ABC's Peter Jennings is being remembered this week for many aspects of his work, but one aspect that bears particular notice is his efforts to increase network news coverage of religion. He was directly responsible for ABC's 1994 hiring of Peggy Wehmeyer as network news's only full-time religion correspondent. (She was laid off as part of a staff reduction in 2001 and now hosts a radio program for World Vision.)
Jennings "was absolutely instrumental [in getting mainstream media to cover issues of religion and spirituality]" Alan Wolfe told The Christian Science Monitor. "It was a testament to his own interest in the subject, and the balance and sobriety he brought to the question."
Jennings in fact used to say that some of his ABC colleagues thought he was "positively pedantic" about finding the religion angle in any news story. But he was unapologetic: "Every other human endeavor is the subject of continuing coverage by uspolitics and cooking, business and foreign policy, sports and sex and entertainment. But religion, which we know from every reasonable yardstick to be a crucial force in the daily life of the world, has so few specialists that they are hardly visible on the page or on the screen."
In a 2004 Christianity Today interview, Jennings explained why he was so interested in religion:
I have lived in the Muslim world, covering the Middle East, Russia, and Africa among many other assignments. I saw it was important to understand or try to understand the intersection between religion, spirituality, and life. Events in these and other locales got me interested in covering religion as a "news story." This coverage shows the deep interest in and pervasive nature of religion.
When I got back to this country, I understood ...1