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May 31, 1991 - Image 39

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

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In his first lengthy interview since
the end of the war, the ABC anchor
hit head-on the recurring charges
that he is an Arabist. This was also
the first interview he had ever done
devoted almost exclusively to this
For much of the one hour and 40-
minute interview in his office at
ABC's New York headquarters, the
broadcaster was urbane and
unruffled. Perhaps the major differ-
ence between on-screen Jennings
and off-screen Jennings was that he
was in shirt-sleeves, his tie was loos-
ened and his grammar faltered
slightly, and then only near the
beginning of the sometimes conten-
tious session.
Otherwise, Mr. Jennings' presence
was similar to what is seen on TV
every evening: Self-assured and
reassuring, as well as highly curious
about the world around him.
In this case, he was intensely
curious about the anti-Israel charges
against him. At times, he was quite
peeved about them, but, never, it
seemed, overtly angry.
Like a good editor (indeed, one of
his titles at ABC is "editor" of the
evening news), Mr. Jennings kept

"Fairness" has many
sides, especially for an
issue as convoluted and
personal as the Middle

probing and pushing, wanting to
know the specifics of these charges,
and who had leveled them — and
"One of the things I find odious
about any criticism," he said, "is
that it should be unnamed and it
should be suggested . . . What often
happens is that either I don't hear
from people about specifics, or the
specifics may be a little out of con-
"I don't understand . . . (charges
that I am anti-Israel or pro-Arab). I
tend to answer with a fairly
automatic response — which is a
fairly neutral response — that the
Middle East is a complicated place.
People on this subject, more than
any other, tend to see truth through
their own eyes.
"To tar someone with the brush,
`anti-Israeli,' " said Mr. Jennings,
"and, worse, to attempt to tar some-
one with the brush, 'anti-Semitic,' is
really one of the most insidious
things if they can't stand by it. But

it's not at all difficult to discuss
specifics. And it's not at all difficult
for me to understand that there are
some people who believe that if you
are not 100 percent on their side,
then you're on the other side.
"That's true of Arabs, in many
cases, as well as Israelis. Probably
less true of Arabs because Arabs are
more accustomed to having people
on the other side of the fence. What I
don't really find to be of any benefit
to me certainly, and I don't think of
any benefit to this dialogue, is when
you say, 'Some people say . . . ' Well,
who are they? And what are they

The Critics Speak

espite five years as chief of
ABC's Beirut bureau and
another eight, first as the net-
work's chief foreign corres-
pondent and then as its foreign news
anchor, Mr. Jennings does not con-
sider himself — or anyone else — an
"expert" on the Middle East.
"There is no such thing as an ex-
pert on the Middle East," he said.
The region is "too complicated.
There are too many perspectives.
The first time I did a story out of
Lebanon was in 1969 when a mini-
civil war was going on between the
Lebanese government and the Pa-
lestinians. I arrived in the middle of
the night from Rome. I knew only
one person in town, an editor of a
fairly respectable Lebanese news-
paper. I called him up at two in the
morning and said, 'I don't know
anything about what's going on.
Would you please tell me?' "
"I filed exactly what he told me,"
recalled Mr. Jennings. "It was prob-
ably the last time that I was ab-
solutely right about anything in the
Middle East."
Pro-Israel critics would assuredly
agree with that last statement.
To them, the anchor's years in the
Arab world left him with a decidedly
pro-Arab cast of mind. Compared to
Israel, they say, this is a world with
which Mr. Jennings is more famil-
iar, a world with which he more
greatly identifies, a world where he
has his most strategic contacts.
Scratch almost anyone who keeps
a close eye on TV news and you'll
find someone attuned to the
newsman's every syllable regarding
the Middle East.
Martin Peretz, the publisher and
editor of the New Republic who has
been leery of Mr. Jennings for
almost two decades, said the an-

"On The Middle East people tend to see the truth through their own eyes."
chor's "reportage on Israel is almost long before the intifada began, there
always a morality play. This is in was a perception that the news, es-
the nature of a crusade on his part."
pecially at the networks, wasn't as
Yet, Mr. Jennings' handling of the nice to Israel as it had been. But for
Gulf war threw Mr. Peretz for a loop, its first 25 years, Israel had received
albeit a minor loop: "He didn't like the most glowing press in the world.
the Iraqis. That muddled my view of The American Jewish community
him just a little bit."
thought this was a right to which it
"When I mention Peter Jennings was entitled.
before an audience," said Andrea
"As a Jew, I see no bias in Jenn-
Levin, the national president of ings," said Mr. Kellerman. "I'm
CAMERA, "there's an audible rum- discomforted by some images on the
ble from them. About the • only screen, such as an Israeli soldier
things that create rumbles are Na- kicking a Palestinian youth. I also
tional Public Radio — and Peter
"I have strong views on
"I have always had the sense,"
said Ms. Levin, "that he is trying to
everything," said
keep under wraps a very strong
Jennings. "I just don't
sense of feeling for the Arabs and
the intifada."
talk about them."
Yet, Donald Kellerman, director of
the Times Mirror Center for the know that the story is more com-
People and the Press, dismissed the plicated than how it's portrayed, but
anti-Jennings charges as "a that this is a limitation of the
medium of television."
"Jennings is a highly professional,
And Marvin Kalb, the veteran
unusually competent anchor," said NBC correspondent now at Har-
Mr. Kellerman. "This is the 'kill the vard's Kennedy School of Govern-
messenger' syndrome. In the 1970s, ment, said, "It's possible that



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