Whether you watch them or not– and their audiences are dwindling, yet still a potent force — the anchors of the network news broadcasts are among the most powerful people on the global stage, able to snag an interview with the president or just about any other newsworthy personage and jet into world trouble spots and history-making events, backed by the full resources of their respective news organizations.
It seems only fitting that in the wake of the passing of one of the greatest anchors of our time, Walter Cronkite, that there is a rare shake-up in the three coveted chairs that historically have been occupied for years and even decades at a time.
With Charlie Gibson passing his “World News” throne on to ABC’s Diane Sawyer at the beginning of 2010, we will enter a new era of network news royalty–with two of the three seats being held by women for the first time in history.
Remember a few years back when Dan Rather was dragged kicking and screaming, which he still is, from the “CBS Evening News” desk and Katie Couric took over? Under an intense spotlight, the perennially perky (and yes, she rightfully hated that word) television veteran tried to redefine the genre of the tradition-bound evening news broadcast, with little success. Not to mention the scrutiny of her hair, clothing and makeup that just wasn’t part of the equation when Brian Williams smoothly assumed the “NBC Nightly News” desk from long-time popular anchor Tom Brokaw.
Gibson inherited his mantle following a rocky, tragic period at ABC, after Peter Jennings died and then his successor, co-anchor Bob Woodruff was seriously injured in Iraq. He’s done an estimable job, bringing in his newscast at number two, after top-rated NBC.
Yet the rumbling currents of criticism are already being directed at Sawyer, who’s done some very softball interviews and puff pieces during her long and successful tenure at “Good Morning America”– as well as hard-hitting broadcast journalism.
She’s a tough cookie and a classy woman, although I’ve never gotten the part where she willingly worked as an aide to the most reviled president in modern history, Richard Nixon, before she made a major career change and became the media doyenne she is today.
But the tea leaves read that Sawyer’s hairstyle, hair color, lipstick, weight and wardrobe will be as much as part of the discussion as her journalistic credentials. Aside from Couric’s elevation, it’s been more than 25 years since the last female network news anchor, Jessica Savitch, made headlines for helming a network newscast (and she only held the weekend slot on NBC before her untimely death in a traffic accident).
Shamefully, much of the discourse about women in broadcasting has not evolved much beyond the superficial since then.#