In the competitive world of television news, they were rivals, news anchors of the three most prominent networks. But Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather had a common bond and mutual respect that forged their friendship.
Watch ABC News' special tribute to Peter Jennings on "Primetime" on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
"We were not just competitors and colleagues. We were really friends," said Brokaw, reflecting on Jennings, who died Sunday of lung cancer at age 67. "We had a lot of opportunities to reflect on this in the last year. … It was a competitive brotherhood."
In the past year, television viewers have seen the end of an era as they have said goodbye to Brokaw, Rather and Jennings. Brokaw retired as anchor of "NBC Nightly News" in December after almost 23 years in the anchor chair, while Rather signed off as head of "CBS Evening News" after 24 years this past March. In April, Jennings announced on "World News Tonight" that he was pulling away from his duties as he was battling lung cancer.
Rivalry Forges Brotherhood and Friendship
Jennings was named anchor and senior editor of "World News Tonight" in September 1983, completing the trio of anchors that dominated network news for more than two decades. Rather began his run as anchor of in March 1981, while Brokaw was named anchor in April 1982, initially sharing the title with Roger Mudd. Brokaw and Rather respected Jennings' journalistic reputation and his desire to give viewers all sides of every story.
"Inside that tall, handsome, elegant and eloquent exterior -- inside that beat the heart of a fierce, but principled competitor," said Rather. "The last person you wanted to see coming on a story, particularly a big story, was Peter Jennings. … How much did I keep an eye on him? Constantly. All the time."
However, that rivalry and a common passion for news that was accurate, insightful and balanced made Brokaw, Rather and Jennings friends. They shared stories about being news anchors that only they could understand and pushed each other -- and their broadcasts -- to be better.
"We had been together on so many big stories over the last 30 years of our careers," Brokaw said. "And Peter especially, I think, summarized for all of us the feelings that Dan and I have -- the three of us have -- when people often ask, 'Are you friends?' And Peter said, 'Yes, we are friends because we don't see each other that often.' … And then he went on to say that we've all made each other better."
Reporters at Heart
Sometimes viewers saw raw emotion from the Canadian-born anchor. They saw Jennings choke up during coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as he mentioned getting calls from his two grown children, Elizabeth and Christopher, and they saw him struggle when he announced to the "World News Tonight" audience on April 5 that he was battling lung cancer.
Brokaw and Rather indicated that that reflected who Jennings was. Jennings, they said, was at heart a reporter who learned the importance of giving stories perspective. He was not truly comfortable being referred to as the star for a news division.
"Peter took his work very seriously, but he did not take himself seriously," Rather said. "And he was a little uncomfortable -- very uncomfortable -- with the word 'star' and a little uncomfortable with the word 'anchor' because he really did think about himself as a reporter."
That was something else Brokaw, Rather and Jennings seemed to have in common: They thought of themselves as reporters first and did not stay anchored in a studio. Jennings normally traveled around the world to cover stories and, when he didn't journey to Asia to cover the aftermath of the tsunami disaster months before his cancer diagnosis, media insiders and viewers noticed.
"It's customary to say, 'He will not come again,'" said "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer. "Peter Jennings will not come again."