In presiding over the networks’ coverage of the Persian Gulf war, most of the TV news anchors have by now settled into certain roles: CBS’ Dan Rather is the Rod Serling of breaking news, zombie-grim and otherworldly; NBC’s Tom Brokaw is a plucky Boy Scout, crinkly-eyed and eager; CNN’s Bernard Shaw is Ted Baxter with backbone, stuffy yet scrappy.
So far, only ABC’s Peter Jennings hasn’t wasted our time trying out audience-pleasing images. Often accused of cultivating a supercilious air, Jennings is admirably blunt and unmannered these days. Throughout this crisis, Jennings has been what an anchor ought to be: a newsreader who can marshal the facts and figures being electronically thrown at him and present them clearly and concisely.
Jennings has also proven himself adept at answering questions. His Saturday-morning special on Jan. 26, designed to explain the war to children, was outstanding. He never condescended to the young people asking questions (”Could Saddam’s missiles hit us?”), and was careful to remind his viewers that it takes two sides to wage a war. (”How many women are in the war?” he was asked. ”On the American or the Iraqi side?” Jennings responded.) TV has made a fetish of the ever-present news anchor-even ABC has been guilty of keeping Jennings on camera too long-as if the networks, or the world, might collapse if someone else were to read the news for a few minutes. Still, when Jennings is on, you can’t help but feel you’re getting the straight stuff.