In the span of more than 40 years with ABC News, Peter Jennings has built one of the most respected reputations in television journalism. It probably will come as a surprise, then, to hear that urbane, sophisticated Jennings' next documentary chases down the truth about UFOs. As in, flying saucers and little green men.
By MELANIE McFARLAND
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER TELEVISION CRITIC
In the span of more than 40 years with ABC News, Peter Jennings has built one of the most respected reputations in television journalism.
Recently, Jennings anchored "World News Tonight" from Iraq. He returned to the States, only to hit the road again. Tomorrow and Thursday "World News Tonight" reports from Seattle, where Jennings and his team will examine our region's industries.
"One of the great frustrations common to people like me ... is not getting out enough" he said in a phone interview, calling his Iraq tour some of the happiest days he's had in his life.
Having spent more than two decades as the face the country's second-highest-rated evening news broadcast, the Ontario-born Jennings has become synonymous with descriptors such as urbane, aristocratic and sophisticated. And although these adjectives are not always used in a positive sense -- some viewers equate them to haughtiness -- they're undeniably apt.
It probably will come as a surprise, then, to hear that urbane, sophisticated Jennings' next documentary chases down the truth about UFOs. As in, flying saucers and little green men.
"UFOs -- Seeing Is Believing" airing Feb. 24 from 8 to 10 p.m. on KOMO/4, is the latest entry in the "Peter Jennings Reporting" series. His goal is to take a serious look at a subject most scientists, the government and the media tend to brush off as lunacy. When some 80 million Americans claim to have seen a UFO, he explained, it's worth an investigation.
"I grant you that there may be a lot of people out there in the country who think they've had these experiences, and some of them may even be unhinged" he said, "but I think even those people deserve a serious hearing from a serious reporter"
It probably doesn't hurt ABC to air it during sweeps, either, even if Jennings insists the all-important ratings period played no part in his choice of subject.
To Jennings, tackling UFOs is part of the natural progression of the long-form projects he has produced through PJ Productions, an independent documentary production company he formed about four years ago.
"When we got to the end, I realized two things. First of all, that many of the people who had these experiences were the very people -- police officers, pilots, military personnel and ordinary citizens -- who we regard as being trustworthy and, not only that, very valuable to our society because they protect us.
"Secondly" he continued, "we came to conclude, as with the Kennedy program, that the government, by not taking something particularly seriously at various moments in time, has contributed to undermining people's trust and probably contributing to some theories that don't hold water"
Not many newshounds are looking skyward with him, however. Much more has been made recently about his status as the last man standing in a long-lived trio of broadcast news giants.
"World News Tonight's" main anchor since 1983, Jennings has outlasted Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, once the latter returns to being a reporter in March. Speculation abounds as to how he'll fit into the next generation of network news. For his part, "There isn't much time, to be honest, to think much about it"
Jennings has a similar nonchalance toward the many people who decry his reporting as slanted. "I recognize the accusation of bias is there. Sometimes I think the accusation is made by people who want to advance their own bias.
"But ... people do tend to see the media through their own particular prism. What I find lacking in television and in broadcasting information these days, is that reporting is outweighed by opinion. ... Most people don't understand what they're getting unless they absorb a wide variety of information from numerous sources"
At 66, Jennings is one of the most recognizable faces on American television. His career was built on jumping time zones: Following a failed first run at the anchor chair, Jennings cut his teeth as a foreign correspondent based in Rome beginning in 1968.
From there, he went on to establish America's first TV news bureau in the Middle East. He has since gained interviews with leaders from every part of the social and political spectrum, bore witness to historic moments while they were still in the making, and opened parts of the world to American audiences that other outlets could not.
Considering all this, why not an earnest probe into whether the truth is out there?
"I feel the same way about reporting about UFOs as I feel about reporting on Iraq" Jennings said. "The great joy we have in our business ... is the opportunity to learn new stuff every day, and to write about it"