A Pause for Peter Jennings

Most blogs, regardless of their political stance, are taking a subdued, respectful tone the day after ABC anchor Peter Jennings died from lung cancer at age 67. “Many criticize Jennings’ liberal politics, but no one can argue that among the ‘big three’ anchors, Jennings was the most learned, and most scholarly. He was a good guy, and at least I, for one, am sorry to see him depart this life at his age,” writes Michael King. “Godspeed, PJ, and thanks for the memories.” Joe Gandelman, echoing many other bloggers, writes, “what defined him throughout his career was one word: class.” Orin Kerr adds, simply, that Jennings was “[w]ay too young” to go.

Class isn’t necessarily contagious, however, and inevitably some bloggers saw press treatment of Jennings’ death as an opportunity to attack the “MSM.” Karen of Scottsdale had been watching “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” on NBC when the show was interrupted by a special report. She wondered: Terrorists? Space Shuttle Crash? Other tragedy? Nope, she soon realized — it was the news about Jennings. And that left her annoyed:

Your heart stops pounding and you realize that the MSM (mainstream media) really believes the death of one of their own is so important that we must know it before the next commercial break or evening news report. Incredible!

I’m not making fun of the fact that Peter Jennings, probably a nice man to know personally, has died an untimely death from cancer. But I am astounded by the hubris of the MSM to believe the announcement of his death warrants such immediate attention by our country.

Others, thankfully, took time to reflect on different things in the wake of Jennings’ death, among them the dangers of smoking. “Lung cancer is an unforgiving enemy, one many of us have reason to fear, for ourselves or for our loved ones,” wrote Steve L at Secure Liberty. (The Political Teen already got a Jennings-related email discussing the dangers of smoking from anti-smoking group ASH.) Tarek from the Liquid List also longs for positive change as a result of Jennings’ passing, though he’s not optimistic:

I would say, I believe, that it would truly be a tribute to Peter Jennings [if] the newscasts became ‘hard’ again. If they did their jobs, which was to bring the American public the challenging and vivid information and images we so desperately need to reconnect with a world that deeply affects our daily life, then perhaps Mr. Jennings’ spirit could rest easily. But I doubt that will happen soon.

We’ll give the last word to Keith Olbermann, who ends his history and tribute to Jennings this way:

Then on April 5th — four months ago last Friday — he told the country something else. Something terrible. He had lung cancer. It was his intent, he said, forcing the words out with a physical strain that any broadcaster or singer recognized as a complete loss of breath, to return to the anchor chair “on the good days.” At ABC, there could be only optimism — no talk of a successor, not even a solo replacement, but rather a rotation, and, constantly, a reminder, right through to last Friday, that the newscast was “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.”

It was, in the end, the kind of blow that the calm, seasoned, assuring voice had always softened for us, always relieved of its sharp edges and its tragedy — the kind of mitigation with which the years abroad had gifted him. But the perseverance of 57 years in front of a microphone could not restore the calm, seasoned, assuring voice. There was now, it seemed, no one to soften and relieve this shock.

“He is now as good,” that ’80s colleague had said, “as he used to think he was.” Those who sit in the chairs of his rival networks, or other chairs like them, know that all too well at this hour.

The calm, seasoned, assuring voice has been stilled.

And for now, at least, there are no others.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.