Peter Jennings (1938-2005)
"[Faith] is a fabulous story. It intersects with people’s lives in ways that other people in newsrooms are not as lucky as I am to understand. I really think that’s the most important thing to know about me. This is a good and irresistible story--and it is, my God, what else are we looking for in life? It is relevant."
— Peter Jennings, 2000
Peter Jennings, an award-winning and highly-respected television journalist and a familiar face on ABC News for 40 years, passed away from lung cancer on August 7, 2005.
Jennings was born in Ontario, Canada, on July 29, 1938, the son of a news anchor. He dropped out of high school two years before graduation to pursue a broadcasting career. He never graduated from high school or college.
Jennings became the youngest ever American network news anchor at the age of 26, and went on to become one of the most successful and highly respected television broadcasters.
Peter Jennings covered some of the most important events in recent history, including both the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, wars and conflicts in the Middle East, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the week of September 11, 2001, Jennings spent more than 60 hours live on the air and his coverage of the event was praised as a tour de force of interviewing and explanatory broadcast journalism.
In the award-winning "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. The series also 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 - and 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.
Beliefs and Practices of Peter Jennings
Peter Jennings was raised in the Anglican church and went to a school where he "went to chapel everyday and three times on Sunday" and participated in various traditional roles for young people such as carrying the cross in procession. In 2000, Jennings told Beliefnet.com that he was raised "with the notion that it was okay to ask questions" about his faith, something that his inquiring mind clearly continued to do throughout his life.
Jennings was reluctant to speak publicly about his faith, in large part for fear that his personal beliefs would be considered part of his reports on religion. But he did admit in an interview that he prayed and continued to consider himself an Anglican, though he seemed to indicate some doubt about such traditional doctrines as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. He expressed approval for something said by Tom Wright, one of the interviewees in Jennings' "The Search for Jesus" series: "something must have happened" with respect to Jesus, since the tiny religion started by his little band of followers became so successful that it was the official religion of the Roman Empire in 300 years. When asked if he had a view on what that "something was," he responded:
No, to be honest. I mean I think there are lots of reasons. Not the least of which might have been fatigue with the imperial gods, fatigue with paganism, the understanding that one god and this particular God and the memory of Jesus was truly humane in ways that paganism was not. But that's as far as I dare carry it because people have spent their lifetime studying that. But I do think that this notion of love and having suffered and died for other people’s sins, is a very, very powerful message.
Peter Jennings brought his interest and senstivity to religion to his job as a broadcaster. He sought to ensure that religion was neither ignored nor disparaged in the media:
"I came to have an appreciation that in all parts of the world, people like me of other faiths struggle to be conscious of that which they have been taught. In time, I became much more conscious of a religion as a political or more widely embracing notion.
I think the fairest thing to say about myself is that I am sensitive to the value of faith and religion and spirituality in people's lives because I'm a journalist. I try to tell young producers here that when they go to interview the survivors of a plane crash, and they ask the woman, "How did you get through this?" and the woman answers, "God got me through it," they are never to then say, "I understand that madam, but what really got you through it?"
That's the one thing I would say about myself. I've come to appreciate the value of that. I do not question people's literalism, even though I don't always share it. And as a reporter, I've come to realize that this is a terrific story, a terrific, wonderful story." (Beliefnet interview, 2000)
More on Peter Jennings
- Interview with Peter Jennings - Beliefnet.com
- How Paul's ideas resonate today - Beliefnet.com interview with Jennings
- Jennings, Peter - Museum of Broadcast Communications