For those of us who watch TV news day in and day out, this has been a downright Earth-shattering year, the way the Dan-Tom-Peter triumvirate had ruled the news roost together from the Labor Day weekend of 1983 until December 1, 2004, when Brokaw retired. As junkies, we noticed that Jennings never returned to the air after his raspy exit promising to be back, and could sense from the tea leaves that his was a dismal prognosis. Even for us, it’s a sad day, as part of our shared public life has passed into the history books. Jennings will be missed.
Speaking as an ideological adversary — and half of our battle was convincing the average American that the anchors were liberals — Jennings was fantastic at conveying a dashing sophistication (see “urbane” in every obit), even as he admitted he was not a great speller. I was always poised to watch him mock Quayle’s spelling of vegetables after his admission. His way of defining the news was to begin most newscasts with “We begin tonight with,” with the royal “We” marking what would be seen as important. This is the political power no one really wants to relinquish, making Brokaw’s unnatural ability to retire such a salutary human event.
The only time Peter mentioned us, naturally, is when we came to his factual defense when people accused him of blatant Bush-bashing bias during live 9/11 coverage. (He brought us up in TV Guide.) Someone actually sat down and watched all 12 hours to see if the charges some were making were true or not. Not that day. See the results here. Jennings gently suggested that Bush should be visibly leading the country, but also stressed that America was the world’s leading example of freedom and democracy, which is quite a statement from a network news division that bans flag pins on the air. On that day, Jennings proved we were all Americans in a grave crisis.