Two months ago Peter Jennings, one of the most distinguished journalists in the United States today, received the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award in Broadcasting. During his many years of television broadcasting Peter Jennings has had a long relationship with Lebanon and the Middle East. A familiar friend of AUB, he is currently a member of the University's International Advisory Committee.
In 1972 he established the first American television news bureau in the Arab world as ABC News bureau chief in Beirut. In his seven years in the Middle East he covered the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the 1973 war and the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. In 1978 he was the first United States newsman to interview Ayatollah Khomeini in his Paris exile. He reported on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and received an Emmy award for Best Coverage of a Single Breaking News Story for his Personal Note: Beirut Jennings Middle East experience provided valuable background for World News Tonight coverage of the Gulf War in 1991, when he anchored more than 100 hours of special programming, including three award-winning, primetime specials on the conflict. On the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in March of this year he broadcast from Baghdad with interviews with President Bush, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld.
Jennings has covered news breaking global events for almost half a century: the Berlin wall, the demise of Communism, the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, major crises in Madrid, Moscow, Osaka, Cuba, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He broadcast from Sarajevo during the blackest years of the troubles and won the Overseas Press Club Award for his examination of the United Nations' peacekeeping role in Bosnia. During the September 11 attacks on the New York City World Trade Center and the Pentagon and throughout the following week Jennings anchored over 60 hours of continuous news coverage.
Throughout his career Jennings has probed the domestic as well as the international front. In many television appearances, specials, ABC's World News Tonight, and Peter Jennings Reporting, he has highlighted health problems such as AIDS, cancer, drugs, smoking, obesity, and the high cost of medications; audience-dividing issues such as religion, abortion rights, gun-control, and the sexual revolution. He has examined illiteracy, violence among the children of America, food price crises, the tobacco industry, and funding for the arts.
He has covered political debates, presidential elections, and political personalities, most recently in a Who Is format highlighting Howard Dean and other presidential primary candidates. In a special National Town Meeting setting, Jennings brought international concerns into the American living room. In 1991 Capital to Capital joined on live television, rival leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin with leaders of the US Congress.
Other national town meeting presentations included Growing Up in the Age of AIDS in 1992 and Straight Talk on Drugs for both parents and children in 1997. He has targeted the younger generation in a number of television shows devoted to answering children?s questions. A children's special on the Gulf war aired in 1991.
Perhaps broadcasting is in Peter Jennings' genes. His father was an eminent Canadian radio announcer and Jennings had his own radio show for children, Peter's People, when he was only nine years old. He dropped out of high school in the tenth grade, worked briefly in a bank, hosted a TV dance show, Club Thirteen, and co-anchored CTV National News. In 1964 Jennings moved to the United States and began his startling rise to virtual stardom with ABC News.
He has had his ups and downs. In 1965 he was one of three co-anchors of ABC Evening News. Unsuccessful in competition with Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley, he was banished to the Middle East, where he flourished, reporting from Beirut, Israel, and virtually all the Arab countries. Back in the United States, he soon became chief foreign correspondent in London, co-anchoring the news with two others. When that three-anchor format failed, Jennings returned to the United States as sole anchor for ABC's World News Tonight. Top ratings flowed in, and Jennings remains to this day sole anchor and senior editor at ABC News, while also hosting Peter Jennings Reporting and appearing in a number of specials, panel discussions, and other presentations.
In addition to the prestigious Murrow Award, Jennings has accumulated divers awards and honors over the years, including three Peabody Awards, several Du Pont-Columbia University awards, more than a dozen Emmys, and several awards for best anchor and excellence in broadcasting. He attended Carleton University in Ottawa for only a week, but later received honorary degrees from Carleton, Rider College, Loyola University, and the University of Rhode Island.
Peter Jennings has also written numerous television specials and episodes. He recently turned to religious documentaries, bringing the eye of the reporter to biblical stories. ?In Search of Jesus in 2000 garnered especially high ratings for a documentary. In April of this year ABC devoted thee hours of prime time to Jesus and Paul: The Word and the Witness.
Full-length books include the co-authored Pope in Britain in 1982. In 1986 he was co-interviewer for Children of Troubles: Growing Up in Northern Ireland.The Century (1998), co-authored with Tod Brewster, examines the lives of ordinary Americans. In Search of America (2002) , also co-authored with Tod Brewster, draws links between twenty-first century America and the founding fathers.