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Profile: Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings was a participant or observer in the following events:

Roone Arledge.Roone Arledge. [Source: Slate (.com)]Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, becomes president of ABC News as well. Arledge brings some of the techniques he pioneered as head of the sports division to ABC’s news broadcast practices, including what many call his “up close and personal” approach to politicians and others of interest to the news. Many at ABC opposed Arledge’s ascension, as he lacks any formal training as a journalist, and they fear Arledge will “dumb down” the way news is presented. Many fear he will bring “glitz, glamour, and lower standards to the network,” as Ken Bode will write in 1994. ABC anchor Ted Koppel will later remember: “Peter Jennings and I were convinced hiring Roone was a big disaster. We went to see Fred Pierce, who was then president of ABC.… Roone was famous for having the vision in sports to look at things like slow-motion television and the ability to freeze a frame and the instant replay that flowed out of that. Others invented those technologies; Roone was the man who saw them and said, ‘Here’s a way of doing something on television that’s never been done before.’ And we all gave him credit for that. But we didn’t believe that was what was needed to turn ABC News into a more powerful news division.… [Pierce] listened to us explain why Roone should never become president of ABC News. Then he very politely ushered us out and ignored us.” Arledge will function as head of both the news and sports departments for 17 years; under his guidance, ABC News will earn a number of prestigious awards and lead the ratings for many years against its two network competitors. “Roone created the forum for each of us,” Koppel will later say. “Barbara Walters got 20/20, Peter Jennings got World News Tonight, I got Nightline, Sam Donaldson got PrimeTime Live, and ultimately Roone created This Week With David Brinkley.” CBS News producer Don Hewitt will say after Arledge’s death in 2002, “Just about everything that’s good in television has a Roone Arledge trademark on it.” [New York Times, 3/13/1994; New York Times, 12/29/2002; Disney Legends, 2007] Jennings will recall, “There are only a few people in the business who are really good at looking at a piece in draft, either on paper but particularly on tape, and moving it around so that the up-close-and-personal nature of journalism was front and center.” Arledge will focus ABC’s news broadcasts far more on personalities, sophisticated camera and electronic innovations, and “feature” presentations, and less on issues and so-called “hard news,” transforming the way Americans perceive the news. [New York Times, 12/29/2002] In 2002, Robert Weintraub will deplore Arledge’s penchant for turning journalists and news anchors into celebrities. “[S]ome of his schemes, however brilliant at the time, have made TV sports painful to watch and news almost impossible to finance,” Weintraub will write. “If network executives want to know why TV news is hemorrhaging money, they can start by looking at the anchors’ movie star salaries.” [Slate, 12/29/2002] Bode will write in 1994: “He [was] determined to give the viewers what they were interested in, not necessarily what they needed to know. On the day Elvis [Presley] died in 1977, Mr. Arledge made that the lead story on the ABC evening news; the other networks led with a Washington story about the Panama Canal treaties. It may be the truest measure of Mr. Arledge’s influence on television that on a comparable news day today, all the broadcasts would lead with Presley’s death.” [New York Times, 3/13/1994]

Entity Tags: Barbara Walters, ABC News, Ted Koppel, ABC Sports, Roone Arledge, Robert Weintraub, Sam Donaldson, Ken Bode, David Brinkley, Don Hewitt, Fred Pierce, Peter Jennings, Elvis Presley

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. [Source: Discovery Channel]Several television networks interrupt their coverage of events in New York to report that a mysterious white aircraft is circling over the White House and the Capitol.
bullet At 9:41 a.m., Peter Jennings of ABC News reports that “there is a plane circling the White House at the moment. And they’re clearing the grounds there.… And this plane circling the White House adds to the trauma that people are feeling today, but we have no idea precisely what the means.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:52 a.m., CNN correspondent John King, who is standing about 200 yards from the White House, says: “About 10 minutes ago, there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don’t see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted air space. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at the jet in the sky. It is out of sight now, best we can tell.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Another CNN correspondent, Kate Snow, also reports seeing a plane at around this time, “circling over the Capitol.” She says: “Now whether that may have been an Air Force plane, it’s unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] (The Capitol is reportedly evacuated at 9:48 a.m. (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Fox News, 9/11/2003] )
bullet At 9:55 a.m., NBC News turns to a live report from its correspondent Bob Kur, who recalls: “And in the most surreal of this morning’s scenes here at the White House, a white plane, a very big jet, was flying an unusual pattern near the White House over Lafayette Park, very slowly. It made one circle and then we have not seen it since. There was a lot of concern about what that plane might be. But, again, it’s only speculation, but most people say that since flights have been cleared from US air space, and it was a totally white plane, looked unusual to all of us, that it was a government plane of some kind.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001]
A CNN comparison between video footage of this plane and an official Air Force photograph will suggest it is an E-4B. This is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is used as a flying command post. An E-4B has in fact just been launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so this could plausibly be the same plane as is witnessed by the reporters. Two government sources familiar with the incident will later tell CNN the plane was a military aircraft, but that its details are classified. Even by 2007, the Pentagon, FAA, and Secret Service will have offered no public explanation for this plane over the White House. [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; CNN, 9/12/2007] In 2009, John Farmer, the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will claim that this “mystery plane” is an E-4B with the call sign “Venus 77” that takes off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207, 372]

Entity Tags: Bob Kur, Kate Snow, John Farmer, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, John King, Peter Jennings

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On October 26, 2001, Peter Jennings starts ABC News’s World News Tonight evening news broadcast with the comment: “We’re going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House. ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that’s a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons.”
Bentonite - ABC News reporter Brian Ross then adds: “The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. [Bentonite is] a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It’s possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program.”
Significance - Jennings ends the story by commenting: “This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There is a battle about Iraq that’s been raging in the administration.”
Repeated - The story is repeated by ABC over the next several days, especially by Ross. Qualifications in the initial story are dropped over the next few days as Ross definitely claims that the anthrax “was laced with bentonite” and “the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994.” On October 28, Ross claims, “[D]espite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001; Salon, 4/9/2007; Salon, 8/1/2008]
ABC News Keeps Promoting Story despite White House Denial - On October 29, ABC News notes that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has denied that bentonite was found on the letters. Fleischer says that no test or analysis has shown the presence of bentonite, and “no other finding contradicts or calls into question” that conclusion. But ABC News continues to push the story and quotes former UN weapons inspector Tim Trevan, who says that bentonite “means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters.” ABC News even brings up the alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy in Prague, and quotes former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler: “There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax.… We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001]
Dropped, Sort Of - ABC News finally drops the story on November 1, when Ross reports: “The White House said that despite initial test results which we reported suggesting the presence of a chemical called bentonite, a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program, a further chemical analysis has ruled that out. The White House says there are chemical additives in that anthrax including one called silica.” Yet this account is not entirely correct, because the White House denied the story from the very beginning, as ABC News made clear in their first stories on the subject, and their quoting of White House Press Secretary Fleischer. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008] But an ABC News article the same day by Gary Matsumoto continues to push the bentonite theory, despite acknowledging that lab results do not show signs of bentonite. He argues that perhaps a different form of bentonite was used that did not show the usual signs. He also argues that perhaps the anthrax was coated with silica, which would be another sign of high sophistication and possible government involvement in the attacks. This is the theory the White House is pushing (see October 25-29, 2001), although it too will eventually be discredited by the FBI (see August 2006). [ABC News, 11/1/2001]
Iraq's Link to Bentonite Questioned - In October 2002, the Washington Post will reveal that early in the anthrax investigation, “US authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq’s additive of choice.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by UN authorities from Iraq’s Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002]
Common Clay - Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will later note: “The very idea that bentonite is ‘a troubling chemical additive,’ let alone that it is some sort of unique Iraqi hallmark, is inane. Bentonite is merely a common clay that is produced all over the world, including from volcanic eruptions.” A geology professor comments: “It is not ‘a chemical additive’ and it is not unique to Iraq. It is widespread and common, and readily available wherever you can get ‘drilling mud.’” [Salon, 4/9/2007]
No Correction - But even though it emerges that bentonite was never actually detected in the anthrax samples, ABC News will not correct its story until after it is heavily pressured to do so in late 2008 (see August 6, 2008).

Entity Tags: Tim Trevan, Richard Butler, Glenn Greenwald, Gary Matsumoto, Peter Jennings, Ari Fleischer, ABC News, Brian Ross

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Toronto Star reporter Lynda Hurst examines the US media’s coverage of foreign affairs after 9/11, and concludes that while the media generally intensified its coverage of foreign events and issues after the terrorist attacks, that burst of coverage was short-lived, giving way to the usual focus on sensationalistic celebrity and “true crime” stories, and to a fixation on retaliation and revenge for the attacks. In-depth reporting was shelved in favor of superficial reporting on battle tactics in Afghanistan and prominent displays of flag pins and red-white-and-blue bunting. “In the first few days [after the attacks], they performed a Herculean task and did an epochal job,” says Vince Carlin, an American-born Canadian media executive and chair of the journalism school at Ryerson University. However, the media did not follow through with its initial focus, he says. Within weeks, any attempts to analyze or understand the myriad issues surrounding the terrorist attacks—what Hurst calls “the ‘other’ side of the story”—were, she writes, “subsumed by the demands of… Bush’s with-us-or-against-us war on terrorism.” Carlin notes: “Evil is evil. When something is demonized, there’s no need to analyze it. In that, Bush reflects a fairly broad spectrum of the population.” With the notable exception of the New York Times, Carlin says that the same thinking is in place today: “Americans were not noted for their interest in the rest of the world before 9/11 and they’re not interested after. There are all sorts of places in the world they should be looking at, but they’re not.” Carlin cites the example of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, whose Canadian ancestry was of little import to viewers before the attacks. Afterwards, Carlin says, when Jennings “tried to bring a more sophisticated approach to the broadcast,” ABC producers “were warned off and went back to cheerleading.” CBS news anchor Dan Rather recently observed, “The fear of being accused of lacking patriotism keeps journalists from asking the toughest of tough questions.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, Lynda Hurst, New York Times, Peter Jennings, Vince Carlin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Peter Jennings.Peter Jennings. [Source: ABC / Pop Stars Plus]While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” [Washington Post, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/30/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 73]

Entity Tags: MSNBC, Dan Rather, CBS News, Alex Wallau, ABC News, David Westin, Lisa de Moraes, Peter Arnett, Peter Jennings, NBC News, Tom Brokaw, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lauds “the humanity” of US weapons pinpointing non-civilian targets in Iraq. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, reporting Rumsfeld’s statement, observes, “No offense to the secretary, but at this moment we simply do not know if that is the case.” The New York Post calls Jennings’s comment “America-bashing, pessimism, and anti-war agitation.” [US Department of Defense, 4/28/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 79]

Entity Tags: ABC News, New York Post, Peter Jennings, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Peter Jennings.Peter Jennings. [Source: Washington State University]ABC News anchor Peter Jennings says in an interview: “We have been criticized, a little bit to my surprise, by people who think I was not enough pro-war. That is simply not the way I think of this role. This role is designed to question the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public. I think people who have done this and all jobs in journalism have believed that.… Are we out of step with the administration because we do not comport completely to their political point of view? So they criticize us for it. It goes with the territory, and if we get a groundswell we begin to look at ourselves. ‘Are we? Are we not?’ I don’t think the public realizes how much soul-searching goes on in news organizations about what is the right thing to do.” [USA Today, 9/8/2003]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Peter Jennings

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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