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The Beloved Voice of Peter Jennings

(Soundbite of "World News Tonight")

Unidentified Announcer: From ABC, this is "World News Tonight" with Peter Jennings.

Mr. PETER JENNINGS (Anchor): Good evening. Is the United States going to go after...

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Peter Jennings, the Canadian high school drop-out who became the face and voice of the American Broadcasting Company, lost his battle with lung cancer over the weekend. He died yesterday at his home in Manhattan surrounded by his wife Kayce and his two children. Peter Jennings died just four months after announcing that he'd been diagnosed, news that he delivered with his trademark wit.

(Soundbite of "World News Tonight")

Mr. JENNINGS: Finally this evening, a brief note about change. As some of you now know, I have learned in the last couple of days that I have lung cancer. Yes, I was a smoker until about 20 years ago, and I was weak and I smoked over 9/11. I will continue to do the broadcast on good days. My voice will not always be like this.

NORRIS: He never did return to the anchor chair, though he did go back to visit the newsroom. His sudden departure was an abrupt end to an abundant career. Knowing Peter as I did, he probably would have called it a rough edit. Now you'll forgive me if I refer to him by his first name, but Peter was a friend and a colleague. Before I joined National Public Radio, I was a correspondent for "World News Tonight." The day has been filled with tributes and remembrances and examinations of his career, and that's fitting. He was, after all, the last of the three lions who dominated the evening newscasts over the past two decades.

Despite all that's been said, there's some things that you might not know about Peter, things that are worth noting as we remember the man and as we look ahead to the next chapter for network news. He insisted that his broadcast, "World News Tonight," live up to its name.

(Soundbite of "World News Tonight")

Mr. JENNINGS: The great beating of their blades indicating without a shadow of a doubt that the Israeli operation in this area of the Arkub(ph) in south Lebanon on the slopes of Mt. Hermon is definitely continuing.

NORRIS: When network news began pulling back on foreign coverage, Peter held his ground. He often fought with the suits upstairs to cough up the cash to cover a war, a famine or a conflict in some far-flung spot on the globe. More often than not, Peter won those battles. Who, I wonder, will fight those battles now?

Peter was a demanding boss. He took pride in bringing a bit of poetry to broadcast writing, and he demanded the same of his reporters. He was tough, but he was also a real softy, always tearing up on the set. He cried easily and often and without shame. He was always telling reporters, `If you feel something when you're reporting a story, than your viewers should feel that, too.' Perhaps that's why so many said he was a comforting presence during those terrifying and tragic days following 9/11.

(Soundbite of "World News Tonight")

Mr. JENNINGS: I checked in with my children, and it--who are deeply distressed, as I think young people are across the United States. And so if you're a parent, you got a kid in some other part of the country, call them up.

NORRIS: Peter will, no doubt, be remembered for his anchoring and his reporting on the big, breaking stories from Baghdad or Berlin or ground zero. But here's what I'll remember about Peter. He was just as passionate about the small stories that would never find their way to the front page or to the top of the broadcast, stories about children denied a proper education, about the elderly forced to choose between food and medicine. He continued to push his show to cover those stories, calling in with a scratchy voice from his sick bed. I hope his voice and his ideas will continue to resonate in newsrooms long after he's gone.

(Soundbite from "World News Tonight")

Mr. JENNINGS: Finally, I wonder if other men and women asked their doctors right away, `OK, Doc, when does the hair go?' At any rate, that's it for now on "World News Tonight." Have a good evening. I'm Peter Jennings. Thanks and good night.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Norris
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