A news anchor that can dig into trustworthy information and hold an audience’s attention, all the while relaying it authoritatively across television airwaves, exists to tether viewers to a network.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, Rather, Brokaw and Jennings embodied the persona: square jaw, poised demeanor, and a steady — and when called for, steely — presence. Three men, three networks, and not always much to set them apart.
Nightly news went down like a dry martini, not so strong it made your head spin, but not watered down, either. Dan: a colorless gin. Tom: distilled vodka. And Peter: aromatic vermouth.
Inflection, perhaps, mattered little to most viewers, but Jennings’ voice, tinged with its delicate Canadian accent, offered just the right blend of certainty and incredulity, as if the news he was delivering was also news to him. His broadcasts asked not only who, what and where but “how come?” and “what’s next?”
Colleagues mourning his death this week asked rhetorically if 007 wannabes, including Brokaw and Rather, ever looked as good as Jennings in a trench coat. He was debonair, worldly, and self-possessed, but also personable and human.
He had this odd tick, a habit of lowering his eyelids at the end of a thought, as if to rest in its contents a moment before moving on. As if to rest his mind a little. That flicker of lids and lashes betrayed how heavy the world could sometimes weigh on Jennings, the man.
That he smoked nervously after the 9/11 attacks, having quit decades earlier, only to contract a fatal cancer that would cut short a careful and caring life, should tell us something.
He was, more than his counterparts, though there is no quantifiable way to measure this, willing to inhale. He was willing to consume the worst, most troubling, most uplifting, most confusing information making news in a given day,and repackage it for mass consumption. He wanted to know all there was to know and share it. …
Sanitizing the news, as he himself said, was anathema to him.
Jennings would tell what had to be told, and die trying….