Jennings, 66, told ABC News staffers about his diagnosis Tuesday morning and said he will continue to anchor the broadcast when he feels up to it. Jennings, who heard the diagnosis Monday afternoon, begins outpatient chemotherapy treatment next week in New York.
“Yes, it was quite a surprise,” Jennings told ABC News employees in an e-mail posted on Poynter Online’s media news Web site. “As you all know, this is a challenge. I begin chemotherapy next week. I will continue to do the broadcast. There will be good days and bad, which means some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky!”
Jennings last anchored ABC’s World News Tonight on Friday, but was too ill to work Saturday during the network’s special report on Pope John Paul II’s death. When Jennings is unable to work, Charles Gibson, who is currently in Rome for the pope’s funeral, Elizabeth Vargas and others will fill in as a substitute anchor, ABC News President David Westin said in a staff memo.
“Peter’s been given a tough assignment. He’s already bringing to this new challenge the courage and strength we’ve seen so often in his reporting from the field and in anchoring ABC News. … Peter will once again lead the way, but we will stand with him at every turn,” Westin said in his memo.
Jennings is the last of the “Big Three” network anchors that dominated broadcast network news over the last two decades. NBC’s Tom Brokaw stepped down last year and CBS’ Evening News anchor Dan Rather left his post last month. Even within ABC major changes have been underway with Nightline host Ted Koppel announcing last month he would leave the network in December.
In 1983, Jennings became the chief anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight, which took the lead in ratings during the late 1980s and early 1990s before being surpassed by Brokaw on NBC. World News Tonight is now closely behind NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, who replaced Brokaw last year.
Jennings had been feeling ill for the past several months. Following the tsunami in December, he did not travel to the stricken region, with ABC explaining at the time that he had an upper respiratory infection and was under doctor’s orders not to travel. He did go to Iraq in January for its historic elections.
Jennings is a former smoker who gave up the habit several years ago, the network said.
In his staff e-mail, Jennings expressed gratitude to his coworkers: “In all the years I have worked here I have had the most outstanding support from this news division. Hundreds of you have been like family. It feels good to have such a family right now.”
“Almost 10 million Americans are living with cancer. I am sure I will learn from them how to cope with the facts of life that none of us anticipated,” Jennings noted in his message.