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ABC News Anchor Has Lung Cancer

"Peter has always been healthy as a horse and shows up for everything," said an ABC staffer who requested anonymity because network employees have been asked not to comment. "For Peter not to be there for the pope truly did leave everyone saying there must be something terribly wrong." But, the staffer added, "this is a man who will have no time and no patience for pity."

In a note to his staff, Jennings wrote: "There will be good days and bad, which means that some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky!"

Jennings added a similarly light note on last night's broadcast, smiling several times and saying that he was "a little surprised at the kindness today from so many people. . . . I wonder if other men and women ask their doctors right away, 'Okay, Doc, when does the hair go?' " Koppel, who spoke to Jennings shortly after the diagnosis, told his staff yesterday: "It is characteristically courageous of Peter that he has chosen to share this information with everyone immediately."

Brokaw said he has been in touch with Jennings and his wife, Kayce. "Peter is an old friend," Brokaw said in a statement. "I'm heartbroken, but he's also a tough guy. I'm counting on him getting through this very difficult passage."

Jennings, Rather and Brokaw once dominated the media landscape, to a degree unimaginable today, because beginning in the early 1980s they reached about half the television audience, unchallenged by cable news -- then in its infancy -- or talk radio or the Internet.

By the time newer and faster technological rivals came on the scene, the Big Three anchors were well-established figures, having chronicled stories from war to impeachment to terrorism. A younger generation of anchors mostly lacks that depth of experience -- Jennings as a Middle East correspondent, Rather as a White House correspondent and "60 Minutes" contributor, Brokaw as a White House reporter and "Today" host.

NBC planned best for the inevitable succession, anointing Brian Williams, 45, who has held onto the ratings lead, 2 1/2 years before he took over in December. CBS had no replacement ready when Rather, under pressure from his botching of the story about President Bush's military service, stepped down last month, although Bob Schieffer, 68, has won praise as interim anchor for his more conversational style.

ABC, despite a stable of high-priced stars, never groomed an obvious young successor to Jennings. And the evening news franchise itself, less lucrative than the popular morning shows, is often derided as an anachronism. "Good Morning America" co-host Diane Sawyer, as well as Gibson, would be part of any shortlist, but both seem happy with their current situations. Vargas is viewed as a rising star within the network. Koppel, who plans to leave ABC in December over plans to make "Nightline" a live, hour-long broadcast, has filled in for Jennings but never expressed interest in being a permanent evening anchor.

The son of a Canadian broadcaster, Jennings got dual U.S. citizenship after the 2001 terrorist attacks. He was the courtliest of the Big Three anchors, the most frequently married -- four times -- and the least self-promotional. He often described himself as a terrible interview.

Alex Jones of Harvard's Shorenstein media center said Jennings "was embarrassed that he had not finished high school and worked all the harder to be a superb journalist. This was always a man who had a more graceful humor and air of sophistication, which came from his days as a foreign correspondent when he looked like something from a 1940s movie, handsome and dashing."

Such was Jennings's longevity that he was in Germany when the Berlin Wall went up and when it came down. Jennings was one of three western journalists to witness Saddam Hussein's first appearance in an Iraqi court last year. The winner of 14 Emmy Awards, he hosted specials on such topics as the search for Jesus, the Kennedy assassination and UFOs.

"Obviously this is an emotional day here," said ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. "Everyone's first, second and third thoughts are for Peter's speedy recovery."

Peter Jennings plans to remain at anchor desk.

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