ABC News anchor Peter Jennings has been diagnosed with lung cancer, the network announced today, and will immediately begin a round of outpatient chemotherapy that is expected to keep him from the anchor desk at times in the coming months.
The 66-year-old newsman, who smoked when he was younger, had been feeling ill during the last several days and was diagnosed Monday afternoon. He broke the news to his senior staff at "World News Tonight" in an e-mail this morning, saying he hoped to continue to anchor throughout his treatment.
"There will be good days and bad, which means that some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky!" he wrote. "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' announcement provoked sadness and dismay among his colleagues at ABC, where the anchor plays a central role in leading the news division. His illness may sideline, at least temporarily, one of the last remaining lions of network news, coming on the heels of the departures of NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and CBS anchor Dan Rather from their evening newscasts. Another television veteran, Ted Koppel, announced last week that he was leaving ABC and "Nightline" at the end of the year.
Jennings, who has anchored "World News Tonight" since 1983, led the newscast Friday and is expected to do so again tonight. He begins treatment in New York next week. A network spokeswoman declined to identify the location, citing his privacy.
ABC News President David Westin told the network's staff that he and Jennings expect the anchor to continue the newscast during his treatment "to the extent he can do so comfortably."
"But we should also expect him to be off the broadcast from time to time, depending on how he feels," Westin wrote in an e-mail to the entire staff, adding that Charlie Gibson and Elizabeth Vargas, among others, would substitute for Jennings.
"Peter's been given a tough assignment," Westin added. "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. I know that all of us will give him every bit of support that he needs and asks for. Peter will once again lead the way, but we will stand with him at every turn."
Jennings called the diagnosis "quite a surprise" and expressed gratitude for his colleagues.
"In all the years I have worked here I have had the most outstanding support from this news division," he wrote. "Hundreds of you have been like family. It feels good to have such a family right now."
Jennings did not go to Rome to cover Pope John Paul II's death. And he stayed back from Asia after the disastrous tsunami in December. At the time, ABC said Jennings had a severe upper respiratory infection, and the network sent Diane Sawyer.
The audience for broadcast news has been shrinking for years, and some experts predict that the early evening newscast could go the way of the evening newspaper, a fossil from an earlier time. Since the 1950s, networks have offered half-hour evening newscasts on the assumption that breadwinners arrive home from work about 6 p.m. and turn on the TV to find out what happened that day.
But Internet access has enabled many people to get headlines around the clock. And many workers and families -- which often rely on more than one breadwinner -- have far busier and less predictable schedules than they did 50 years ago.
Jennings joined ABC News in 1964. Jennings has won 14 national Emmys, several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards, several Overseas Press Club awards and a George Foster Peabody award.
Times staff writers Scott Collins and Mary MacVean contributed to this report.