8.09.2005

For a Thousand Reasons: In Memory of Peter Jennings

It's going to be a rare moment of seriousness here on the blog, folks. Those wishing to return to the usual hilarity should skip the following in its entirety.

I have just a few words here in memory of the late Peter Jennings. It's difficult to add much to the requiems, odes and tributes that have been written and broadcast in the last two days; it is especially challenging to improve upon the essay by CNN's Aaron Brown. Say what you will about Brown, but he was, like his mentor Jennings, a voice of reason on September 11, and he is certainly the best writer among the major network correspondents. He said:

"For a thousand reasons, his death came too soon.

He should have been given the victory lap, the dinners, the articles, the awards, the accolades that mark a job well-done, a life well-lived. He deserved that. And though he would have said otherwise, I think he would have liked it. And we should have had more time to watch him work, to tell the stories that have yet to unfold.

But he would also say that he lived a charmed life. That he'd been to places, and told the stories, and had the experiences that a young boy imagined and dreamed about, and he did. And we should be grateful, all of us who watched him and those of us who were privileged to work with him, that we were part of the ride."

And it was too short a ride. If you want to know why network news is now terrible, consider this question: in the last four years, how many pieces of video have you seen of say, famine in Darfur, protests in the West Bank, Tony Blair in Parliament, or any story from southeast Asia? Only on World News Tonight. It took a tsunami and hundreds of thousands of deaths to get the other networks to send correspondents to Phuket, yet they all managed to send someone to Aruba to cover the apparently drug-related disappearance of one spoiled, white girl.

If you want to know why broadcast news is terrible, ask yourself if it's really important to have three weather forecasts during a half-hour news cast, or if you really give a good god damn whether the sports guy and the anchor go out for a beer between the 6 and the 11. Ask yourself why CBS spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, then tells their female correspondents to grow out their hair and wear smaller earrings. Ask yourself why Ashleigh Banfield can't get a job, but any number of interchangeable blondes can go from traffic chopper to news desk on WTTG (that's channel 5 in DC to you out-of-town folks, and shockingly, a Fox News outlet).

Buy a shortwave and listen to the BBC world service. Read the Financial Times. Use the world news function on Google. Go find out for yourself the names of the opposition leaders in Israel and Canada. Peter Jennings could. He used to remind his colleagues daily that the title of the program that he anchored was WORLD News Tonight.

As Dan Rather would have said, that is a part of our world this evening. We are better for having watched Peter, and worse off now that his chair stands empty.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Jennings was my favorite newscaster, even as I got older and watched the nightly news less and less. Once, when my mother and I were visiting with my aunt and uncle in Florida, my mom flipped on the nightly Jennings nightcast only to hear from my aunt -- a regular Fox News viewer -- that Jennings was a communist. "He's not even from America!" she screamed.

I would say that this story makes me weep for our future, but my aunt is old.

I'll always think of Jennings when I think of Sept. 11. That and the crushing silence of living in downtown D.C. that day. Maybe a month after Sept. 11 I started reading the BBC News online and stopped paying attention to the nightly newscast. But for a few days there, Jennings was the man, a sort of father figure sheparding everyone through so much terrible news with a gravitas not many people have these days.