Like Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, he did a tremendous amount of charity work, including an annual jazz concert at his home on behalf of the local day care center. Wynton Marsalis would come out, and so did many of the famous old lions of jazz. When the great bass player Percy Heath died. Peter was too sick to deliver a eulogy, so Linda did it for him at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. At Peter’s 67th and last birthday three weeks ago, many of the jazz men made the trek out to the Hamptons, on their own dime, to say goodbye.
Peter read my column and sometimes wanted to discuss it in detail. This was not entirely out of friendship. As an enormously curious man, he was interested in how people could start from principles different from his own, and work out an argument that he found reasonable, if not compelling. He was a close follower of William Safire’s column, apparently for the same reason.
In recent years, many conservatives got on his case and accused him of slanting stories. The din subsides somewhat when Dan Rather became the primary target and when Jennings expressed outrage, during an interview, that Michael Moore had called President Bush “a deserter” for cutting corners on his national guard service. Sometimes, I think, the conventional newsroom smog drifted into ABC news stories, but Peter always worked hard to be fair. On the rare occasions I complained to him about media bias, Peter immediately ordered up a story that included conservative objections to mainstream reports.
Of all his accomplishments, I admired Peter most for his dramatic comeback. He was pretty much laughed out of town in the mid-Sixties as a know-nothing pretty-boy anchor at ABC when he nor his network’s news operation were taken seriously. To reclaim the same job a generation later was an outstanding achievement. He was a great reporter and a very good man. I consider myself very lucky to have known him. Rest in peace.
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