The drawn-out process hurt morale at ABC News, with many staffers critical of Westin’s indecision. “It is regretful that the decisions didn’t come sooner,” says a news staffer who professes to like Westin. “We’re living it every day, and every day a decision wasn’t made, it affected everything, the way things are structured.”
Westin is sanguine about the criticism. “Nobody likes uncertainty,” he says. “But I’ve learned the hard way that you can get rushed to a decision and it can happen prematurely and it causes more damage than if you’d waited.”
In the end, it simply made little sense for Westin to give the job to Sawyer. She holds up the most lucrative program in the news division, and she has several more years on her contract. Gibson had only one year left—and a light, three-day-a-week schedule for the last year—and was fully prepared to leave. Westin knew Sawyer’s contract provided for at least six more months of work on GMA, keeping the program competitive against Vieira, and buying him time to dream up a replacement and then another show for Sawyer. In Gibson, Westin gets his own Bob Schieffer—a trusted figure whom the older demographic that still watches the evening news can relate to. The youth moment will just have to wait; and Vargas, well, sadly she is collateral damage that Westin can afford.
Not incidentally, denying Sawyer the job subtly changed Westin’s status inside the network—for the first time, it would appear, Westin said no, or something like no, to Sawyer. And that makes him look like his own man.
In the catty backrooms of broadcast news, the perception of having lost is as bad as actually losing. Case in point: Earlier this month, the Washington Post filed Sawyer in the “losers” slot in its TV column, asking, “What’s left for Di?” Even Sawyer’s allies concede she got nothing out of the deal. “She got Allen Grubman, that’s what she got,” says one friend.
But does Diane Sawyer think Diane Sawyer lost? “No,” she says. “They were complicated choices. But I know I made the right one for me. And I truly think this is all best for the network too.”
If she has given up on the idea of the anchor chair, she has taken this opportunity to explore her options. A few ideas have been floated by ABC News, including the chance to run PJ Productions, the documentary unit founded by Peter Jennings.
Meanwhile, there’s GMA, on the ropes again. The show’s executive producer, Ben Sherwood, resigned earlier this month, and there is neither a male anchor nor a weatherman. Sawyer has agreed to stay on GMA through 2007, prompting speculation that she may depart soon after. Asked if Sawyer will be at GMA this time next year, Westin hedges his bets: “Do I expect Diane to retire off of GMA at ABC News?” he asks. “No. At some point, we’ll decide it’s time for her to do something else after GMA.”
For now, Sawyer says she’s dedicated to first reviving GMA with her co-anchor, Robin Roberts. “I want to make sure GMA is great,” she says. “Robin and I together.”
Asked what her own future holds beyond that, Sawyer laughs. “I’m taking all suggestions,” she says.