A Changing of the Guard at ABC News

In 1983, Peter Jennings was named sole anchor for World News Tonight.

JEFF GRALNICK: I think-and Peter was candid about this-it scared the hell out of him. I mean, he was very frank: "Hey, I'm not Walter Cronkite." He had to feel his way into being one of the most powerful communicators on the planet.

Jennings's first hurdle was immense: the 1984 Presidential campaign.

TOM BROKAW: I was doing Nightly News on my own for the first time in '83--Peter was not yet in the anchor chair for ABC--and I went to Beirut for the war. Peter looked at me and said, "This is my territory." I laughed and I knew that. So when Peter came back to cover our presidential election on the campaign trail, I said to Peter, "This is my territory."

JEFF GRALNICK: The first time Peter did a national convention was terrorizing for him. He was not shy about saying, "I don't know enough. I don't really understand the American political system. I don't really understand the American convention system. I don't really understand what's going on out there, and I've got to do this for four nights for the Democrats and four nights for the Republicans and I'm not smart enough yet." But he found every smart person he could and he just went to school on them. Just picking facts out of experts' brains and filing them away.

PETER JENNINGS: I had not covered an election campaign in sixteen years. So here was I going to co-anchor with David Brinkley in 1984, and he wasn't even sure I knew who the faces belonged to. And he was right.

HAL BRUNO: Here was David Brinkley, who was the icon, and here was Peter, who felt like the new kid on the block. And Peter was very self-conscious about his image, as it was being portrayed by some of the critics, which was that he was just a pretty face… and there was quite a bit of tension in the early stages. But what I think what happened is we got thrown into a situation where we had to come on live and it was the first time that David saw the way Peter could handle a breaking story. I think that was the start of what later became mutual respect for each other.

SAM DONALDSON: He pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He had to learn the United States. When he started he said "bean" and "shedule" and "Where is Iowa, anyway?" But he learned. He did. I think the important thing when you start out is not how little you know, it's how much you learn that distinguishes you. And from that measure Peter Jennings was distinguished completely.

Sources: "I had not covered an election…" Quoted in Charles Kenney, "Why Peter Jennings is So Good," Boston Globe Magazine, November 6, 1988.

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