Jennings reported news with class

Published 1:12 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2005

By By Tim Cottrell
It really is amazing, in this country especially, the aura that seems to surround celebrities. We want to know what they're doing, what they're wearing, who they're dating, and even what they're eating. But especially, we want to (and sometimes feel like we do) know them.
That feeling seems to especially come when a famous person dies, whether it be Marlon Brandon and President Ronald Reagan last year, or any celebrity.
But when the news came that ABC Anchor Peter Jennings had died of lung cancer, only four months after announcing to the world he had it, many of us did feel we knew him.
Jennings had a style unlike that of his counterparts on CBS and NBC, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. Brokaw's dryness and Rather's folksiness sometimes seemed to overshadow the way in which they delivered the news, but Jennings, always impeccably dressed and groomed, always put forth a soothing presence.
Whether he was telling us about the latest debate in the Senate or piloting his network through the 9/11 tragedy, Jennings always had an aura of control, and talked to you in a way that made you feel everything would be all right.
While journalistically he probably wasn't the best at what he did (that was Rather, with or without last year's controversy), his style and presence always made him the voice many Americans would trust.
I never was much of a news viewer growing up, but I remember vividly when I heard about the September 11 tragedy three weeks into my college career immediately turning on ABC to hear what he had to say about it.
September 11 may have also been what eventually undid Jennings, as well. He had been a longtime smoker, but quit 20 years ago. The stress involved with those attacks drove him back to smoking, and while the damage had probably already been done, we may never know.
Television anchors have never really been favorites of mine, because simply when you think about it it isn't that difficult of a job 99 percent of the time. But in those one percent times, such as national catastrophes, is when you can really find out how good one is. Jennings operated as anchor, producer, fact-checker, writer, reporter, and pretty much everything else you can do on TV news during 9/11, and did it in a way that made things appear they would be okay.
Television news anchors can especially make you feel you know them, as you get the important events of the day each day from them. You want to know you can trust them, you want to know your family will make it from day to day, and they seem to be the ones most trust to let us know.
For a man who never went to college - who never even finished high school - Jennings took that responsibility and delivered each night with grace, class, and dignity. Even though most of us have never met him, all will feel that a little something is missing each time we turn on our TV sets for the evening news.
May he rest in peace.
Tim Cottrell is a staff reporter for the Atmore Advance. His column appears weekly.

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