on
my life is wrong. I think what it did,
if anything, was to educate me a
little bit early on about Judaism —
but only a little bit. I was very
young, and hardly a scholar."
He remained less than a scholar
for many years. At prep school, he

38

FRIDAY, MAY 31, 1991

was a star athlete, but an indif-
ferent student. He left school at 17,
intending to be a broadcaster.
Mr. Jennings had had his first
taste of fame at the age of nine
when he hosted Peter's Show, a
weekly radio potpourri of music and
news for kids. But now, his father,
convinced that Canadian broad-
casting was becoming more com-
mercial and less of a public service,
did his best to keep his son from the
cameras and microphones. Hoping
the lad would change his mind, he
told him to work in a bank for three
years.
Thirty-six months later and
weary of cashing others' checks,
Mr. Jennings landed an announc-
ing position at a station in a small
town overlooking the Ontario-New
York border.
The CTV, Canada's commercial
network, finally hired Mr. Jennings
to co-anchor Canada's first national
news show. An ABC correspondent
passing through Ottawa was im-
pressed by the young co-anchor and
persuaded ABC to offer him a job.
One of the Canadian's first
assignments for ABC was the civil
rights movement in the South. Mr.
Jennings now sees certain simi-
larities between American blacks'
battles for equality in the 1960s
and Palestinians' current
struggles.
Both, he says, were after
"something they don't have. Black
Americans were struggling for civil

rights guaranteed them under the
law. Palestinians, under the
(Israeli) occupation, have some civil
rights. But in the broadest terms,
they are struggling for a national
identity. Black Americans had
that. They just didn't have all the
appurtenances which go with it."
Six months into the job, ABC
talked its newcomer into anchoring
its nightly 15-minute newscast.
It was 1965. The new anchor was
26.
Mr. Jennings never attracted the
younger viewers ABC sought.
Worse, he never earned the respect
of his colleagues, who called him
"Pretty Peter" and "Stanley Stun-
ning."
In 1967, on his first trip to the
Middle East — a sprint to Israel at
the end of the Six Day War — the
anchor was captivated by the re-
gion.
"It embroils so much of what we
are," he says. "It's about Christians
and Muslims and Jews. It's about
colonialism. It's about the struggles
of people. It's about economic power
and military power. None of us are
absent from our connection to the
Middle East."
Later that year, he chucked the
anchor, realizing he needed more
experience as a reporter. In 1969,
he opened an American network's
first bureau in an Arab country.
Based in Beirut, Mr. Jennings
says he was "not locked in the Arab
world, on the other side of the 'great

divide.' I did bureau duty for our
Tel Aviv correspondent when he
was away. And living in Lebanon
meant you were in one of the few
countries from which you could
cover the West Bank or the Gaza
Strip and the Palestinian story. The
story went back and forth. You
made your contacts in Beirut and .
then you went and saw it in the oc-
cupied territories."
Disturbed at journalists'
"cheerleading" for Israel during
the war, Mr. Jennings went to the
Gaza Strip and "saw some things
other reporters hadn't reported on
— Palestinians' perspective of what
it was like to live under Israelis. It
took the American press a long
time to come to grips with that."
At the end of 1974, Mr. Jennings
returned to the U.S. to be Washing-
ton correspondent for "AM
America," a short-lived ABC morn-
ing news program. The next year,
he began roaming the globe as the
network's chief foreign correspon-
dent.
In 1983, ABC installed Mr. Jenn-
ings as anchor of "World News To-
night."
Since then, he has helped make
ABC's nightly news the consistent
ratings champ. He has also won two
Emmys and been cited by Washing-
ton Journalism Review as the best
network anchor three years runn-
ing. ❑

A.J.M.

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