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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

August 7, 2005

Welcome to Tuesday, August 7, 2012!  It’s time for another look back through time with the always popular Tuesday Timeline feature.

I’m not going to waste any time here.  Let’s just get right to it.  Would you like to know some of the major events in world history that took place on August 7?  Well, have a look!

1420 – Construction of the dome of Santa Maria del Flore begins in Florence, Italy

1714 – The Battle of Gangut; becomes the first important victory of the Russian Navy

1782 – George Washington orders the creation of a military award known as the “Badge of Military Merit” to honour soldiers who have been wounded in, the award is known at the “Purple Heart”

1789 – The United States War Department is established

1794 – George Washington invokes Militia Law of 1792 to suppress Western Pennsylvania’s “Whiskey Rebellion”

1890 – Anna Mansdotter becomes the final woman to be executed in Sweden for the 1889 Yngsjo murder

1909 – Alice Huyler Ramsey and three of her friends became the first women to complete a transcontinental auto trip, taking 59 days to travel from New York City to San Francisco

1927 – The Peace Bridge opens between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York

1930 – The last confirmed lynching of black people in the Northern United States take place in Marion, Indiana

1933 – Iraqi government slaughters over 3,000 Asyrians in the village of Sumail

1938 – The building of Mauthausen concentration camp begins

1944 – IBM dedicates the invention of the Harvard Mark I, the first program-controlled calculator

1955 – Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering (which later became Sony) begins selling the first transistor radios in Japan

1959 – The Lincoln Memorial design starts appearing on the American penny

1964 – Prometheus, the world’s oldest tree, is cut down

1965 – Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters meets up with the Hell’s Angels at Kesey’s estate, linking the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang with the hippie movement

1970 – California judge Harold Haley is taken hostage in his own courtroom and killed in an effort to free George Jackson from police custody

1974 – Philippe Petit performs a high wire act in New York City between the twin towers of the World Trade Center

1978 – Jimmy Carter issues a state of emergency at Love Canal following the negligent disposal of toxic waste there

1981 – The Washington Star ceases operation after 128 years

1985 – Takao Doi, Mamoru Mohri, and Chiaki Mukai are chosen to become the first Japanese astronauts

2007 – Barry Bonds hits his 756th home run, breaking the record held by Hank Aaron

We also have a few celebrity birthdays to list here.  Celebrating an August 7th birthday are Stan Freberg, Don Larsen, Tobin Bell, B.J. Thomas, Lana Cantrell, David Rasche, Alan Page, Wayne Knight, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), David Duchovny, Jacquie O’Sullivan (Bananarama), Bruno Pelletier, Harold Perrineau Jr, Marcus Roberts, Michael Weishan, Jason Grimsley, Sydney Penny, Rachel York, Charlize Theron,  Samantha Ronson, Eric Johnson, Tina O’Brien, Sidney Crosby, and Helen Flanagan.

For today’s look back through time, we’re going to take a look at what ended up being the final day of life for one man.

August 7, 2005.

That was the day that ABC News lost one of their own, and the day in which millions mourned the loss of a true professional in the world of journalism.

Today we’re going to look at the life of Canadian-born journalist Peter Jennings, who spent decades reporting the news at various television and radio stations (including a stint in my own hometown!).

Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 29, 1938.  He and his sister Sarah were born to Elizabeth and Charles Jennings.  Peter was always surrounded by radio at an early age.  After all, his father did work for CBC Radio as a broadcaster when Peter was born.

Would you believe that Peter Jennings’ first radio gig was in 1947 at the age of nine?  How’s that for starting early in life?  The name of the show he hosted was “Peter’s People”, and it ran on CBC Radio every Saturday morning.  The 30-minute program debuted while his father was out of the country on business, and when Charles came back to Canada and found out what happened, he was furious.  Charles Jennings did not like the concept of nepotism, and was outraged that the network allowed Peter to host his own show.

Two years later, when Jennings was eleven, he began attending school in Port Hope, Ontario, where he excelled in school sports.  When his father was transferred to the Ottawa headquarters in the 1950s, he began attending high school in Ottawa.  But Peter didn’t exactly like high school very much.  By his own admission, he was a lazy student who only cared about comic books and girls.  He ended up dropping out of high school in the tenth grade.  At some point, Peter attended Carleton University, but dropped out.

Despite dropping out of school, Peter dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps, and had the goal of becoming a famous broadcaster.  It took a bit of time for him to get there though.  At first, he started off as a bank teller at the Royal Bank of Canada.  He hoped to get transferred to the bank’s Havana branch, but instead he ended up working at the branch in Prescott, Ontario (current population 4,284).  Shortly after, he began working at the nearby Brockville, Ontario branch (current population 21,870), where in between shifts at the bank, acted in various musicals put on by the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society such as “Damn Yankees” and “South Pacific”.

While Jennings was in Brockville, he started working at the town’s local radio station, CFJR.  He was only 21 years old.  CFJR hired him to be a part of their news team, and over the next year, Jennings covered several stories, including one of a local train wreck which were picked up by the CBC.  In 1961, Jennings left CFJR to work at CJOH-TV in Ottawa, where he worked as an interviewer and co-producer for the show “Vue”, and shortly after that began hosting a show called “Club Thirteen”, a show similar to American Bandstand.

In 1964, CTV hired Jennings as the co-anchor of its national late-night newscast.  During his time with CTV, Peter Jennings was thrown into several high-profile news stories.  He was the first Canadian journalist to arrive in Dallas after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  He also attended the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where he would meet a man by the name of Elmer Lower, who at the time was president of ABC News.  Elmer offered Jennings a job with ABC to become a correspondent, but initially, Jennings turned down the offer.  After three months had passed, he changed his mind, and moved to New York City to take on the job.

At the time that Jennings took on the job, ABC was in third place behind NBC and CBS as far as news coverage went, and ABC decided to try and add a more youthful presence to the network in hopes of attracting younger viewers (more than likely the coveted 18-49 demographic).  On February 1, 1965, Peter Jennings took over the anchor desk at ABC News, and began hosting “Peter Jennings with the News”.  At the time, the program only ran for 15-minutes, but Jennings ended up making history.  Being only 26 years old at the time, he became the youngest person ever to anchor a news program in the United States, a record that has yet to be broken as of August 2012.

That’s not to say that everything transitioned smoothly at first.  Peter Jennings may have been the youngest of the anchors, but at the time, he was also very much inexperienced when compared to the likes of Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, and Chet Huntley.  The viewing audience found it hard to relate to Jennings, and some even made fun of his Canadian accent!  However, Jennings admitted that he was out of his league at that time, and three years after anchoring the news, he left the position to become a foreign correspondent for ABC.

This decision was beneficial in helping Peter Jennings build up his name and his reputation.  In 1968, he established ABC’s Middle East bureau in Lebanon, the first American news bureau in the Arab world.  Four years later, he covered his first major news story, the “Black September” massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.  He hid with his camera crew near the building where the Israeli athletes were being held hostage, and ended up providing ABC with clear video of the hostage-takers.  The piece was well-received, although Jennings was criticized over referring to the hostage-takers as “guerillas” and “commandos”.

The following year, Jennings covered the Yom Kippur War, and in 1974, he served as chief correspondent and co-producer of a biographical piece of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.  The piece established Jennings as Sadat’s favourite journalist, and Jennings won the first of two Peabody Awards for his coverage.

Over the next few years, Jennings would become a Washington correspondent, anchor a short-lived morning show, served as a foreign anchor for “World News Tonight”, and became a father to two children, Elizabeth and Christopher, born to him and his third wife, Kati Marton.

In 1983, Washington World News Anchor Frank Reynolds fell ill with multiple myeloma, and was forced to leave the anchor desk that April.  Peter Jennings was asked to take over the Washington anchor desk expecting Reynolds to return...but sadly, Reynolds passed away in July 1983.  Three months later, Peter Jennings became the permanent sole anchor of World News Tonight, after the show relocated to New York.  Over the next few years, Jennings proved to the world that he had learned a lot since his first stint as an anchorman back in 1965, and the ratings for ABC News certainly reflected this.  With his extended coverage of the 1986 Challenger explosion, his prompt response to the October 1989 Lorna Prieta earthquake, and being the first of the big three news networks to report the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, by the beginning of the 1990s, World News Tonight was ranked #1, beating CBS for the first time.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Jennings continued to become a huge presence at ABC News.  He garnered a lot of attention for his marathon reporting stints, often staying on the air for 12 hours or more.  Some of these stories included the Gulf War in 1991, the millennium celebrations of 2000, and the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.  And Jennings received praise from viewers in 1995 when he made the decision to backburner the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial to report on the unrest in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  But on the flipside, Jennings also received criticism for what some called a “liberal bias”, as well as his contribution to a news documentary regarding the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.  Some people were so angered at what they called a “revisionist look” at the history of the decision to drop the bomb that they mailed bus fare to Jennings, telling him to go back to Canada.

But, Jennings persevered and rose above the controversy, becoming an American citizen in 2003, and continued anchoring World News Tonight.

By December 2004, however, something would happen that marked the beginning of the end.  He was sidelined with a respiratory infection that month, and as a result, he was unable to fly out to cover the December 26, 2004 tsunami that struck several Asian countries.  Three months later, viewers noticed that Jennings’ voice was beginning to sound different.  It wouldn’t be until April 5, 2005 that the viewers understood why.

Peter Jennings was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He had told viewers that he would do his best to come back to the anchor chair, but this would end up being his final appearance.  Charles Gibson and Elizabeth Vargas would serve as temporary anchors of World News Tonight as Jennings underwent treatment.

Sadly, on August 7, 2005, just after 11:30pm, Peter Jennings succumbed to cancer at his home, at the age of 67.  Just minutes after his death, Charles Gibson interrupted programming to announce the sad news.  Over the next few days, many in the news industry remembered their friend and colleague.  His ABC colleagues Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson, Ted Koppel, and Barbara Walters all shared their memories of Jennings as did Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, who competed with Jennings as the anchors of CBS and NBC’s news broadcasts respectively.  Canadian anchors Kevin Newman, Lloyd Robertson, and Peter Mansbridge offered up their condolences, as did George W. Bush and Paul Martin.

Although Peter Jennings may be gone, his legacy continues to live on, and his career was celebrated.  He ended up winning sixteen Emmy Awards, and two Peabody awards for his work with ABC News.  He was named Best Anchor by the Washington Journalism Review in 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1992.  He was awarded the Paul White Award in 1995 in honour of his work in journalism, and in 2004 was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting.

On July 30, 2005, just eight days before he passed away, Jennings received word that he would be inducted into the Order of Canada, an honour that his daughter Elizabeth accepted in his honour.  New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that a block of West 66th Street would be renamed Peter Jennings Way.  And in January 2011, Jennings was posthumously inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Television Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a high school dropout, huh?  But Peter Jennings proved to be much more than that.  He was a journalist and a professional to the end, and he will forever be known as one of ABC’s finest anchors.

And that was our look back on August 7, 2005.

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