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banner Monday, 17 December, 2001, 15:03 GMT
ABC news anchor Peter Jennings
ABC news anchor Peter Jennings takes your questions
ABC news anchor Peter Jennings answered your questions in a live forum from New York.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


As anchor and senior editor of ABC's World News Tonight, Peter Jennings has covered many of the events that have shaped the last half of the century.

He is described as one of the most powerful and influential journalists on television in the US.

In a career spanning 35 years, he has attained a reputation for squaring up to challenging and difficult questions. His range of reporting experience extends to Europe and the Middle East.

What is his perspective on the 11 September attacks on the US? What was his experience of covering an event of such magnitude? Has he seen a change in the American outlook on life?

The topics discussed in this forum were:

  • Initial reaction
  • Personal reaction
  • World opinion
  • America and the UK
  • America's recovery
  • Videotape of Osama Bin Laden
  • Asian-American community in the US
  • Situation in the Middle East
  • Media coverage

    Initial reaction

    James, UK:

    What was your initial reaction when you first heard the incoming reports of an attack on the World Trade Center and the first live pictures appeared on TV screens?

    Peter Jennings:

    I was actually on a few feet from this desk, because I come into the newsroom every morning before I go down to broadcast, when the first plane was just hitting. Our morning broadcast "Good Morning America" was on the air and so we saw it and did not know at the outset what actually had happened - we weren't sure whether it was a large plane or a small plane or whether it was an accident. I don't think any of us thought in our minds at that moment that it was a deliberate act. But I immediately moved to the desk here, put on my microphone, got connected to the rest of the news division when the second plane hit and by that time we knew that something deliberate was going on. Then an hour or so later when the plane the Pentagon we knew we were into a truly horrific experience that was going to have extraordinary ramifications as we all know.

    There was a certain measure of disbelief, there is no question about it. I think those of us who have lived and worked in parts of the world where America is ill-thought of and who have had some connection in the past with covering either terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland - as I did for a long time - or in the Middle East or in the sub-continent, were aware that there are people out there who would try to hit the United States in the very heartland. We'd had one domestic experience of terrorism with Timothy McViegh in the Oklahoma City bombing, so in some respects I wasn't surprised that some terrorist organisation somewhere with this violent feeling of hatred for America was going to try to reach America itself. But it was nonetheless a huge shock.

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    Personal reaction

    Tony Dobson, Scotland:

    How do you remain calm on air in a time of such crisis?

    Peter Jennings:

    It's hard to stay calm on air because I think that, like anybody else, we're having a tremendously, tumultuous emotional experience. But to be honest I think it is training. I've been on the air for lots of disasters - none as severe as this. I was on the air for 11 hours at the time of the Challenger explosion and I have been on the air through natural disasters, political disasters and assassinations. However, you're so busy and you're so focused on trying to bring everybody together and make the whole thing comprehensible that it's perhaps easier for the anchor persons to stay calm at that moment than it were if I were simply watching television like everybody else.

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    World opinion

    Damien Cahill, Dublin, Ireland:

    Has September 11th changed how Americans perceive what the rest of the world thinks of the United States? Are Americans thinking about the outside world more and their opinions of the US than they did?

    Peter Jennings:

    I think it's really a two-part question. I think Americans are at the moment thinking a good deal more about the rest of the world than they might have before September 11th - more specifically thinking more about the Middle East, more about the sub-continent, more about the crisis in Afghanistan, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, between Afghanistan and India. I think what has really been driven home to many people - and the President said this himself - he said he couldn't believe that there were people out there who hated America. So the first part of the question is answered by saying this was difficult for Americans to come to grips with - Americans do not have an image of themselves as a dominating society. Americans tend, in general, to think of themselves as being a light unto the world - and I don't mean that glibly at all - who represent the best in much of the world. So that enhanced the shock that someone out there was trying to hurt America. However, whether this will last I don't know - whether America will continue to be as interested in the affairs of the Muslim world or the Arab world or all of the other parts of the world where there is torment and turmoil is very much an open question.

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    America and the UK

    Frederic Ennew, London, UK:

    How are the British people perceived in America since the atrocities of September 11th?

    Peter Jennings:

    I sometimes think that your Prime Minister, Mr Blair, is more popular here at the moment than he is at home. We all know that Mr Blair is a very eloquent politician and every time he has got up and said something, whether it has been in the House of Commons or whether it has been in another public arena and has given the impression to Americans that Britain was standing side by side, Americans have been immensely gratified. So I think that Britain - which is a very close friend of the United States and has been so historically - is very strong at the moment. But I think it is always strong. Americans sometimes bridle a little bit at what it perceives to be British or other European criticism in terms of American behaviour in various parts of the world. But on this occasion I would think that because Britain has been so kind to America, Americans think very well of the British.

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    America's recovery

    Francis Gwandi, Cameroon:

    Will America ever recover from the events of September 11th? Do you think that the capture of Osama Bin Laden and his associates will bring closure to the United States?

    Peter Jennings:

    To answer the second part of the question first, no I do not think either the capture or execution, if you will, of Bin Laden will bring closure to the United States. I'm not sure that in a situation like this that closure is really possible. I think this will be a deeply painful part of American history forever - which I realise is a fairly strong word.

    To answer the first part of the question - will America ever recover - yes, I think in many ways America has recovered already and by that I don't mean that America has got over it but I think one of the great strengths about America is that it has managed to come to grips with this very quickly. The President and other politicians in the country have exercised great leadership. The country is very united and feeling particularly patriotic at the moment and determined to go on being what America is, which is a place that people can come and find freedom and find a measure of independence that they cannot find in some other countries in the world. So I actually think that Americans feel, not merely united, but good about themselves and what they represent today - although I have to add, still hurting considerably because of what happened in September.

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    Videotape of Osama Bin Laden


    Mention of Osama Bin Laden brings us to the videotape which has been issued today which I guess will be in your broadcast for the rest of the day. How significant do you think that is in the story overall?

    Peter Jennings:

    We have been listening to the Bush administration tell us for several days now that this was the "smoking gun" as they say - this was absolute proof that Osama Bin Laden was behind and planned this operation against the Trade Towers and against the Pentagon. While Bin Laden today didn't talk about the Pentagon, I think it's pretty clear to anybody that when he turned on the radio at 5.30 in the evening in Afghanistan, 8 o'clock in the morning just before the Trade Towers here, and said to his associates after the first plane hit, just wait and then the second plane hit, will be taken by - not everybody I can imagine because people will continue to disbelieve the tape and think that it was tampered with the US - but I think almost any sensible thinking, caring person will have to conclude after watching this tape that this was the "smoking gun" and that Osama Bin Laden was unequivocally behind this.

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    Asian-American community in the US

    Ross Campbell, Glasgow, Scotland:

    In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, some Americans attacked Asian-Americans' businesses and mosques, thereby creating a culture of fear in the Asian-American community. To what extent does this still exist?

    Peter Jennings:

    It does exist to some extent. There is no question that there are people in the Asian-American community, the Muslim-American community and in the Arab-American community who are living today with a measure of fear and anxiety that most of the rest of us in this country wish they didn't have to live with. Given the fact that the Government is in very determined pursuit of other potential terrorist cells, that all of the hijackers came from the Middle East, that there has been this pall cast over extremist Islam and to some extent over Islam in general, despite the efforts of the President to say we're not at war with Islam, I think people here are still afraid and still anxious.

    At the same, given that this is America, there have been a huge number of people who have stood up and identified themselves with the Muslims who live in their communities or who live in adjacent communities and have complained quite vehemently when the Government has been seen to be too concerned about Muslims in general and not potential terrorists in particular. So I think you see both sides of the coin here - I am not sure that they balance out. But do people still have a measure of fear and concern - the answer is, I am afraid, yes.

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    Situation in the Middle East

    Sergio Lagunes, New York, USA:

    Is the Middle East a time bomb of hostilities waiting to explode into a large-scale war? If so, what could detonate it?

    Peter Jennings:

    The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is as bad now as I can remember and I have covered the Israeli/Palestinian struggle for almost 30 years. I think the likelihood of it breaking out into a wider war now is far less likely than it might have been in the 1960s or 1970s. Jordan has no interest in going to war with Israel, Egypt has no interest in going to war with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. But I think that the pitch of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians now is almost as bad as it can get. If the Israelis decide that they have to go in and reoccupy the Palestinian territories then I think it will become even worse. But it is very bad at the moment. I don't anticipate a wider war. I suppose there is some possibility that Saddam Hussein of Iraq could become involved but I'm almost certain that the United States would not accept that.

    Neil Macaskill, Warrington, UK:

    There is a lot of resentment and criticism of the US foreign policy expressed by many people both within the Middle East and elsewhere. How aware are ordinary Americans of these opinions?

    Peter Jennings:

    I think Americans are more aware of these opinions today than they have been in the past. To be honest, Americans have not taken a deep lasting interest in the Middle East. America is both an outgoing and an isolationist nation and its history has tended to be more isolationist than outgoing in many ways. I think that the people of the United States have began to understand at a moment like this that there is disappointment in the Arab world - certainly in the Palestinian community - among those who believe that American policy is tilted towards the Israelis. The United States doesn't see itself that way but I would revert to what I said earlier - when it comes to trying to effect a settlement in the Middle East, the United States sees itself as trying to be essentially even-handed when it comes to making a settlement.

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    Media coverage

    James, Cambridge, England:

    What do you feel about the common British perception that American news is significantly dumbed down?

    Peter Jennings:

    Well I just think it is inaccurate. I think that people in Europe tend to believe that because America does not pay as much attention to the rest of the world as the rest of the world pays to America that our news is dumbed down. One of the things that needs to be essentially understood about the United States is that we have more information available to the public than I think any other nation on earth, whether it's on television, radio, in our vast number of newspapers and magazines - opinion of every imaginable position can be read and seen and absorbed here. I don't think that television always does the absolute best, most sophisticated job of covering the world - we would like to have more time to do so. But I think that to suggest that the news in America is dumbed down is somewhat ill-informed.

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