Peter Jennings has been flooded with so many complaints that his phone line has effectively been disabled.

All over something he didn't say.

ABC has received more than 10,000 angry calls and e-mails since its veteran anchor was reported -- erroneously -- to have criticized President Bush for not returning directly to the White House after the attacks on New York and Washington.

"It's very depressing to me and terribly depressing for him," says Paul Friedman, ABC News's executive vice president. "He's really disturbed by it. He says, rightly, 'I've done a pretty good job and people are quoting me out of context and inaccurately to hurt me.' And it really does hurt."

Rush Limbaugh, relying on a friend's e-mail message, denounced Jennings -- "this fine son of Canada" -- for "insulting comments toward President Bush." He said that "Little Peter couldn't understand why George Bush didn't address the nation sooner than he did, and even made snide comments like, 'Well, some presidents are just better at it than others,' and 'Maybe it's wise that certain presidents just not try to address the people of the country.' "

This, said Limbaugh, was a prime example of "foolish, whining, babyish, unrealistic selfishness on the part of liberals."

The radio host made a full on-air retraction after ABC protested. "Let it be known here, ladies and gentlemen, that when we think we are wrong here . . . we will correct this and be upfront about it, so as to avoid any uncertain angst and unnecessary angst on the part of our colleagues at ABC, who likewise are only interested in getting it right."

The conservative Media Research Center says the Jennings comments were either "never uttered, distorted or taken out of context."

After noon on Sept. 11, when Air Force One did not return to Washington, Jennings wondered where Bush was. After learning Bush had gone to an Air Force base in Louisiana, Jennings said "none of us should be surprised" that the Secret Service takes his safety "with deep and profound seriousness." He added there was a "psychological" aspect because "the country looks to the president on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some presidents do it well, some presidents don't."

After Bush addressed the nation, Jennings said Bush's quoting of the Bible "will just sit so appropriately" with many Americans.

Some of the negative e-mails hit ABC even before Limbaugh's comments. Another wave was unleashed when the Web site NewsMax.com published Jennings's phone number and e-mail address.

"His telephone is full of vitriol, really awful stuff," Friedman says. "You ought to be able to say, 'Some presidents do it well and some presidents don't,' without it being taken in a partisan way, especially when later in the day he made it clear he thought the president had done pretty well."

Footnote: ABC has barred its journalists from wearing lapel flags such as the one sported by White House correspondent Terry Moran.

"Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible," says spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. "That does not mean journalists are not patriots. All of us are at a time like this. But we cannot signal how we feel about a cause, even a justified and just cause, through some sort of outward symbol."

The T-Word

To Reuters, there are no terrorists.

As of last week, suicide attacks that deliberately kill thousands of innocent civilians cannot even be described as acts of terror.

Stephen Jukes, the wire service's global head of news, explained his reasoning in an internal memo: "We all know that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist. . . . To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack."

Except for the little detail that a terrorist assault is what it was. So why the value-neutral approach?

"We're trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it's been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world," Jukes says in an interview.

Besides, he says, "we don't want to jeopardize the safety of our staff. Our people are on the front lines, in Gaza, the West Bank and Afghanistan. The minute we seem to be siding with one side or another, they're in danger."

Not everyone at the London-based news agency, which employs 2,500 journalists, is happy about the policy. Jukes acknowledged there had been "an emotional debate" with news editors around the world.

After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and again after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Reuters allowed the events to be described as acts of terror. But as of last week, even that terminology is banned because "we felt that ultimately we weren't being logically consistent," Jukes says. References to terrorism are allowed only when quoting someone.

"We're there to tell the story," Jukes insists. "We're not there to evaluate the moral case."

Mystery Man

Television news, for the moment, can't get enough of Osama bin Laden, the man wanted "dead or alive" by President Bush.

To put it mildly, that was not always the case.

Until the Sept. 11 attacks, the network evening newscasts had devoted a grand total of 58 minutes this year to the shadowy terrorist. According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, the coverage included 27 1/2 minutes on bin Laden and the U.S. embassy bombings, 17 minutes on threats to American interests in the Middle East, and 7 1/2 minutes on the bombing of the USS Cole. CBS provided slightly more coverage and ABC the least.

But since mid-May, these same newscasts carried two hours and 59 minutes on the Chandra Levy story. "NBC Nightly News," with nearly an hour and a half of coverage, did more Gary Condit-related pieces than the other two newscasts combined.

Also racing past bin Laden were all those scary shark stories, clocking in at an hour and a half.

Says Robert Lichter, the center's director: "The Chandra/Condit story showed us how low TV news can sink. This story shows us that it can still rise to the occasion."

In an era in which news organizations were closing foreign bureaus, bin Laden was a tough sell for executives convinced that Americans had little appetite for news from abroad. Journalist Nina Burleigh, writing on TomPaine.com, says that when she visited Baghdad in 1998, "there wasn't much of a market for a story in the U.S. about bin Laden's popular allure on Arab streets. No matter that he had been the FBI's most wanted man for several years." Her editors "were rarely interested in stories about Arabs that didn't involve an immediate crisis."

Headlines That Seem Dated

"Peace Is Hell" -- the Atlantic Monthly

"What kind of machine is this, exactly -- and can it really make us fall in love with flying all over again?" -- Conde Nast Traveler on the new Super Jumbo Jet

Peter Jennings never criticized Bush for delaying his return to the White House.