PETER JENNINGS'S style was restrained, his delivery authoritative, his demeanor calm. But as the three captains of network TV departed one by one over the past nine months, it was Mr. Jennings who delivered the most emotionally wrenching farewell. His voice uncharacteristically raspy, his look grim, he announced in a videotaped message on the evening news April 5 that he had lung cancer and was taking time off for treatment. For those who had watched him deliver the news for ABC from one venue or another for more than 40 years, it was the saddest story he'd ever reported. It ended Sunday with his death at 67.
Mr. Jennings was credited by ABC with lifting its evening news program into the middle of the ratings race, where he battled Tom Brokaw of NBC and Dan Rather of CBS for dominance in the final decades of the 20th century. But well before these combatants had departed, cable, satellite networks and the vast, chattering online universe had gone far to create a world in which no three men will ever again deliver the news to an entire nation with such Jovian authority.
Whatever emerges from the growing media babble, though, Mr. Jennings and his two rivals will be a hard act to follow. They had a way of rising to the occasion on the big stories, and in times of supreme crisis Mr. Jennings often seemed to achieve just a little more elevation than the others -- and to get the most viewers.
He was frequently attacked by conservative media critics, but he took it in stride, as he did the daily storm of news, which he handled with reassuring aplomb. Mr. Jennings was easy to take on TV; he had the looks, the voice, the manner. But he also had respect. In a national poll this year people were given the names of various media celebrities and asked which of them merited the description "journalist." In this context, the word was deemed a compliment, and Peter Jennings, who got the highest rating by a considerable margin, probably considered it the highest one he could be paid.