Identification: Canadian-born American television journalist
Born: July 29, 1938; Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died: August 7, 2005; New York, New York
Significance: As an immigrant news broadcaster, Jennings was exceptionally conscious of America’s place in the world community. With his international focus, he led his American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network to top ratings and coauthored two books that illumine the American experience.
Peter Jennings during the early 1980’s. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Peter Jennings was the son of Elizabeth Osborne and Charles Jennings. His father was Canada’s first network television news anchor and later a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation executive. Peter himself was initially so little motivated by formal education that he dropped out of high school. After obtaining some media experience in Canada, he moved to New York when he was given the opportunity to become American television’s youngest network news anchor. Feeling unprepared for that assignment, he instead turned to international reporting, at which he excelled. In 1971, he established the first American television news bureau in any Arab country. Six years later, he became ABC’s first chief foreign correspondent and was respected for his preparation, research, and eagerness to meet people of all backgrounds.
In 1978, Jennings became part of a three-person ABC anchor team for World News Tonight. In 1983, he became the program’s sole anchor. His documentaries and other specials often covered international problems. As an immigrant and traveler, he was increasingly fascinated by the uniqueness of America, which he described as the only nation founded on ideas written into a constitution. With Todd Brewster he wrote The Century (1998), exploring the impact of twentieth century events upon Americans. In 2002, he followed that book with In Search of America, an exploration of how constitutional ideals still shape American identity. Both books accompanied television documentary series.
In 2003, Jennings became an American citizen. Through the last two years of his life, he held dual Canadian/American citizenship.
Darnton, Kate, Kayce Freed Jennings, and Lynn Sherr, eds. Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life. New York: Public Affairs, 2007.
Fensch, Thomas. Television News Anchors: An Anthology of Profiles of the Major Figures and Issues in United States Network Reporting.Woodlands, Tex.: New Century, 2001.
See also: Canadian immigrants; Dual citizenship; Huffington, Arianna; Pulitzer, Joseph; Television and radio.