Diane Sawyer is 70

After a couple years, I found the show totally unwatchable.

sawyer.nixon2When Diane Sawyer was up for a job at CBS News in the late 1970s, I was wary. She had worked for years in the press office at the Nixon White House and then helping the resigned-before-he-was-impeached former president with his memoirs in San Clemente, California. She was even suspected of being Deep Throat, the source of leaks of classified information during the Watergate scandal. A character playing Sawyer shows up in the movie Frost/Nixon, but that was a cinematic contrivance.

Diane Sawyer turned out to be not bad, first as a reporter, then fairly quickly as the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes, the long-running investigative newsmagazine.

After five years with 60 Minutes (1984-1989), she moved to ABC News to co-anchor various news magazines (Primetime Live, 20/20). “In 1999, Sawyer returned to the morning news as the co-anchor of Good Morning America with Charles Gibson. The assignment was putatively temporary, but her success in the position, measured by a close in the gap with front-runner Today, NBC News’s morning program, sustained her in the position for far longer than anticipated.”

I had been watching ABC World News, going back to the days of Peter Jennings, who I thought was a consummate newsman, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2005, and died a few months later. I stayed with the network through the brief Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas period, and the version with Charles Gibson.
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“Sawyer was announced as the successor to Gibson, who retired as the anchor of ABC World News, on Friday, December 18, 2009. Sawyer left GMA on December 11, 2009, and [moved] to ABC World News on December 21, 2009, three days after Gibson’s departure.”

But the show evolved into having more “news you can use” features, the type of programming appropriate for GMA but what probably would have Jennings rolling over in his grave. ABC News had a glitzy “what’s trending” on social media segment and the periodic, mildly jingoistic “Made in America” pieces; I helped find a couple of the entrepreneurs.

After a couple of years, I found the show totally unwatchable, especially after the first commercial, and started watching other programs, almost anything. Sawyer left in the anchor desk in 2014 and concentrated on specials. Her piece on Julie Andrews I found irritating, seemingly more about how strenuous the hills in The Sound of Music were for the interviewer than new information about the subject.

Still, I think that Barbara Walters-like celebrity journalism does have its place. Who else had the soft news cred to have interviewed Bruce Jenner just before the transition to Caitlyn? And I appreciated how she gave her GMA colleagues the scoop the death of her husband, Mike Nichols, in November 2014.

I recognize that media will make more of the competition between two women, no matter the field, such as Sawyer’s rivalry with Barbara Walters or Katie Couric.

So I can appreciate her accomplishments, even her style is not always my cuppa.

Mike Nichols

I found out about Mike Nichols’ death because my TV was possessed.

Mike NicholsI don’t what surprised me more: that our college undergraduate intern knew who Mike Nichols was (he’s a film buff and LOVES The Graduate) or a guy I know in this thirties who knows a lot of stuff but didn’t recognize the name.

When I was growing up, it seemed that Mike Nichols and Elaine May were on the TV talk shows and variety shows all the time. This followed 306 performances on Broadway of An Evening with… for nine months in 1960 and 1961. “The LP album of the show won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.” Here’s Nichols and May on the Jack Paar Show.

Nichols then got into directing plays on Broadway, winning several Tony Awards for Best Director of the original productions of Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, among others. He also won Tonys for producing Annie, and later, for directing Spamalot and a revival of Death of a Salesman.

He got into directing movies, and his first attempt was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Watch the dance scene. His second directing attempt was The Graduate, for which he won his only Oscar. I’ve seen that movie, plus Catch-22, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Charlie Wilson’s War, plus Silkwood, Heartburn, and Postcards from the Edge, the latter three which he also produced. Here’s the hit song from Working Girl, Let the River Run by Carly Simon. Read Mike Nichols’ five rules for filmmaking.

Nichols’ two Emmys came from fairly serious fare: the TV movie Wit (2001) starring Emma Thompson, and the TV miniseries Angels in America from 2003. This means he is one of a dozen people to win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003.

I found out about Mike Nichols’ death because my TV was possessed on Thursday morning. Usually, I watch two minutes of the CBS Morning News at 7 a.m., but the DVR was stuck on the ABC affiliate. The lead was about the death, a story that didn’t show up on my New York Times and LA Times news feed until a half-hour later. The news was released, after the story on the air, by the ABC News president. Diane Sawyer, former GMA and World News anchor, and Nichols’ wife of 26 years, apparently arranged an exclusive for her network, noted not as criticism but just an observation.

The GMA folks – heck, EVERYONE who knew him, such as Meryl Streep – said he was always “the smartest and most brilliant person in the room,” rather like his Nichols’ third cousin twice removed on his mother’s side, scientist Albert Einstein. But he also a wonderful raconteur, and I feel as though I would have enjoyed being in his presence.

Mike Nichols died of a heart attack a couple of weeks after his 83rd birthday.

Getting rid of ABC News’ Brian Ross, for starters

In a three-minute span last week, anchor Diane Sawyer made two errors.

I’m forever fascinated by the news media, and how often they get it wrong. Anyone who has appeared in the newspaper will tell you that; “that’s not what I meant.” Often it’s breaking news they botch, such as CNN and FOX News reporting of when it was declaring that the Supreme Court had killed “Obamacare”

But it was some hours after the Aurora, Colorado shootings when ABC News’ Brian Ross, interrupting the news anchor, speculated that the shooter may have been a member of a local tea party chapter. Ah, his investigation seems to be that he Googled James Holmes and Aurora and found A James Holmes in Aurora, who is unrelated. The network issued a public apology. This was hardly the first of Ross’ premature reporting.

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart totally lambasted Ross (at 5:00 in), and rightly so. Regret the Error explains the network’s mealy apology, while at the same time, making me suspicious of another detail of the story. “The network had reported that Holmes’ mother said ‘you have the right person’ when it contacted her to ask if her son was the shooter. She has since said she was referring to herself to let the reporter know she was Holmes’ mother.” I tend to believe Holmes’ mother’s version.

Ross, however, is hardly the only sloppy newsperson at ABC News. In a three-minute span last week, anchor Diane Sawyer made two errors. First, she noted that the British had 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, but 18,200 at the Olympics, which is “MORE than twice as many;” not when I went to school. Then she referred to late actor Sherman Hemsley as “Helmsley.” Forgivable mistake, perhaps, but when the reporter on the piece REPEATEDLY announces his name correctly, you’d think she’d fix it. Or, if she didn’t notice, that SOMEONE would whisper into her headphone about her miscue.

It wasn’t that long ago that the late Peter Jennings, who died in 2005, was anchoring ABC’s evening news. Those types of errors likely wouldn’t have taken place, and if they had, heads would have rolled. I’m reminded once again why I gave up my ABC News habit.