And it isn’t a new Diane Sawyer game for the X-Box. A Los Angeles Times article describes Diane Sawyer as exuding an “alarming level of elegance.” That’s not it, either (sorry, Mr. Madden). A sharp contrast to the hyped up personalities so often jabbering behind a “news” desk, Diane Sawyer has a presence that many newscasters lack. She should. She isn’t some new-anchor-come-lately, she’s been working her way up to the anchor chair for decades. She began her television career in the often over-sexualized role of weather girl at her hometown television station, Louisville, Kentucky’s WLKY-TV. A former Junior Miss America and Wellesley College graduate with an English major, she lacked the meteorolgy background and the vision (really) for the job. She didn’t wear glasses on camera, and couldn’t tell if she was pointing to the East or West coast. When her father, a respected judge, died unexpectedly she gained an interest in government and politics, which lead her to Washington, D.C. and happily away from the world of weather broadcasting.
She served in the Nixon White House as an assistant deputy press secretary, where she was often referred to by Nixon as “the smart girl.” After Nixon resigned she stayed on as his personal assistant, helping him pen his Watergate memoirs. Once the job was complete she worked for CBS News where she won accolades for her impressive reports from Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The same impressive reporting of the Iran hostage crises gave Sawyer experience and credibility. She was co-anchor of CBS Morning News, the Early Morning News and the first woman on the network’s flagship public affairs program, 60 Minutes. In 1989 she moved to ABC and was named coanchor of Good Morning America with Charlie Gibson.
In 1989 a Fox news executive called her the “John Madden of network news” because she has so often been brought in to save the ratings of a program. So far, the description is still apt. Although “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” was was the most-watched evening news program last week, averaging 10 million viewers, “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” was second and was the only newscast to increase viewers week-to-week. “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” was third.
Diane Sawyer has been wooed by every television network throughout her career. Let’s see if she can take “Team Brian Williams” in the high stakes game of television ratings. No doubt she has the training and the endurance.
Nichola D. Gutgold is author of Seen and Heard: The Women of Television News (Lexington Books, 2008).