January 31, 2010
Peter Jennings (1938-2005), Canadian-born television journalist, longtime anchor of the ABC network’s World News Tonight.
Peter Charles Jennings was born in Toronto, Ontario. His father was a leading journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and at the age of nine the young Jennings hosted a weekly children’s radio show for the network. He became an interviewer for an Ontario radio station after dropping out of preparatory school, then joined the CBC as host of a public-affairs program.
In 1962 Jennings became coanchor of Canada’s first national commercial-network newscast. He moved to New York City in 1964 and became a correspondent for ABC. At the age of 26 Jennings was named anchor of ABC’s nightly newscast, a post he held from 1965 to 1967. Although he was praised for his on-the-spot coverage and for his documentary Southern Accents: Northern Ghettos (1967), his youth and inexperience proved to be a disadvantage and he returned to reporting in 1968.
In the early 1970s Jennings was appointed head of the ABC News Middle East bureau in Beirut (Bayrūt), Lebanon. In 1971 he received the National Headliner Award for his reporting on the civil war in Bangladesh, and in 1974 his profile of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat earned him a Peabody Award. Jennings served briefly as Washington correspondent for A.M. America from 1974 to 1975 and then went to London, England, as the network’s chief foreign correspondent.
In London Jennings coanchored World News Tonight, and he was appointed sole anchor when the show moved to New York City in 1983. His 1990 interview with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein just before the Persian Gulf War was one of the few interviews Hussein granted to Western reporters. In the 1990s Jennings distinguished himself with his coverage of the political scene in the United States.
In 1998 Jennings published The Century, cowritten with Todd Brewster. The book, featuring hundreds of photographs, is a survey of the 20th century with a focus on the American experience. He also hosted a companion television special with the same title.
Jennings received numerous honors during his career, including 16 Emmy Awards. In 2003 he became a U.S. citizen. In 2005 Jennings left his post at ABC for medical reasons and died several months later.