(Editor's Note: As head writer for "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings," Steve Alperin had a front-row seat as ABC News national security correspondent Jack McWethy, who died yesterday in a skiing accident, showed his mettle dealing with a skeptical and powerful anchorman.)
"Peter, you're wrong."
There weren't that many people who said that and kept their jobs for 20 years, but Jack McWethy said it a lot. We all knew him for years over a direct-dial phone extension from the small ABC office in the Pentagon basement. It was actually quite intimate.
5:55 p.m. "How are we going to convince the big master that this is really a story? He hates Gen. So-and-so. Tell him it's a Canadian source in NATO," said Jack.
"Ah, the view from the Pentagon. We're not 'Stars and Stripes,'" said the anchorman. Such was the regular exchange between the editor of the evening news and one of the really great TV news correspondents.
6:10 p.m."The god-darn policy of engagement is changing before our eyes. What does he need? A neon sign?...Tell him our headline is right, and he should ask me what's next?" said the reporter.
6:20 p.m. (anchor in the make-up chair) "Hey Jacko...How goes..What dreck are you pushing tonight? Let's talk about today's gift from the usual Pentagon sources. Is it really true?...I mean, come on, such-and-such country and nukes?
"Well, yes, Peter, we actually have genuine impeccable multiple sourcing on it. It's real."
6:31 p.m. (on the air) "Jack, why is the U.S. so hoodwinked by the idea of xxxxx and nukes?"
6:32 p.m. "Well, Peter, that's the reporting from our sources and the satellite photos."
"Thanks Jack...interesting stuff. We'll see."
Twenty years of busting chops...back and forth. Great reporter. Skeptical editor.
Maybe they're barking at each other again...The only correspondent who never said, "That's right, Peter," without actually meaning it.