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8/8/2005
JENNINGS DEATH
CATEGORY: Media

The death last night of long time ABC anchor Peter Jennings brings to a close an era of journalism that witnessed the power of the press at its zenith in American history. From historic highs in 1969 that saw 85% of televisions in use at the time tune into one of the three major network newscasts every night, that number has now dropped to below 20%. And Peter Jennings was there for both the rise and fall of the network news phenomena as a well traveled foreign correspondent and then as news anchor for “The World Tonight.”

Actually, when Mr. Jennings took over the anchor chair in 1983 following the death of Frank Reynolds, it was his second stint as newsreader for the ABC news broadcast. Joining ABC in 1963, he was elevated to the anchor chair in 1964 at the age of 26. This was at a time when ABC was not considered a serious news contender, finishing a distant third to broadcasts headed up by CBS’s Walter Cronkite and NBC’s Huntely-Brinkley tandem. Despite the fact that both CBS and NBC had gone from a 15 minute format to a 30 minute show for the news in 1963, ABC couldn’t get clearance from local stations for the extra 15 minutes of network news until 1967 by which time Jennings had been eased out of the anchor chair and assigned the foreign beat for the network.

It was his overseas assignment where I first became aware of Mr. Jennings. In an age when it was hugely expensive to transmit via satellite, many of Jennings early reports were on film that was shot on location and then rushed to ABC studios in New York for developing and editing. By the late 1960’s, this had changed and the golden age of news broadcasting had begun. Maintaining enormously expensive foreign bureaus in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, and Australia as well as desks in several American cities, the network news shows became the primary source of news for the first time, surpassing newspaper readership for good in 1980.

Jennings reports always seemed calm, measured and balanced when overseas. Whether he was reporting on the Viet Nam war or Oktoberfest in West Germany, he was usually interesting to watch. When ABC went to a 3 anchor format in 1978, Jennings joined the team from London reporting foreign news. His elevation to the anchor chair in 1983 was seen by most as a move by ABC to finally attempt to compete head to head with news giants NBC and CBS.

For whatever reason, it worked. ABC first caught and surpassed CBS and finally NBC. Much of the credit was given to Mr. Jennings calm and deliberate presence as well as ABC’s faster paced and more interesting format. But it’s ironic that just when Mr. Jennings success was reaching its apogee, audience for all network news started to decline. From 1980 to 2003, network news audience declined a staggering 44%. Much of that decline was attributed to the rise of CNN but other factors played a role as well. Expanded local news broadcasts that included national and foreign news – usually with some local angle – pulled viewers away from the nets. And the rise of cable broadcasting in general meant that there was that much more competition for the attention of the American people during the 6:00 – 7:00 PM time slot.

It’s very hard for anyone under 30 to realize the enormous power wielded by the press, especially the major networks, in the period from 1970 to 1980. Their relentless coverage of the Viet Nam war helped end that conflict. Their investigative reports on the Watergate scandal assisted in bringing down President Nixon. And their wall to wall coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis with nightly pictures of American humiliation helped make Jimmy Carter an irrelevancy.

Then came Ronald Reagan and his media savvy advisor’s who changed the entire dynamic of the relationship between the Presidency and the press. Seeing what had happened to the last three Presidents, the Reagan’s advisor’s decided to go over the heads of the media and speak directly to the American people. Partly through prime time addresses from the oval office but mostly through the manipulation of images on the nightly news, Reagan’s counterspin was able to get through the media’s hostility and enable the President to achieve success in both domestic and foreign policy.

Further erosion of the power of the press occurred during the Bush 41 and Clinton years as both White House spin and declining audience due to the explosion of cable news fractured the ability of the media to set the agenda for the nation. Through it all, however, Jennings and ABC news maintained, in my opinion, the least biased reporting – with notable exceptions – of any of the three “major” networks.

Then came 9/11. Jennings coverage of the attack was extraordinary. Showing off both the technical wizardry that makes the immediacy of network news so compelling as well as a personal stamina that saw the anchor on the air for more than 12 hours straight, Jennings and his counterparts – Brokaw and Rather – played a vital role during those dark hours in calming the nation and helping it begin the grieving process.

With the passing of Mr. Jennings, the end of what could be termed the post World War II media is at hand. It was peopled with individuals whose worldview was shaped by the events during the war years. The current crop of media denizens has had their worldview shaped by Viet Nam and Watergate.

Somehow, I think we’re a lot poorer today.

By: Rick Moran at 6:58 am
6 Responses to “JENNINGS DEATH”
  1. 1
    Jay Said:
    7:12 am 

    Great post!

  2. 2
    rmg Said:
    7:39 am 

    You’re so noble. (actually, the views expressed in that post were quite noble). You see Rick, you can be noble too for a change. It’s not so bad is it?

    PS - As to your comment on our site (Truth and Lies: Blog for A Better America), thanks for your concern about our neck. And we’re sorry for offending you if we are, in fact, noble. Honestly, we don’t claim to be noble. It’s not our fault that our views are a function of what is good for the country and not just what is good for us personally. Or that we value the truth over lies.

    Funny that you make light of being noble or truthful though. That’s exactly the problem with you right wingers. Isn’t that what you and your other right wing bedfellows claim makes you superior? (while you’re actually just voting your pocketbooks or spreading nonsense for profit).

    We’ll take your post as an admission that you were so put off by the ideas that one should tell the truth and focus on the national interest (instead of oneself or own’s close group) that you had to deride them.

    If we’re noble, then I guess we’re noble. You’re the one that seems to have a problem with it. I guess it proves we were right about you to begin with. Why does it seem so hard for you to believe people might genuinely be that way?

    (come on Rick, that Jennings post was noble…you’re having neck problems too, right).

  3. 3
    The MaryHunter Said:
    10:50 pm 

    I only learned of Jenning’s death when I logged onto the Wide Awakes group this am, for a quick goodbye note before or flight. This is the first detailed obituary that I’ve read—in fact, it was pretty much the obituary for weeknight MSM news broadcasts, if you think about it.

    There were a lot of ways you could have taken this post, Rick. Indeed, you were noble. As always, a smooth and educational read. Thanks.

  4. 4
    jazzizhep Said:
    5:41 pm 

    I always thought of Jennings as least biased until 9/11. I remember an exchange between Jennings and George Stephanopoulos in which Jennings was clearly trying to get George to say something negative about how long the President is taking to make a public appearance (one had not yet been issued). The conversation was something along these lines.

    Jennings: Shouldn’t the President have come out by now.

    George: The President is surrounded by people who’s only job is to make sure he is safe.

    Jennings: He can override them if he wishes, correct?

    George: Yes, but they are trying to make sure things have calmed down and there are no further threats.

    Jennings: The American public needs to see the President and have him calm their fears, and not be hidden away.

    George: These are the decisions the security detail are helping him to make. When they feel it is safe, he will be brought out.

    This line of questioning continued from Jennings, with George alaways referring to protocol, and the steps that have been laid out in advance for times such as these. The conversation finally ended when Jennings flat out asked George if he thought Clinton would be acting in the same manner. George replied that Clinton put great faith in the people around him who were there to protect him, and if they said he needs to wait. Clinton would have waited. George said repeatedly that he thought Bush was doing the right thing, and that it looks as though everything is going according to plan.

    From that point on I have not watched a lick of Jennings, and my respect for Stephanopoulos grew immensely. I would rather be subjected to reruns of “Dukes of Hazzard” with the replcement Bo and Luke than to be made to watch Jennings. And thank God I never had to choose.

  5. 5
    TMH’s Bacon Bits » Blog Archive » JENNINGS DEATH Pinged With:
    8:29 am 

    [...] and Watergate. Somehow, I think we’re a lot poorer today. Originally presented at Rightwing Nuthouse, with an interesting comment thread. [...]

  6. 6
    TheWinterSolstice Said:
    8:44 pm 

    I usually enjoy your posts, however presenting Jennings in such a positive way is quite ridiculous. Jennings was a hack, and an anti-American vermin.
    Please read http://aarons.cc/2005/08/07/jennings-the-msms-julius-streicher-of-the-arafat-and-castro-loving-left/ to get a better idea of who he was – a standard issue MSM liar.
    The world is a better place with him burning in hell. (and I say this with love.)
    Best regards.

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