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ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings Looks Back on this Century

Jennings has collaborated with Todd Brewster on a new 12-hour documentary series which takes a look back at the 20th century. It's called "The Century" and will be broadcast early in 1999. There's also a companion book published by Doubleday. JENNINGS will discuss the project and his own 35 years in the news business.


Other segments from the episode on November 17, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 17, 1998: Interview with Peter Jennings; Review of Alanis Morissette's album "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie."


Date: NOVEMBER 17, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111701np.217
Head: Peter Jennings
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Peter Jennings, is the anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight." He has been working on a project that has allowed him to step back from the news of the moment to chronicle the story of the 20th century.

Jennings, along with journalist Todd Brewster, wrote the new book entitled "The Century." The companion TV series will be shown on ABC and the History Channel in early 1999. Jennings describes the book and TV series "The Century" as journalist's history, relying on interviews, storytelling, photographs and archival footage, like this on-the-scene TV report when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Oh, my God. Senator Kennedy has been shot. I'm right here, and Rafer Johnson (ph) has a hold of a man who apparently has fired the shots. He still has the gun, the gun is pointed at me right at this moment. I hope they can get the gun out of his hands. Stay away from the gun. Stay away from the gun. His hand is frozen.

Get his thumb. Get his thumb. Get his thumb. Take a hold of his thumb, and break it if you have to. Get his thumb.

GROSS: In addition to chronicling major events, "The Century" documents the extraordinary technological changes of the past 100 years. I asked Peter Jennings about how he has seen journalism change since the early '60s when he started working in television.

PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Can I just, at least, allude to the first part of your remark? One of the things that's stunning about "The Century" is of course is the enormous amount -- the unbelievable amount of technological change.

One of the first witnesses in our book was there to watch the Wright brothers fly. Radio comes along; television comes along; the light bulb comes along. So, we conquer -- we conquered darkness in this century. We conquered distance; we conquered the horizon in this century, all of which is fascinating.

Technology, I think, has probably changed my business more in the last 10 or 15 years than it has since the invention of radio and television because it has obligated us to work with such speed now that sometimes we don't even have time to stop and think what we're doing.

I don't think a lot of people necessarily agree with me, but I think that, in some respects, reporting has been made much more difficult with the advent of instant technology all over the world.

When I was a young reporter living in the Middle East I could go to India as I did, for example, in 1971 to cover the Indo-Pak War and I would go off in the morning and cover something and then I would take the film and send it down to Dum Dum Airport (ph) in Calcutta, and someone would hand-carry it to Bangkok if I were lucky, and then hand-carry it on to Tokyo where they'd process it and put it on the satellite to Los Angeles and land line it to California -- that's the process just to get the film back.

I could then go on reporting for another 12 or 14 hours and go to downtown Calcutta and rent a radio station from -- rent a radio studio from All India Radio just like sitting here today. Write my copy with a far greater measure of perspective, I think, then I would have the opportunity today where I would just simply punch my camera in or my tape recorder in and just go live. So, the perils of going live are very demanding for reporters.

GROSS: Do you feel that the all-news TV networks like CNN, MSNBC are affecting the way that you cover the news at ABC?

JENNINGS: Well, I think they have affected us on occasion. I think that when the O.J. Simpson trial, for example, came along and it got an enormous amount of attention on the cable networks, we at first at ABC thought, well, everybody who wants O.J. Simpson will get it there, and won't want it on our program as much, and so we did very little.

NBC, the nightly news there, conversely, did quite a lot. But we lost audience to the NBC Nightly News at that particular period -- I was always surprised. So, I think we went through a period where we were quite vigorously pushed by our notion that we were having to compete more vigorously with CNN, primarily, and then MSNBC and CNBC.

I think we've certainly found our way, editorially, a little more productively now. And I think have abandoned -- abandoned ourselves to the notion that CNN's going to be on all the time, and we're not going to be all the time. And so, that what we can do best, as CNN rushes through the day, is to try to give that which we do more meaning.

So, I think if you are looking for the difference between us, now, even though this is no intended slur on CNN, you would find that ABC broadcasts were now trying to give more meaning, more context, more perspective than simply getting the events on the air, and I think that's how news broadcasting will change in time.

GROSS: During the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky story there's been a lot of competition to kind of get the breaking news, and to cover the story, and so on. If you didn't have any competition -- if it was just like Peter Jennings in ABC "World News Tonight" how would you have covered that story? How much attention would you have given it?

JENNINGS: Well, I would have actually given it about the same amount of coverage we did, to be perfectly honest. I mean one may feel difficulty -- ABC's Jackie Judd was the first person to report on the existence of the famous dress, and as slightly discomforting as that was it was clearly a material factor. So, I would have reported on it.

I wasn't particularly squeamish about the story, and I thought of it then as I think of it now -- it is a story about personal behavior and one of the -- in the office which is deemed to be an example of behavior unlike no other in the land.

It was certainly a, and remains, a major story about the tension of politics. And, of course, it's a legal story as well, as we discovered when the president finally acknowledged that he hadn't told either the grand jury or the country the truth.

So, while I think there's a tendency in the audience to feel that we are all flogging the story to death, if you were to watch only one television channel at a time or only listen to one radio station at a time I think you might have a somewhat different impression. But to be honest, I don't think I would change our coverage very much at all.

GROSS: I think one of the things that's been very strange for the country to watch is, you know, our news anchors using terms like "oral sex," and "semen-stained dress," and things like that. Does that put you in an uncomfortable situation at all? It's not the language you're used to using on your broadcast.

JENNINGS: Well, it's not, and again, I don't mean to be cold-blooded about this but I find that semen-stained dresses and oral sex are far less violent than killing children or AIDS. And I've always found, ironically, that my struggle with some members of the audience has been how much violence do I put on television, and that is to say real violence.

I think back to when I was first trying to have people understand the intensity of the Lebanese Civil War, and people would complain that we were putting the reality of a civil war on which involved in lot of wanton death and destruction at the dinner hour. And my tendency -- I didn't say it out loud -- but my tendency was to say, well, you know, don't eat your dinner in front of the television set.

Because I wanted people very much to understand the wastefulness of the war, the intensity of the war, the cost of the war. So, in some respects, I think that's a lot more difficult, emotionally, to deal with than a semen-stained dress even though -- I agree with you -- it's not something I go around talking about very much.

GROSS: Peter Jennings is my guest, and he has co-authored a new book called "The Century" that's a companion book to a TV series covering the century that's being jointly produced by ABC and by the History Channel. And ABC broadcast would take place in March; the History Channel broadcast will take place in April.

I'm wondering if there's anything that is common now in television journalism that violates the rules that you are taught when you were first coming of age in television journalism?

JENNINGS: Well, again, I think it depends a lot on your background. I grew up -- my father was a great broadcaster in Canada, and one of the early broadcasters on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which does in Canada has always on the calendar what NPR does here.

He beat it into my head as a child that you didn't invade people's privacy unless there was a very demanding reason for it. And the demanding reason, for me, is invariably an impact on public responsibility or one's public job.

So, the greatest difficulty I have in general is invading someone's privacy -- I've had my own invaded on more than one occasion. And so, I rather wish there was a way in which we could all draw back somewhat, and have, if not -- you can't abandon it of course, but I think if people who did this sort of thing paused every time they were thinking about invading someone's privacy for circulation reasons, and could have some clear understanding of what impact that might have on that person's life.

But I'm not sure in the final -- in the long run whether or not by constantly being behind the veil in people's lives we are helping the general sense of -- I want to say democracy but it sounds so pompous, I'm trying to think of a lesser word -- but that's basically what I mean.

GROSS: Something that I think might have changed since the days you started in television, I think it used to be considered a violation of the rules on television if a reporter was also a news analyst, and now, for instance Sunday morning Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson are news analysts and freely give their opinions, but then during the week they're reporting on Congress and the White House respectively.

Are you comfortable with that?

JENNINGS: Well, I think it depends to be perfectly honest. In some respects I'm Sam's and Cokie's editor on the evening news, and one of the things that impresses me about both of them is that they are able to work as analysts and commentators on Sunday, and yet I defy the audience to discover where they're not acting as reporters unless I ask Cokie, for example, to be an analyst in the course of the week on the evening news.

One of the things that's always impressed me about Sam Donaldson, and I think has impressed almost everybody he's ever covered, is how fair he is. I think, in all of these instances, where reporters are sometimes analysts and, I grant you, sometimes columnists, the most effective thing the audience can do is to just bear it in mind.

I tried to explain to people that, you know, we all have bias, we all have baggage. I am a white middle-aged man from the former British Commonwealth with very little education -- very little formal education -- and some strong biases about some strong issues. I want people to be aware of those so that when they watch and listen to what I do they know where I'm coming from.

I also like people to understand that the bias you see or you think you hear and see in journalism is far less prevalent on the air than it is in the selection process of what we do. I give you one example: I've been very interested since the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the burden that AIDS is on the society as a whole.

And I was very lucky, I worked on a series for public television when it was a scare suddenly. And so, I learned a lot thanks to the program called "The AIDS Quarterly" on which I worked, and as a result I had a very strong notion that AIDS is a national issue and I want to get past all the biased ones.

So, I'm very happy that people understand that bias when they see something on our air about bias, but I think the audience should think that about everybody. That they should understand that we all have some baggage, and that's okay. We'd be very boring people if we didn't have baggage.

GROSS: My guest is Peter Jennings, anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight," and co-author of the new book "The Century." The companion TV series will be shown on ABC and the History channel in early 1999. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Peter Jennings is my guest, and he haco-authored a new book called "The Century" that's a companion book to a joint series of broadcasts recapping the century on ABC in March, and on the History Channel in April.

Another thing that has changed during the latter part of the century in television journalism is that the broadcast networks have been taking over by large companies. For instance, GE owns NBC, Disney owns ABC, and ABC recently made news because it killed an investigative story that was in the works about the possible hiring of people who had histories as...

JENNINGS: Pedophiles.

GROSS: Pedophiles. Thank you. And that these people with histories as pedophiles are getting hired to work in Disney theme parks in which a lot of young children are the main clientele. Before that story broke, I asked Michael Eisner the CEO of Disney about the potential conflict of interest posed by Disney's ownership of ABC, and he said that he preferred that ABC not cover Disney.

In fact, let me play you a short excerpt of what Michael Eisner said.


MICHAEL EISNER, CEO, DISNEY CORPORATION: I would prefer ABC not to cover Disney-produced things. I think what you end up having, more often than not, is the father being the umpire with his kid at bat in Little League. The father is more apt to call his kid out then he is to walk him for fear that he would be considered to be biased.

So, for just the opposite reasons I think it's -- and not just the opposite -- I think it's inappropriate for Disney to be covered by Disney. By and large, the way you avoid a conflict of interest is to, as best you can, not cover yourself and let others cover you.

GROSS: So, is that the policy that ABC can't cover Disney?

EISNER: We don't have a written policy about that, ABC News knows that I would prefer them not to cover it. They really know I don't want any puff pieces, I don't want any executive profiles, I don't want any positive pieces on our company because I think they run false even if they are totally honest and clean.

They know that. I am not on ABC facilities talking about my book. I could have, everybody would have wanted to talk about this book, I think. But I don't want the perception of impropriety because in this day and age perception and impropriety sometimes are too closely linked.

GROSS: That was an excerpt of an interview with Michael Eisner the CEO of Disney which owns ABC television. Michael Eisner said that ABC news is aware of his thoughts on coverage of Disney-related programs and products. What is your understanding?

JENNINGS: Well, I'm glad you played that whole thing through because if I understand what Michael is saying, he doesn't want us to promote Disney, he doesn't want us to go into a story on the opening of a theme park and make it look as wonderful as the opening of a Disney theme park can be.

Because no matter how objectively he thinks we may try to do it, it might look like we're shilling. I'm not aware of any policy, by the way, vis a vis Disney and ABC news and I'm inclined to think that I would be. And in fact, I do, and have covered issues involving Disney on the evening news.

So, I would -- again I don't think Michael means precisely what you think he means. We, for example, on occasion have had stories sent to us or reports sent to us about whether or not Disney is using underpaid labor in Central America to make Disney products.

We think that's a legitimate news story and we went and covered it. We didn't go and open -- cover the opening of Disney World because, quite frankly, it's of no interest to us on the evening news. So I don't -- I think in some respects we're saying the same thing. There's absolutely no policy, that I have ever been aware of, that we don't cover Disney.

I'm sure there is a policy, unspoken or otherwise, that you don't go out and make Disney look good just because they own the company. But I think -- one of things that might impress me about Eisner, and he said it to both the stockholders of ABC and the stockholders of Disney when they first acquired the company, which he believed in free and full pursuit of the truth.

I think we were all very impressed at the time. He's a very committed American in this regard, and so in terms of an invading our space or invading our territory, I've just simply never been aware of it.

GROSS: He did say, though, that he thinks it's inappropriate for Disney to be covered by Disney.

JENNINGS: I don't think he meant what you think he meant. I stand to be corrected if he will correct us, and if you will correct us I will come back and disagree with him again. But I think what he means is it's inappropriate for "Good Morning America" to go on and do a thing on the opening of Disney World.

I cannot imagine that he would say it would be inappropriate of us at ABC news to cover Disney if we deemed as journalists that Disney were somehow harmful to the national -- to the national life. I just can't imagine him saying that. He doesn't strike me is that kind of person at all.

GROSS: What about the decision to kill the Brian Ross investigative piece?

JENNINGS: I wasn't party to it. My only sense of it is that news management -- because I only respond to news management not to corporate management -- news management did not believe the story was fully and completely reported. That happens all the time in our business.

Our reporters were working in association with a book publishing company -- I think we all know in the news business that that has baggage attendent to it. But those things happen quite often. It is clearly more awkward when the story it involved Disney, but were I not satisfied with the management for which I work I would tell them first, and probably only tell them, but at the moment I'm happy as best I can tell with their decision.

GROSS: Do you think that this kind of corporate ownership of journalistic operations is just a fact of life now, and everyone has to figure out a way of dealing with it as best as they can?

JENNINGS: I think you've just made the point exactly, Terry. It is true, we all work for bigger organizations and the more -- the fewer larger organizations there are owning more media. In very general terms, the potential for that being worse for the media than better is, I think, just obvious because when you have a lot of media owned by a lot of people there is a obvious opportunity for much more free expression.

Now, the director corollary is not that because we are owned by Disney that we're all suddenly, you know, choking to death -- quite the opposite. But I just think axiomatically speaking, yes, the more media in the fewer hands obviously has potential peril.

GROSS: Now, ABC recently canceled a piece to be produced by Oliver Stone about the investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800. And then ABC released a statement that it had become increasingly uncomfortable with the confusion that could exist between fact-based entertainment and hard news.

The statement said: "We came to believe that it was difficult for viewers to distinguish between the two forms. Fact-based entertainment might not be appropriate for a TV network with a strong news record and identity."

Did you have any part in that decision?

JENNINGS: I expressed my opinion. I expressed my opinion, and I didn't have to be asked to express my opinion. I'm pleased that they decided what they did about the Stone thing.

GROSS: What was your opinion?

JENNINGS: My opinion is that it is difficult in this day and age because so many young people get their information from television and movies, and fewer of them get it from books, that when you put something on television that is potentially so contrary to the facts that you will leave an imprint of reality with young people who are not using other sources. I have no objection to Michael or Oliver Stone doing what he wants or where he wants, but I'm quite happy that they're not doing it on ABC.

GROSS: Peter Jennings is the anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight." He co-authored the new book "The Century." We'll talk more in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Peter Jennings, anchor and senior editor at ABC's "World News Tonight." He has co-authored the new book "The Century" which chronicles the major events of the past hundred years. The companion TV series will be shown on ABC in March, and the History Channel in April.

Are you concerned that the line between entertainment and hard news ever blurs on the news itself?

JENNINGS: Sure, but I think it blurs far less than you -- than people think it does. And I think, again, we go through periods where it blurs a little bit, but then I'm always inclined to press back a little on the person asking the questions, you allow me to do it with you.

What do you actually mean when you say: "The line between entertainment and news is blurry?"

GROSS: Well, that's a good question. For me, what I sometimes mean it for instance the use of overly dramatic music behind the news that makes you -- or behind like an investigative story on one of the newsmagazine shows.

JENNINGS: Totally opposed to it.

GROSS: That kind of tells you what you're supposed to be experiencing or heightens the drama. Or, on one of the entertainment magazine -- you know, one of the news magazine shows -- a re-enactment of an event that -- so you think you're seeing the real thing in a way, but you know you're not, and you're not sure how what you're seeing is misleading you about what really happened.

JENNINGS: Well, we're on the same page with that one, you see. There's nothing more offensive to me than hearing the music swell up and under the crisis moment in a news story. Because I agree wholeheartedly with you that it adds an inducement, it adds an encouragement to think or feel something which may not necessarily be there.

And therefore on the evening news at which I work there is simply rules against it. You just do not put music underneath news reporting. Re-enactments are, I think, a little more complex, some of them are horrendous, some of them are re-enactments of events or occasions in which people do not truly know what happened the first time once you get this point of view camera rushing down the hallway whereas the individual in question may not have been.

So I'm, in generally terms, I'd rather us not do those. On the other hand, if the audience fully understands -- I mean, I think, the whole business of putting television on the air over all these years is an educational process for people.

You know, a quick digression -- in Ontario which I wish we had more of in America Learning Television or Television and Literacy is a required course in high school. They teach you in high school what it means to take a close-up, and a wide shot, and shoot somebody from down below, and shoot somebody from up above, and see how you can enhance or minimize.

I wish we had more of that because indtime people come to understand the ways in which television is changing. But in general terms, if that's what you mean by the blurring of entertainment and news, yes, you and I are on the same page.

GROSS: Peter Jennings is my guest, and he's co-authored a new book "The Century" that's a retrospective look at the century. And he also anchors a TV series called "The Century" that begins on ABC in March, and then there's a History Channel component that will be shown in April.

It seems to me the role of the anchor has changed somewhat since you started in broadcasting. Your first stint as an anchor was -- was it 1963-65?

JENNINGS: No, 1965. I used to do it in short pants.

GROSS: You mean because you were so young?

JENNINGS: Precisely.

GROSS: Right. You were 26 or something?

JENNINGS: Not to mention unqualified. Yes, 26.

GROSS: Yeah, that is, even by today's standards, very young for an anchor. What was expected of an anchor then that's maybe different from today?

JENNINGS: Well, when I was anchor then was to somehow fit in the general overall trend of the ABC television audience at the time which was young. I think "Gidget" was the number one show at the time when I was doing it, and I was the youngest guy around. I had my hair in my teeth. Ironically, some things haven't changed. I was expected to write a lot on the evening news then. I didn't do it very well.

The anchor person is, in most news organizations -- in most major news organizations now, a very senior editor. And so, I'd be one of the two or three senior editors in the whole news division. Now, certainly, the senior editor on my own broadcast. You're also expected to do an awful lot of live programming, and be available to do an awful lot of live programming to anchor, in my case, all of the political coverage as well.

Sometimes the burden, I think, on the anchor person is rather too much. It sounds a little self-indulgent but when I got this job the second time around after having been a foreign correspondent for 20 years I thought that I would, you know, read magazines instead of newspapers now, and books instead of magazines.

And it's a much more demanding job hour by hour than I had thought it was going to be because it has so many components to it.

GROSS: Do you write your own copy?

JENNINGS: I do on the evening broadcast either write or rewrite almost all of it. I do it for a variety of reasons. I do it because it's -- it's very subjective so I'm -- if you find someone who writes exactly like you do it's pretty unusual.

It's a great way to copy edit as well and check for facts. It's a great way to add perspective if you had any experience on a particular issue.

GROSS: I find your copy really very kind of clear and concise and direct.

JENNINGS: It wasn't always thus. Oh, God I had a producer once many years ago who gave me a Christmas present on common English usage. I was just...

GROSS: What was your problem?

JENNINGS: Well, I was just -- I had a terrible -- maybe the way I speak sometimes -- I would make for lousy sound bites. I tend to use a lot of inverted phrases: "if's," "ands," where fors," and "maybes" because that's rather the way I look at life.

And so, I find writing the evening news sometimes very challenging because I realize that what we're trying to give folks in the evening is black and white, and so often I want to give them gray.

GROSS: I used to live in Buffalo so I recognized the Canadian "out" and "about" which is a little different than the American "out" and "about." And so I'm wondering when you -- when you started anchoring whether you weere given any heat about the kind of Canadian vowels?

JENNINGS: I was, indeed. Mind you I -- knowing you're from Buffalo reminds me of when I grew up in Toronto, we wanted something exciting to do you went to Buffalo. And when you grew up in Buffalo you wanted something exciting to do you go to Toronto.

When I came down from Canada in the early 1960s I was, looking back on it, I was incredibly pompous and determined and so I did think I could get away with saying things like "left tenant" instead of "lieutenant" and "bean" instaed of "been," but it's pretty difficult after all those years to change "outhouse."

I got rid of most of them now, but as -- I really am amazed at people put up with me as long as they did in his early days.

GROSS: Having come from Canada does it strike you that Canadian and U.S. culture are much different or very similar?

JENNINGS: No, I think they're both very similar in many ways, and very different, I think, in some ways for some people, and to some extent that maybe generational. You know, in the United States we grow up with the notion of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In Canada you grow up to a greater extent with citizenship, good government, and never cross the street against a red light.

I took my son up to a World Series game in Toronto when the Blue Jays won the World Series, and we had an awesome evening and the Blue Jays won, and it was quite a lot of beer comsumed, and we all came out of the Sky Dome in Toronto -- and as I said, a lot of beer had been consumed, and one cop on Front Street put up his hand, and we all stopped. And I thought to myself, boy, home again.

But yes, I think very different. And I also think -- this is very true about Canadian journalists who come here. Canada is a very large country with a small population living next door to a large country with an enormous population which has made such an extraordinary difference in the world especially in this century.

And so, I think the Canadians have a slightly more refined notion of the value of influence. Americans grow up with a sense of power and Canadians are obliged by their state to grow up with a sense of influence.

GROSS: My guest is Peter Jennings. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Peter Jennings, anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight." He's co-authored the new book "The Century" a companion to an ABC and History Channel series which will be shown early next year.

Now, your father was in the news business, I think at the CBC in Canada.


GROSS: What did he do?

JENNINGS: He was the first national radio anchor person or anchorman that Canadian radio ever had. And so, 50 years ago -- no, 60-70 years ago my father was doing the national news on the radio for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation coast to coast every night.

And he did all of the live broadcasting too for the opening of parliament and great state events. I learned from my father about live broadcasting, and I learned a lot from him. I learned -- I'm not giving a very good example of today -- I learned to let other people talk, and silence -- I love, for example, covering funerals.

I learned how to cover a funeral from my father who used to say to me, be sure we hear the horse's hooves.

GROSS: In other words, stop talking for a while.

JENNINGS: Stop for a while to let the -- let people hear the gun carriage go by.

GROSS: Well, what you did early on in 1965 was to anchor for ABC, as you said at the age of 26, this was after Frank Reynold's death. And I think you were opposite Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley?

JENNINGS: Mmm-hmm. I was at a lunch once with Chet and David. Chet, as you know, is dead now. Walter Cronkite is still a good friend and immensely kind to me when I came down from Canada. We went to a lunch here in New York; Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite and young Peter Jennings and some man stood up in the audience and said, you know, you guys are just like -- you guys are just in show business.

And Brinkley drew himself up to his haughtiest height and said, excuse me. The only concession I make to show business is on the way to the studio, I stop in the makeup room and I have these bags under my eyes painted up. And Cronkite piped in, yes, and Jennings stops in and has them painted on.


GROSS: Did you feel very uncomfortable or did you feel like you were like the young handsome guy who was cast in this position because he was young and handsome?

JENNINGS: Well, I did it for three years. For the first two years I was too stupid to feel awkward about it which meant I was probably too fullheaded, and by about the end of the second year just before the Arab-Israeli War broke out in 1967 I realized, enough already, I hate it.

I went off to the Middle East at the end of the 1967 war and came back to my employers and said, that's enough, I want out of here, and they said, yes. Very eagerly, I realized. I think it would have been only a matter of time before they'd have fired me. And off I went.

And I never thought I would come back. I never thought I would anchor again because I was so happy for the intervening 20 years.

GROSS: One of the things you did as a foreign correspondent was you opened a Beirut bureau which was the first ABC bureau in an Arab country, and you were there for, I think, seven years?

JENNINGS: Six years.

GROSS: Tell me why ABC opened a bureau there at the time.

JENNINGS: Well, I think we were very self-conscious at the end of the 1967 war that the press corps head rather cheered for the Israelis, and got to the end of the war and realized that there hadn't been much coverage of the other side. The only person we had on the other side of any significance was Charles P. Arnaut (ph); wonderful foreign correspondent who died just a few months ago in Arizona. And he'd been in Cairo and the Egyptians put him on a train and sent him to Alexandria -- before you know it he was on a Greek island.

And I think that people felt that the whole region was not being covered with as much balance or as interest as you might have because the region, as you know, after 1967 got very very interesting. And so, I was living in Rome going back and forth, and they said we'd like you to go live in Beirut. I said, no, I live in Rome, and they said, we'd like you to go live in Beirut. And I said, excuse me, you don't understand I live in Rome -- Rome, eh?

And I was having an awesome time. But when they said a third time, I said, yes, quite. And so I want to live in Beirut which, of course, turned out to be even better than Rome. But I had, as my responsibility, for all those years everything east of the Mediterranean all the way to India.

And in India, the Hong Kong correspondent picked up. So, I had all of the Arab world, I had the territories that were occupied by Israel, I had Greece, and I had Cypress and occasionally Turkey. I had Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan -- I mean I was -- a thought I had died and gone to heaven.

GROSS: Well, one of your colleagues, Charles Glass was kidnapped in Beirut, and I think you were anchoring the news at that time and probably you were anchoring when the footage was played of him making a kind of forced confession, I think, about being tied to the CIA or something which...

JENNINGS: Charlie was here the other day. Charlie was more than a colleague, I trained him. I took him to India as a sound man. I'll never forget he used to carry the microphones in his socks -- we'd get in front of some very important person we have to interview, and there'd be Charlie shaking out his socks so that the microphones would fall out on the floor.

So, he was much more, and indeed, he was kidnapped in Lebanon in the process of writing a book. He planned to write a book about going from Syria and Iraqi border -- Syrian-Turkish border down into Egypt, and writing a wonderful -- he wrote a very good book called "Tribes with Flags" when he got interrupted and was kidnapped in Lebanon.

I was on the air here doing the stock market crash or the stock market Black Tuesday, and suddenly somebody put on the air this picture of Charlie confessing to being a CIA agent, and it just -- it's one of the few times I think I ever lost it on television.

GROSS: How much did you lose it?

JENNINGS: Enough to have to apologize to the audience minutes later.

GROSS: Were you seeing this footage for the first time?

JENNINGS: I was seeing it for the first time. It was a producer's mistake, in some respects, somebody should have told me it was in the house, and we could have looked at it in a break. But they didn't, they rushed to get it on the air. And so, I saw it cold for the very first time, and it was very hard.

GROSS: What were you seeing?

JENNINGS: Charlie. Charlie sitting there looking like hell admitting that he was a CIA agent, and I could see -- I knew the situation so well I could just see the guy standing just off camera, just out of frame, you know, with their AK-47s or whatever pointing at him. It was very tough.

GROSS: I imagine that there have been other times when you have been anchoring live news coverage of something when a story has broken that has been greatly shocking, and you're kind of narrating the story as it happens, yes?

JENNINGS: Yeah, I don't want to portray myself as being cold-blooded, but I indeed I've had other times. I remember when Ronald Reagan went down to the memorial service for the Challenger families after the Challenger disaster and he went to Houston, and President Reagan, as you know, who had this extraordinary capacity to comfort people. Bill Clinton has some of the same, but Ronald Reagan could hold a mother in his arms, albeit briefly, and you could feel the comfort oozing out of him, not only for the individual, but for the country.

And in the background, whatever band it was playing the Navy hymn, and I just thought that was -- too much for me. But in the main I've always felt very strongly and was trained to believe that expressions of emotion, other than happiness, happiness has always seemed to be an acceptable mood to communicate.

But I never thought it was my job to have other people know precisely how I was feeling about anything on the air. They have enough trouble dealing with their own feelings.

GROSS: But when is happiness okay?

JENNINGS: Well, I think at the end of a news if a piece -- if a story that we've done is clearly funny or if I can feel people or if I've written a closing item to the broadcast and people around me smile, I think it's OK for me to smile.

I just don't think it's -- I think that crying on television is a bit demeaning to everybody, but mostly to the audience.

GROSS: One last question, when you first anchored the news in '65, was there anything that was different about the nature of stories, their length, their content, what qualified as an appropriate new story? Compared to now in 1998.

JENNINGS: Oh, no. I think if you go back and look at those days -- I occasionally hear my friend Don Hewitt at CBS, from whom I've learned a lot, railing about the old days. If you go back and look at a newscast from the 1960s or the '70s or even the early '80s and compare on a good day to what we do today, we're doing an infinitely better job today.

Our techniques are better, our reporters are much more specialized today than they were 25 years ago, the ability to communicate the story is vastly greater. People used to laugh at us for the graphics innovations of the news program when, in fact, graphics have enabled us to communicate much more complicated stories.

If you watch -- we do a series on "World News Night" -- John McKenzie, one of our medical reporters do some of the most avant-garde medical reporting there is on television. If they could never do it without graphics, but because we now have the computer-age graphics that we do, it's totally easy to understand stem cells and how they work, and DNA. And that would never have happened 20 some odd years ago.

GROSS: Well, Peter Jennings I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

JENNINGS: Thank you, Terry, very much. Thank you for giving us the time.

GROSS: Peter Jennings it is the anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight." He co-authored the new book "The Century," and anchors the companion TV series which will be shown on the ABC in March, and the History Channel in April.

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Alanis Morrissette's new hit CD.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Peter Jennings
High: ABC News anchor PETER JENNINGS. He's collaborated (with Todd Brewster) on a new 12-hour documentary series which takes a look back at the 20th Century. It's called "THE CENTURY" and will be broadcast early in 1999. There's also a companion book published by Doubleday. JENNINGS will discuss the project and his own 35 years in the news business
Spec: Lifestyle; Culture; Peter Jennings; Media; Books; Television and Radio; World Affairs

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Peter Jennings
Date: NOVEMBER 18, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 111802NP.217
Head: Review: Alanis Morrissette
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Alanis Morrisette set a record for first week sales with the release this month of her new album "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie." Her previous album "Jagged Little Pill" sold more than 26 million copies worldwide.

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new CD.


Writing a letter to you
Didn't make me feel any more peaceful
And how I felt when we once became
If I can talk to what I did
I cannot know because I'm supposed to know professional boundaries
I'd like to you to risk your rented arm
As though you were kissed by God
Hold on a little...

KEN TUCKER, ROCK CRITIC: Alanis Morrisette gets more out of repetition than any other white non-hip-hop performer around. And by that I don't mean the royalties from the oh, the three billion times, all her various "Jagged Little Pill" hit singles have been played on the radio.

The prevailing songwriting strategy on display in her new collection "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" is to reiterate phrases over and over with always varying degrees of emphasis and interpretation. It's one variation on an hook, not as standard as ryhming and alternating verse chorus verse, but Morrissette is into discursiveness these days even as she's intent on getting your toe tapping.

Take, for instance, the CD's first single "Thank You" with its unrhymed lists of "how about's" and "thank you's."


How about getting off of these antibiotics
How about stopping eating what I'm full of
How about the transparent dangling carrots
How about (unintelligible)
Thank you India
Thank you (unintelligible)

TUCKER: Actually, with its positive sentiment stuck inside a crystalin melody like a message in a bottle is a terrific little single. And the song is typical of this 17 track repetition looving therapy session, the musical equivalent to an episode of "Felicity" which, believe it or not, I sort of mean as a compliment.

It's all too easy to scoff at this self-absorbtion and melodramatic misery that characterizes a good part of adolescence, but that doesn't make adolescent misery any less painful or its depiction in works of popular art any less of a challenge to capture honestly and vividly.

Morissette, though now a dowdy 24, does this sort of thing awfully well. Amazingly well considering the pressure she must have felt after selling 26 million plus copies of "Pill," and gaining a level of fame that must take you out of the adolescent state of mind real fast.

My favorite example of Morrissette's ongoing teen angst urgency here it is "Are You Still Mad."


Are you still mad I can't tell
I was bad
Are you still mad at me
Are you still mad I can't tell
To all my 40 year old male friends
Are you still mad I shared on
Dramas with every...

TUCKER: Alanis Morrisette was a teeny-bopper star in her native Canada, and had a role here on Nickelodeon's "You Can't Do That on Television." This new work is more like "You Can't Do That on CD." Indulged that breakthrough to explore a new-found sense of self, to continue to face down old fears of abuse and domination, and do it at a languid pace that allows for a maximum amount of her distinctive style of ululating wailing.


I was afraid you'd give me a price
I was afraid of your (unintelligible)
I was afraid (unintelligible)
I was afraid of your alcohol

I was afraid of your complete disregard for me
I was afraid (unintellibible)

I have as much rage is you do
I have as much pain as you do
I've lived as much as you have
I've kept mine for longer than you
You were my best friend

TUCKER: What's missing over the long haul of 17 songs, however, are tunes that measure up to Morrissette's copious verbage and elastic, ecstatic vocals. As on "Jagged Little Pill" she's collaborating with producer Glen Ballard, but the sound is very different. Instead of the slow building grand climaxes that characterized hits like "You Ought to Know," and "You Learn," the songs here tend to settle into poly-rhythmmic grooves and stay there, providing melody lines just serviceable enough to carry along all of Morrissette's zen chattiness.

It's an audacious move, one that anyone predisposed to dislike her will find tedious -- proof that she's a naval-gazing twit. I, however, would counter that Morrissette has used her year plus recording hiatus and newfound star status wisely in pursuit of a way to make a vulnerable, open- hearted CD in the face of intense commercial expectations.

With her deep breath, long lines and persistent chanting, she reminds me, oddly enough, of the poet Allen Ginsberg, deploying willed innocence as a strategy to achieve emotional truth accessible to anyone with ears wide-open enough to hear them.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for "Entertainment Weekly." He reviewed "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie," the new album from Alanis Morrisette.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Ken Tucker
High: Rock critic KEN TUCKER reviews Alanis Morrissette's new release "Super Former Infatuation Junkie" (Maverick/Reprise)
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Music Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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