Peter Jennings Comes Calling on Tampa

Tampa is no stranger to national news — from Teddy Roosevelt prepping for Cuba to the Buccaneers canning of Keyshawn. National correspondents have reported on a wide spectrum of Tampa-generated stories ranging from MacDill’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the war on terror to city council’s efforts in the battle against lap-dancing.

Never, however, until last week did we have a national network newscast actually anchor itself here. As if Tampa, itself, were of an interest that transcended that day’s headlines.

So when Peter Jennings of ABC’s World News Tonight reported on same sex marriage in Massachusetts, retaliation in Iraq, President Bush in London, Michael Jackson in denial and Rush Limbaugh out of rehab — with a backdrop of downtown Tampa — it was a pretty big deal. And not just to the genuflecting affiliate, WFTS-Channel 28.

Mercifully, there was no mention of lap dances, senior citizens, hanging chads — or fired wide receivers.

In the first of his two Tampa newscasts from outside the Tampa Museum of Art, Jennings stated that he was reporting from the biggest city “on the Western flank of Florida.” It was a place, he said, that was an intriguing barometer of presidential politics, one with a significant Latino population.

He pointed out that in the 2000 election, Hillsborough County voted 48.8 percent for George W. Bush and 48.8 percent for Al Gore. “If you want to win Florida,” opined Jennings, “you’d better get Hillsborough on your side.”

Among those up close and personally privy to the Jennings’ style was Patrick Manteiga, editor and publisher of the Ybor City-based, trilingual weekly La Gaceta . He met with Jennings at Ybor’s Tropicana restaurant. Members of Jennings’ staff had contacted him to see if he would be available to chat “about Cuban politics” and if he could round up a few locals to talk shop. Answering Manteiga’s call were several “yellow dog Democrats” and a lone Republican.

“We had about a 20-minute conversation,” recalled Manteiga. “Jennings has a very easy going demeanor. He’s somebody who talks TO you — not above you. He takes his own notes. He was sharp and witty. I was very impressed.

“He seemed to have a pretty good grasp,” added Manteiga. “He certainly understood the difference between Miami and Tampa Cubans. And he apparently speaks Spanish. The banter certainly sounded good.”

Manteiga was surprised that Cuba wasn’t the focal point of the discussion. Just one of a number of topics, including local reaction to the war in Iraq. But he was satisfied with the sound bite selected from the conversation.

“It’s a potluck kind of thing,” said Manteiga. “You never know what they’ll choose. But what they pulled was fine.” It was a quote about the diversity within the Hispanic community.

“A lot of politicians want to treat us as a tribe

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