Andrea Peyser: Diane Sawyer’s Evening-News Role ‘Affirmative Action’

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Sawyer with her predecessor, Charles Gibson. Photo: Getty Images

We love Andrea Peyser. Her job is to be critical of anyone and anything that New York Post readers may take offense to, and unlike a lot of the shrill voices on the Internet, she generally manages to do it in a way that makes us laugh. A lot. But today we've got to bat back at her claim that Diane Sawyer was only transitioned to the role of anchor of World News Tonight because she is a woman. Come on, Andrea. You should know better — not because you, too, are a strong, influential woman, but because you are presumably a human being who watches television.

Here's what Andrea says:

Why is the network behaving as if it's preparing for Diane's doom? ABC, the perpetual also-ran after NBC News, helmed by marquee god Brian Williams, has shoved the TV survivor (she turns 64 the day after her debut) into the coveted slot without fanfare, prohibiting even a single pre-show interview. Plus she begins her duties in the dead TV week that ends with Christmas. The brass seem to believe that if everyone simply acts as if nothing interesting is happening, no one will notice that the world has changed.

It's true that ABC has been avoiding massive hype of Diane's transition. In fact, in a memo out this week from ABC News head honcho David Westin, he said: "You will have noticed that, for both GMA and World News, our transitions by design have been low key. As we showed with the launch of Nightline, it is better to build steadily and perform over time than to launch a major campaign targeting the first day; in the end, this is not about the first day, and it is not about us." And anyone with even a vague memory for network news will recall that the huge hype of Katie Couric's transition from morning to evening telecasts was part of what crippled her at the outset. (Read Joe Hagan's excellent New York analysis of exactly this phenomenon here.) ABC News, if anything, is betting on the fact that Diane's skill will speak for itself, instead of against it.

Then Andrea says this: "I have a prediction: The experiment will fail. To say that elevating Sawyer is anything other than affirmative action is a fantasy that the network must face."

Honestly, Andrea, we love you, babe, but for shame. Yes, the Diane Experiment may fail. Evening-news broadcasts in general may soon fail. But Sawyer, with the exception of Barbara Walters (another woman!), is by far the biggest marquee name in the ABC News roster. (And that's setting aside her award-winning career.) George Stephanopoulos? Sorry, but no. Robin Roberts? Almost, but not quite. Chris Cuomo? Don't make us laugh.

Could ABC have hired from outside the network to replace Charles Gibson? Maybe, if they could afford it. But even the male stars in other constellations with enough gravitas (Anderson Cooper, Steve Kroft, Lester Hohlt, Harry Smith, etc., etc.) aren't more widely loved and trusted than Diane. Yes, the decision to hire her may not turn out to be the best one ABC News has ever made, but there's no way of knowing that at this point. And to label it affirmative action is to knock everything that hardworking female journalists — like Andrea Peyser — have worked for decades to achieve. At least the Post knew better than to have a man put those words in print.

Dyin' With Diane [NYP]