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ABC News Taps Charlie Gibson for ‘World News Tonight’

May 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

ABC News finally has turned to Charlie Gibson-the man many people think should have been the obvious first, second and third choice to succeed Peter Jennings-as solo anchor of “World News Tonight.”

Although Mr. Gibson will continue to co-anchor “Good Morning America” until June 30, his assignment at the network’s flagship newscast, “World News,” begins Monday. The new gig is a long-term assignment.

Elizabeth Vargas, who has been anchoring “World News” alone for several months, will return to her duties as John Stossel’s co-anchor on “20/20,” in addition to anchoring news specials in prime time, when she returns from maternity leave. She is expecting her second child in late summer.

Ms. Vargas started as co-anchor of the newscast with Bob Woodruff in January. Less than a month after the duo was installed, Mr. Woodruff was severely injured in a roadside attack on assignment near Baghdad.

The news that Mr. Gibson will take over “World News” follows a ratings coup by CBS News last week. “CBS Evening News” for the first time in some five years passed “World News” in total viewership for a week.

ABC News President David Westin announced Mr. Gibson’s appointment first thing Tuesday morning.

Mr. Gibson was put in a position last year in which he felt he had to refuse the assignment. At that time Mr. Westin would not agree to let him anchor through the 2008 presidential election.

Mr. Westin said in the announcement that Ms. Vargas had asked for the limited responsibilities.

“David and I have been talking for some time about what would happen as my maternity leave approaches,” Ms. Vargas, who worked practically up to her due date with her first pregnancy, said in the announcement. “My doctors have asked that I cut back my schedule considerably. What works best for me and my family is to return in the fall to ’20/20′ as I raise my new baby and young son.

“I have loved every day I spent at ‘World News Tonight’ and have endless respect for my colleagues there,” she said in the announcement. “This broadcast needs someone who can give 150 percent-day in and day out. I am not in a position to give that right now and it wouldn’t be fair to do any less. In Charlie, this broadcast and news division has a wonderful and respected leader.”

Said Mr. Gibson, “I am humbled to accept this new assignment. I have witnessed firsthand the grace and determination of every member of the staff of ‘World News Tonight.’ I look forward to joining this extraordinary team and to helping the broadcast start a new chapter.”

“Charlie Gibson is one of the most distinguished journalists on television. He is a superb broadcaster, the consummate professional and a very familiar presence to the audience and everyone at World News Tonight,” Mr. Westin said in the announcement.

Mr. Westin also praised Ms. Vargas for stepping up after Mr. Jennings was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2005.

Mr. Woodruff now seems on the road to an amazing recovery after long weeks in a medically induced coma.

“Charlie’s taking over ‘World News Tonight’ will give Bob Woodruff the extended period that he needs to recover and return to the air for ABC News. All of us look forward to that day, but it will be on Bob’s timetable, not ours,” Mr. Westin said in the announcement.

The announcement included a statement from Mr. Woodruff: “Elizabeth and I set out on a great adventure this year, and I’m proud of what we accomplished. Elizabeth had to shoulder an enormous job when I was injured and she did it with grace. Charlie Gibson is a mentor and a friend. I look forward to contributing to his broadcast as soon as I’m able.”

Mr. Gibson joined ABC News in 1975 in his native Washington, and since has proven himself a natural at the assignments he has been handed, including co-anchoring “GMA” for a total of some 18 years in two separate stints since 1987.