By Shelley Levitt
August 30, 1993 12:00 PM

HE HAD COVERED THE 1979 HOSTAGE crisis in Iran, reported live from the Munich Olympics of 1972, when terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes, and stayed on the air for nearly 12 straight hours when the space shuttle Challenger exploded seven years ago. But on Aug. 13, Peter Jennings was on vacation—camping in his native Canada with his son, Christopher, 9, and daughter, Elizabeth, 13—when perhaps the biggest story of his own life hit the wires. After 14 years of marriage and two children, the 55-year-old anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight and writer Kati Marton, 44, were separating.

Columnist Liz Smith, a friend of Jennings’s, broke the news with a sympathetic spin. “Kati and Peter,” she wrote, “have asked us to stress that there is no third party involved on either side.”

The couple’s request for such a disclaimer wasn’t surprising. Six years ago, they split up briefly, following Marton’s affair with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. The highly publicized fling, some media insiders say, was less a romance than an act of comeuppance, retaliation by Marton for Jennings’s numerous reported dalliances. But though Jennings would describe his wife’s wandering as “the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he is now reported to be involved with an attractive TV news producer in her early 30s who once worked on his nightly broadcast.

Marton knew about Jennings’s reputation before she ever met him. In 1977, when she was on her way to take a job in Bonn as an ABC reporter, Marton stopped in London, where Jennings was the network’s bureau chief. “Everywhere I went,” she said later, “I met women with terrible Peter Jennings stories to tell. I didn’t want to become one of them.” But when the dashing correspondent asked her out, she accepted. By their third date, they were engaged.

At least one close friend of the couple’s calls Jennings’s latest rumored affair “an irrelevancy.” This source says the unraveling of the marriage—Jennings’s third, Marton’s second—can be traced to the restlessness of Marton. The Budapest-born daughter of Hungarian journalists, who were imprisoned on false charges that they were CIA agents when she was 7, Marton has written a novel, An American Woman, and two acclaimed works of investigative journalism since she left ABC 13 years ago. “Kati’s the one who instigated the separation,” the friend says. “She wants to seize her life, be a woman on her own.” Her decision has reportedly left the anchorman deeply saddened. As he told a reporter just last year, “My wife is the most interesting woman I’ve ever known, and I’ve known an awful lot of them.”