August 12 | 4:45 p.m.

The sounds of that day

Today will likely be a setback for many families here in the New York area and elsewhere... because of the material released here in New York today that makes up our lead story tonight: the tapes of 9-11 are more than chilling... they are heartbreaking at times. I met with several 9-11 widows here in our newsroom today... wonderful women who didn't know the strength they had until they were called on to display it. It's a personal story for everyone involved. None of those who suffered a loss that day has a lock on grief, yet in their own personal sadness, they yield to no one else. Ron Allen has the tough task of pulling all of the material together for us tonight, assisted by a huge crew in our New York bureau and supervised by Sharon Hoffman.

Elsewhere in the broadcast tonight: the controversial and hopeful new report on AIDS, a reality check from Baghdad, a look at the volatility of the oil market, and what people thought would be the last place on earth where the anti-smoking movement would get any traction.

And we'll end the week, an awful week for all of us in this industry in so many ways... on a sentimental note: the iconic photograph of V-J Day 60 years ago. Who were they? We know them as the sailor and the nurse caught in a spontaneous lip-lock in Times Square, but who were those young revelers? Does anyone really know? We'll add mystery and romance tonight and hope you join us. Here's to a good weekend as well.

August 12 | 9:45 a.m.

Tonight on Nightly News (Steve Johnson, Daily Nightly editor)

It is one of the great images of the 20th Century -- a euphoric couple celebrating the end of World War II. But who are they? Sixty years after VJ-Day, the hunt for that famous sailor and nurse continues. Unraveling the mystery of the Times Square kiss. Tonight on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

August 11 | 4:45 p.m.

Summer of his discontent (Brian Williams)

The President today went into new territory... at least for him, and at least where the war in Iraq is concerned. This has certainly been this week's theme for the administration... changing the tenor, while not all of the talking points, of their comments on progress. We will likely begin the broadcast with this new "expectations management" (some would call it a more sober, realistic assessment) amid the growing U.S. death toll. The President also commented on the woman who has vowed to remain outside the gates of the President's ranch... until she gets to speak with the President.

There was concern voiced at our afternoon editorial meeting that oil prices, and thus gas prices, may end up being the story of the latter part of the summer, given the ripple effect through the economy. We'll take a look at the prediction by T. Boone Pickens (who knows his black gold) that oil is headed to $75 a gallon.

From the world of automobiles, a fun story tonight on the dying art of haggling for a car... what with many manufacturer's efforts through price-cutting to circumvent it.

Finally, from in-house: a tip of the baseball cap to our own Bob Windrem, investigative producer and author... a foremost authority on terrorism, defense and much more (MSNBC viewers get to see him quite regularly) on this, his 25th anniversary with the company. Bob contributes an enormous amount to our reporting on a daily basis, and he's part of the DNA of our newsroom... and is loved by all. While we're hoping Bob signs up for another 25 years, we said goodbye to another behind-the-scenes magician today: Dave King, who has edited so much of the videotape our viewers have seen for the past few decades, is leaving us after 40 incredible years at NBC. Part of what makes it easier for us to leave our own homes and families each morning to come to work (in addition to the fact that we feel privileged to work here and love what we do) is the knowledge that we get to be with our other family during our work hours. My frustration has always been that our viewers can't know them as we do. And that's today's window into our world.

August 11 | 1 p.m.

Where are the children? (Lisa Green, Senior Producer, Broadcast Standards, NBC News)

This week Nightly News is taking a comprehensive look at the fast-growing crystal meth epidemic. On Tuesday, I worked with producers Christopher Scholl and Erika Beck on Kevin Corke’s report on the children of methamphetamine users. (Click here to read/watch the report.) Given the topic, you might be surprised by one of the questions we considered: would we show you any children?

We think hard before we show children’s faces when we report on sensitive topics. (This explains why careful viewers know they can expect file shots of empty swing sets, or uninhabited cribs, in these kinds of stories.) Like so many broadcast journalism decisions, it’s a balancing act. On the one hand, our mission is to inform, and in a report about children their pictures are often so expressive, and surely relevant. On the other hand, we are sensitive to the impact a report might have on the children in it. We’ll generally seek a parent’s consent, and sometimes we’ll refrain from showing children even with their parents’ permission.

In this case, the report did not show identifiable children. (The producers showed a mother visiting her two children, but blurred the children’s faces because they are in protective custody.) And last night, Mark Potter’s report about a short-term care facility in Tennessee for so-called meth orphans didn’t show identifiable children, either. (Click here to read/watch the report.) Nonetheless, to my mind, these stories vividly illustrate the incredible strain meth places on American families.

For another perspective, earlier this year The New York Times Magazine ran a powerful article by a father coping with his son’s meth addiction. [“My Addicted Son,” February 6, 2005]. I give credit to him and anyone willing to share their personal experience with such a harrowing family problem.

August 11 | 9:15 a.m.

Tonight on Nightly News (Steve Johnson, Daily Nightly editor)

The faces of meth -- how abuse is wreaking havoc on lives... and bodies. As one observer notes, "There's so much deterioration that they're almost unrecognizable." The meth crisis: Danger at home. Tonight on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

August 10 | 4:30 p.m.

The Jennings Effect (Brian Williams)

The above title is what the American Cancer Society and others have labeled the trend they are picking up on: smokers who have decided to quit after the death of a great newsman. With cancer in the news so prominently this week (I was interested to read that a number of our viewers forcefully disagreed with our decision to lead our broadcast last night with Dana Reeve's diagnosis of lung cancer) we will take a look at the "Peter Effect" later in our broadcast tonight.

We will more than likely begin the broadcast with a sober new assessment of conditions on the ground in Iraq... at least that was the consensus of our just-completed afternoon editorial meeting. Our own Richard Engel has new information from an unimpeachable senior U.S. military source on the future direction for U.S. forces. We'll also look at one of the unintended consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns: the acute shortage of National Guard members in some Western states to fight fires during the high season.

We also have a fascinating story out of the Middle East tonight... it involves security, experience... and a departing veteran of the bloodshed.

And again: we will try to find something to lighten the news load on all of us this busy and sad week. We hope you'll join us.

August 10 | 10:15 a.m.

Tonight on Nightly News (Steve Johnson, Daily Nightly editor)

The number of Americans diagnosed with skin cancer is rising dramatically. Worse yet, more and more are young people. It's a troubling trend, but doctors don't agree on what's behind it. Find out what you should know about screening and the latest findings on how to protect yourself. Tonight on the NBC Nightly News with  Brian Williams.

August 9 | 4:15 p.m.

The Tuesday scenario (Brian Williams)

What we assumed would be our lead story on Monday night will likely be our lead story tonight: the successful landing of the space shuttle Discovery and the return of the crew. And what no one wanted to be our lead story last night, the death of our colleague Peter Jennings, continues, of course, to sadden all who were touched by his life and work. His absence, while understandably still fresh, leaves a yawning hole in our industry and in so many lives as several of us tried privately to express today to our friends at World News Tonight.

And now this: the awful news that Dana Reeve, who became known to Americans as such a strong, graceful, classy and stoic hero after her husband's paralysis and following his sudden death, has herself been diagnosed with lung cancer. A lifelong non-smoker, she was forced to come public with her news after a tabloid publication apparently threatened to do it for her. We will tell her story tonight. We should add here that the prominence of cancer in the news we've been covering only mirrors what so many American families already know, and are dealing with every day. While the prominent Americans often are the ones who get the news coverage, the everyday battles against the disease may be the best examples of heroism imaginable. While I am thinking of one living example in my own family, I'm sure all readers of this posting have someone in mind as well.

We will look at Presidential politics and polling tonight among other topics, and we will try mightily to find something to cheer the audience and ourselves as we come on the air this Tuesday evening.

August 9 | 10:45 a.m.

Tonight on Nightly News (Steve Johnson, Daily Nightly editor)

We'll continue our series on America's crystal meth crisis: Danger at home. Children of methamphetamine users are landing in foster care at an alarming rate, overwhelming social workers and tearing communities apart. And what about the kids still living in meth homes?

August 8 | 7 p.m.

Thoughts on Peter Jennings (Brian Williams)

Finally tonight, a word about Peter Jennings who today was remembered during the very same non-stop cable news coverage that Peter himself often expressed reservations about.

One moment from today stands out: one particular cable channel paused, during its remembrance, to switch live to a picture of an overturned tanker truck on a highway in California, and it got us to thinking.

Peter felt very strongly about the stories we should cover, and just as strongly about what we shouldn't go near, the stories that aren't news, the popular stories or the pretty pictures that have no business on a network evening newscast.

And so it just might be that the very best way to honor his legacy is for all of us to stick to covering what we know, and covering the hard-to-pronounce country, halfway around the world, where there's a story of real human consequence. Even if that means passing on the pictures of the tanker truck.

We've lost an awfully good journalist. We can remember him, in part, through good journalism.

August 8 | 6:50 p.m.

Pondering implications of smoking, lung cancer (Mike Taibbi, Correspondent, NBC News)

At 7:30 this morning, knowing of Peter Jennings' death, I told John Reiss (the Nightly News Executive Producer) that I'd help in our coverage in any way possible. Of course an obituary had long been semi-prepared... it's what we do in the news business for people who are prominent enough... but there would be several aspects of our coverage.

Ultimately, it was decided that in addition to the obituary, and personal reports by Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw, I would do a separate piece on lung cancer, Peter's killer. Lung cancer claims 17 American lives every hour, more than 160,000 victims a year. It's a stealth killer in that there's no early warning ; by the time a victim reports the typical symptoms— sudden weight loss, fever, a raspy voice, bloody sputum— the disease is usually at an advanced stage and has spread beyond the lungs. X-rays won't detect it, nor will conventional CAT scans alone. You report the symptoms, you get the biopsy, you get the diagnosis... and if you have it your chances of surviving 5 years are no better than 15 percent, as opposed to 88 percent for early detection of breast cancer and 99 percent for prostate cancer.

Then there was the link between lung cancer and smoking... no longer something that can even be questioned. In his poignant statement in his last broadcast, Peter (I'll call him Peter, as I'd worked with him in London long ago and was privileged to have been in his orbit as a "professional" friend) mentioned that he'd been a smoker, and that he'd quit 20 years earlier. But, he added, "I was weak and I smoked over 9/11."

It was the x-factor in the lung cancer story: the stigma suggesting lung cancer victims bring it on themselves. It's one reason funding for lung cancer research lags so far behind the research dollars for other forms of cancer (one-tenth of the money for breast cancer research, for example). But smokers are not "bad" or "weak" by definition: Peter Jennings was one of the great figures in journalism, and on the American scene. He smoked. A lot of reporters did in his heyday as a foreign reporter. I smoked.

I still do.

NBC News
In fact as I sat at my desk early this morning, thinking about Peter, and lung cancer, and smoking, I realized I'd brought a few photos into the office that I'd printed over the weekend to send to a Las Vegas lawyer I'd met during coverage of the Michael Jackson trial. Photos of the lawyer doing analysis on verdict day, of him and me in the same long shot, and one of me and my producer, Matt Carluccio, preparing to report the verdict for NBC Specials that afternoon. In that shot I'm sitting there, microphone in one hand, notebook in another... with a cigarette dangling from my mouth.

I considered the idea of using that photo in my report... to cover the script line "a lot of journalists used to smoke... or, as I must admit, still do... especially under the pressure of a big story deadline."

In the end, though, I didn't feel it would have been the right use of that photo, and would have had more than a few viewers saying "wait a second... this piece is about Peter Jennings, not Taibbi." Producers Jane Derenowski and Liz Brown, and Senior Producer Sharon Hoffman and John Reiss agreed. Instead, I recited that line as a piece to camera.

And the piece remained about Peter, and his killer, and the need for that killer to be fought with as much vigor and as many dollars as any other form of cancer. Because Peter wasn't weak; he just got sick, and died too soon and too quickly.

As for the photo, I'll send it to my lawyer pal. And think hard... as hard as I ever have... about its implications.

August 8 | 4:15 p.m.

Remembering Peter Jennings (Brian Wiliams)

This is a terribly sad day. We have lost a friend, and one of the greats of our industry. It's a day for re-winding memories and reminiscing about one of the very best there ever was. There's no sense in writing anything else in this space here today, and we will of course dedicate a substantial portion of the broadcast tonight to our friend and former competitor. Among those in our random thoughts on this day: the wonderful, classy, brave and supportive Kayce Freed, Peter's widow. And Charlie Gibson, one of the gentlemen of our profession... who faced a difficult job (beginning with last night's special report on ABC to announce Peter's death) and performed with such grace, dignity, humanity and obvious warmth and appreciation.

All those who admired and cared for Peter have had one thing in common these past few months: an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. There was nothing we could do to help this fearless man. Many found it so touchingly notable that the Jennings family's short statement announcing Peter's death last night concluded with the sentence: "He knew he had lived a good life." One could make an argument that it borders on understatement. Locked in my own memory now is our last day together in the field: back in January, we were both scheduled to depart from Camp Victory in Baghdad on two different C-130 troop transports. We sat on folding chairs outside the Army "VIP tent" (so designated because it contained a space heater) trying to keep the conversation OFF the topic at hand: a C-130 which had been shot down after taking off from the very same spot on the previous night, killing all the British soldiers on board.

I hope and trust that Peter would not mind if I shared but one paragraph from our correspondence while he was ill... I think it sums up who Peter was, and neatly displays at least one facet of his multi-layered philosophy on life:

"Damn, I would so much rather be competing with you than getting through my first serious encounter with chemotherapy. But, what do they say in our business? Every experience goes into the memory bank to be dragged out at some later date to show the audience that we're experienced!"

Bravo, Peter.

August 8 | 10 a.m.

L  (for landing)  - 1: Earthbound thoughts (Jeff Gralnick, NBC News)

Through all of thisabout Discovery this morning, there was this to deal with: The word that a friend and colleague of more that three decades is dead. The cancer he was diagnosed with four months ago had taken his life just before midnight last night. Peter Jennings. Gone. It does not compute.

We covered the Challenger disaster together when America learned for the first time that space flight and "risky business" were one and the same. He sat in the chair for six long hours that awful January day being what an anchorman had to be. Steady. Calming. The presence a nation needed at a time of great national pain. He was that day what I remember Walter Cronkite being through that awful day so many years before when Jack Kennedy was shot. He was a voice of calm and reason when all around was unreasonable and unthinkable.

He was, quite simply, one of those consummate broadcasters whose ear you could whisper in while he was on the air and have a conversation about the story he was broadcasting; to whom you could give directions the same way; and with whom you could reach broadcaster-producer consensus on where to go and what to do next and all the time the viewer never knew. Steady? He epitomized it as do and did all the great ones.

Peter would have hated this overnight coverage of Discovery, a story turning into non-story for yet another day. "Come on chap," he would have said, "can't we get this over?"

For Peter, it is now over. And we are the poorer for it.

It is L  (for landing)-1 and it is not a very good day. At all.

Editor's note: Jeff Gralnick is covering the flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Before joining NBC, Gralnick was Vice President and Executive Producer Special Events at ABC News.  During a 20-year period he worked with Peter Jennings on numerous live breaking news stories and twice served as executive producer of "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings."

August 8 | 9:45 a.m.

Tonight on Nightly News (Steve Johnson, Daily Nightly editor)

It's been called America's most dangerous drug: crystal meth. Cheap, easy to make and highly addictive, methamphetamine has hit the mainstream, destroying families, threatening communities and overwhelming law enforcement. Can the epidemic be stopped?

Tonight on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.


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