Tuesday, August 09, 2005

 

Farewell to a complete professional

Peter Jennings

I've never bought into the cult of The Anchorman. I know of the studies that stress the importance for the average American (someone I actually try not to be) of identifying with and trusting the major network Anchors. And I've watched a number of them succumb to narcissism, becoming mannered and pompous like Dan Rather, or convinced of their own glamor and sex appeal like Tom Ellis. Tom came to notice in Boston on the major NBC outlet, a tall, highly communicative Texan who quickly added a variety of winks and sly smiles to his repertory. He eventually did everything but blow kisses to the camera. It was all about showmanship and he ruled the Boston news scene.

Ellis was being groomed to enter the New York market with lots of anticipatory publicity. The New York Times actually ran a cover story in its Sunday magazine with Tom's head superimposed on the body of a Greek statue of the naked Apollo, adding the graphic of an enhanced fig leaf straining hard to conceal a supposedly huge package. But New Yorkers rejected Tom and he wound up back in Boston, winding down his career at a small, regionally-oriented station.

Then there was Peter Jennings. I'm sure he played the game. He became ABC's national Anchor, held the position for over twenty years and I'm not naive enough to think he did it only on his great talent, public figure next door good looks and smooth, urbane but approachable manner. But I never found that Jennings thought it was all about him. And he had integrity.

In the wake of 9/11, a video clip of a group of Arabic people said to be dancing in the streets, celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings was being shown all over the networks. Jennings found out that the tape was actually a couple of years old and had been dug out of the archives by some reporter. It was rushed onto the networks as a sensational item to satisfy--and feed--anti-Muslim feeling in the country. During his nightly news broadcast on either the second or third day after 9/11, Jennings began an item on reaction to the attacks in the Islamic world and the bogus clip appeared on the screen. He stopped in mid-sentence and said, "NO--not that one!" The clip disappeared and was never seen again, at least not on ABC news. Whatever the dancing people were celebrating, and it might well have been some attack against the West or assassination, it wasn't the 9/11 attack and Jennings wouldn't have it on his news report.

Jennings was a Canadian (all you had to hear was him talking "aboot" some event to know) who added American citizenship to his Canadian nationality two or so years ago in solidarity with the country in which he had made such a mark. Fritz and I both watched him regularly, no matter what other channels we otherwise preferred for news. Sorry to see Peter Jennings go--we'll miss him a great deal.

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