Tuesday, April 5, 2005

ABC News veteran anchorman Peter Jennings announced yesterday that he has lung cancer and would begin chemotherapy treatment in five days.

“I have been diagnosed with lung cancer. Yes, it was quite a surprise. As you all know, this is a challenge. I begin chemotherapy next week. I will continue to do the broadcast,” Mr. Jennings wrote in an e-mail to colleagues at ABC yesterday morning.

“There will be good days and bad, which means that some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky,” he continued.

Mr. Jennings was replaced by Elizabeth Vargas for last night’s broadcast, but ABC played a taped message from him telling viewers about his diagnosis.

“I will continue to do the broadcast,” he said. “On good days, my voice will not always be like this. Certainly, it’s been a long time. And I hope it goes without saying that a journalist who doesn’t value deeply the audience’s loyalty should be in another line of work.”

He will continue as anchor during the course of his chemotherapy “to the extent he can do so comfortably,” ABC News chief David Westin noted. Charles Gibson and Miss Vargas will fill in “as necessary,” he said.

ABC immediately set up a message board for Mr. Jennings at its Web site, and the board was filled with hundreds of get-well greetings and personal notes for the newsman by early yesterday afternoon.

“It’s a shocker,” said Fox News’ Brit Hume, a former ABC staffer. “If this cancer can be beaten, Peter will beat it. He’s probably already peppering his doctors with questions.”

The story led many news reports yesterday, with network rivalries set aside for the moment.

“ABC has some sad news today,” CBS News noted.

“We here are praying for Peter Jennings,” talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said.

Mr. Jennings, a former smoker, has been noticeably ailing for at least four months. He was unable to travel to Asia to cover the tsunami in December, which ABC at the time attributed to an “upper respiratory infection.”

Speculation among news watchers resurfaced Friday after Mr. Jennings did not depart for Rome as Pope John Paul II’s death grew imminent, or contribute to the network’s weekend special report on the pontiff’s life.

“Most doctors would say he can beat this,” CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said yesterday. “But the numbers are not so good. Lung cancer generally has a 50 percent survival rate after five years.”

Mr. Jennings is the last of the old-guard network anchors to remain on the air.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw retired last year, and CBS’ Dan Rather resigned his post last month.

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