Breaking News -- Control Amid Chaos

HAL BRUNO: The greatest experience you could have was going on air live with a breaking story with Peter Jennings as the anchor. It was like being on a high wire without a net. Election night was always a great adventure. You just knew that Peter was going to hit it right. He would be very, very nervous before and very concerned. "Do we know everything we need to know? Is there anything we've missed?" And once the light came on and we started broadcasting, he was just terrific.

ROGER GOODMAN: Peter had an incredible talent. We would run into a control room. We'd have no idea what the story is. Peter would sit down in his chair, he'd pulled something off the wires, he'd read it and that was it. He'd see those pictures, he'd start telling that story, and his encyclopedia inside his head was drawing out that information. Peter had an ability I've never seen before.


Now Peter had certain little systems. I'd look up and see him pulling on his earlobe and that meant, "I can't hear you. Repeat." Or he'd fix his tie, which meant, "Tight shot now. I want to talk direct to camera." He would do that while he was on camera and he was talking to the world.

Peter was exceptionally calm. We were rattled. We were screaming and yelling and trying to find out where we're going. I can't tell you how many times we'd go away to a taped interview and Peter would say, "I want you all to calm down. Everything's okay, I've got control here."

CHARLIE GIBSON: I remember when Yitzhak Rabin died. I got on the plane—middle seat in coach—with probably three briefing books that were very thick. I read those briefing books cover-to-cover, and I thought I had a pretty good sense of knowledge of all this. And in the midst of the special, Peter began talking about the cemetery in which Rabin would be buried and the significance of the trees that surrounded the cemetery— how many they were, where they came from, what their religious significance was. I'm going through my briefing books – where did he get that? He just knew it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got Peter there with a computer, getting e-mails constantly. He's sitting right next to Nancy Gabriner, the world's best researcher, who's also feeding him information, minute by minute, second by second. He's got an executive producer and director, and who knows who else, in his ear. He's got six screens arrayed in front of him with reporters on at multiple locations and he's usually got a couple people by his side. And it's his job to take all this information coming in from so many different sources, all at the same time, and tell a single coherent story. You know, he made it look easy. It's one of the hardest things to do in the world.