World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson will abandon the ABC anchor chair in January, ceding it to Diane Sawyer — his unspoken rival for the spot when it opened up back in 2006. Gibson came into the role after the previous anchor team, Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas, left. (Woodruff was struck by a roadside bomb while reporting from Iraq, and Vargas left to better balance her career and motherhood.) At the time, he was co-hosting Good Morning America alongside Sawyer. It was rumored that Sawyer might get the spot because Katie Couric was apparently moving to CBS’s Evening News, but she remained in the morning position. “It had been my intention to step down from my job at Good Morning America in 2007 but with [former World News anchor Peter Jennings]’s illness, Bob’s injuries, and Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the job at World News came open in May of 2006, and [ABC News head David Westin] asked me to step in as anchor,” Gibson wrote in an e-mail to staff. “It was an honor to do so. The program is now operating at a very accelerated, but steady, cruising speed, and I think it is an opportune time for a transition — both for the broadcast and for me. Life is dynamic; it is not static.”
This is a vindication for Sawyer, who started as a weather girl in Louisville and worked her way up to one of the most prestigious jobs in journalism. She’s been at GMA for ten years, but her accomplishments are perhaps best laid out by Westin in his memo to staff:
Diane Sawyer is the right person to succeed Charlie and build on what he has accomplished. She has an outstanding and varied career in television journalism, beginning with her role as a State Department correspondent and continuing at 60 Minutes, Primetime Live, and Good Morning America. She has interviewed every President since President George H. W. Bush up to and including President Obama. She has handled an array of breaking news special events, including on 9/11 and, most recently, the presidential election. She has done distinguished documentaries on topics as varied as North Korea, the plight of women in Afghanistan and in prisons here at home, and poverty in Camden, New Jersey, and in Appalachia. We are fortunate to have a journalist of Diane’s proven ability and passion to step into the important position of anchor for World News. She will continue with her documentaries in her new role.
It also is a victory for women in television journalism, who as a group went from never having solo anchored an evening news broadcast on a major network to anchoring two of the three in less than five years. With two such well-respected stars in the prime spots, up against Brian Williams at NBC, how the aging evening-news audience responds to women will be tested — and, hopefully, evolve.