Sawyer, Couric – Gender Game Drowns Out News Focus

The news of Diane Sawyer’s 2010 promotion to anchor the ABC World News is great.  It may, as some analysts and reporters have suggested, mean less pressure on Katie Couric.  What is bizarre in its absence is that the coverage has mostly ignored the question of what skills and experiences Ms. Sawyer will bring to Charles Gibson’s anchor seat.  She might refresh the program

ABC News' Diane Sawyer

ABC News' Diane Sawyer

The mainstream news coverage of the “sexier” angles about ratings, and celebrity journalists’ pay, from the likes of the New York Times – this distracts and misdirects audiences.  If there is any coverage about the news content or that which asks why Bernard Shaw or Carole Simpson, who could not move out of ABC World News Tonight Sunday anchor position, were the only anchors of African descent, it is been below the proverbial radar.

The New York Times wrote in-part, “Both Mr. Westin (ABC News’ president, David Westin) and Mr. Banner (World News’ executive producer, Jon Banner) used the same expression, ‘the DNA of the newscast will not change,’ in saying Ms. Sawyer would make the newscast her own without changing it in any fundamental ways.”

One must wonder, particularly if one is any type of feminist (who among us has neither a sister, nor a daughter..?), what the change will mean for news content if the executives feel a need to assure viewers that Ms. Sawyer will keep the show the way that Mr. Gibson will have left it?

Just as people talk about how a judge’s personality or experiences inform their approaches and their decisions – just consider the absurd, hyperbolic, and hyperventilated anxiety over what Ms. Sotomayor would bring to the U.S. Supreme Court bench – so the same phenomenon works with network news anchors in their roles as managing editors.

When it comes to presidential politics, it’s often referred to as “pink telephone” politics.

a pink telephone

a pink telephone

Why would ABC’s brass make a point to be preempt and placate viewers anxieties by implying that Ms Sawyer’s professional point of view would not affect or intrude on  – and change – what Mr. Gibson has done?

Ms. Sawyer has a near sterling reputation as a serious, hard news journalist.  Viewers should be eager to find what she will bring to ABC World News’ coverage and editorial point of view, inferring of course that she will also be its managing editor.  There are many stories that are omitted or ignored from the news broadcasts because they focus on or emphasize women.  That is a whole nother topic that can easily trigger ire or rage.

Former CBS News anchor Connie Chung threw in a surprise that, among other things reminds us that women will have diverse even disparate opinions on this.

A female columnist will quote another female journalist – Connie Chung– and report a silly, blind declaration when asked about gender, “The question should be, ‘How will Diane do against Brian [Williams] and Katie?”

Still, it is disappointing when female journalists perpetuate angles that are part of the problem.  Appointment viewers are concerned about content, not about how many of their peers are watching which newscast.

What is – or what should be – the priority as Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Gibson make the transition?



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