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.
“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.

Book review: Peter Jennings – A Reporter’s Life

Peter Jennings was a sometimes a harsh taskmaster, but it was never about personal ego, it was about making the broadcast better, and it showed.

I used to watch ABC World News almost religiously and it was because of Peter Jennings. Now I find the program almost unwatchable, and I have to think that the late anchorman would probably feel the same way.

Of course, I was watching when he told us, on-air on April 5, 2005, that he had lung cancer. And I was a viewer when Charles Gibson announced he had died on August 7, and I felt a profound sense of sadness, grief that continues as the broadcast he put forth has turned, in large measure, into the infotainment that he could not stand.

Lynn Scher. ABC reporter contacted Peter’s widow, Kayce Freed Jennings, and suggested that the interviews conducted for the ABC News special, “Peter Jennings: Reporter” in August 2005 would make a good book. Kayce initially said no, so Lynn Scher did it anyway, just for the family and close colleagues, presented a year later. This convinced Kayce that a book WAS viable, not just to honor Peter, but to discuss journalistic values. The book, edited by Kate Darton, Kayce Jennings, and Scher, is a story told by some seven dozen colleagues, competitors, family members, friends, and newsmakers.

It relates his life, born in Toronto in 1938, the son of Canada’s Edward R. Murrow, Charles Jennings. Peter was smart, but a lazy student, dropping out of high school. But, because of his charisma and good looks, he finds himself in the family business in Canada. He joins ABC News in 1964, and in 1965, at the age of 26, becomes the anchor of the evening news, a job for which he was indisputably unqualified, especially against competition such as Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC, and Walter Cronkite on CBS.

He becomes a field reporter, first in Rome, then Beirut. It was he who reported live from the Olympics in Munich about the kidnapping and killing of Israeli athletes.

In 1978, ABC News created this troika anchor chair with Frank Reynolds in Washington covering the government/politics segments, Max Robinson in Chicago on domestic news, and Jennings, now the chief foreign correspondent, dealing with international news from London. By 1983, he was the sole anchor, working out of New York City.

It is at this point that the broadcast started to get good. His exacting standards, his antipathy for the soft stories, made ABC News #1. He even eschewed the O.J. Simpson trial story until he became convinced it said something about the racial divide in the United States.

Jennings often fought for extended coverage of topics that, perhaps, people didn’t know they needed to know, about AIDS, Guantanamo, religion, racism, the Arab world, and much more. He had an insatiable curiosity, and seem to act as though everyone else did, or should.

He spent 24 hours ringing in the millennium, then was on air for over 60 hours after 9/11, including a wonderful program the Saturday after, trying to explain the event to children, which I watched too because I needed someone to explain it to me. Peter had a knack, a need to make sure the story was told well, including the context in which the events took place. He was sometimes a harsh taskmaster in this regard, virtually EVERYONE said, but it was never about personal ego, it was about making the broadcast better, and it showed.

I enjoyed the narrative, and the various remembrances, interspersed with words from Peter Jennings, made it a surprisingly interesting book to read.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial