I suppose it should come as no surprise, what with the nasty brouhaha that erupted three years ago when Katie Couric was named anchor for CBS’ 60 Minutes, that the recent announcement about Diane Sawyer taking over Charlie Gibson’s anchor post on ABC World News upon Gibson’s retirement was met with a scathing round of… er, analysis.
While the Women’s Media Center dubbed it a “watershed moment,” the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Karen Heller took a less optimistic tone, all but calling nightly television news an endangered species, Sawyer’s appointment an overhyped boobie prize:
The nightly newscast is also the Metamucil half-hour, as the pharma ads reflect. The three newscasts collectively attract 20 million viewers, half the size of the audience 15 years ago, with a median age of 61.3, hence all the health coverage. Claiming Sawyer’s appointment “historic,” as many have, is misleading. It’s a job many men, including Gibson, no longer want.
So, while we all know the fate of the numbers Couric found upon assuming her position, from what Heller says, it seems like dwindling ratings should have been an all but foregone conclusion (and she may be right: I mean, how many people do you know who get their news at 5:30, on TV? Thought so). And Katie was a convenient scapegoat, made all the more convenient because she was a trailblazer, a first.
But that’s just the half of it.
I was surprised to find this dim assessment on from Courtney Martin, on the website Feministing:
Sawyer seems like a perfectly decent interviewer and a hardworking journalist, but I’m also struck that she fits into the “NewsMommy model” that Ann reported on back when Couric was chosen–essentially that the networks are choosing women who are non-threatening, aka maternal, for the top positions so as not to freak out viewers still not used to the idea that women can be assertive, independent, and–gasp–childless.
First, lest I forget, Diane Sawyer doesn’t even have children. As Amanda Fortini put it on Salon’s Broadsheet:
Sawyer is many things–smart, competent, often witty, exceedingly attractive–but “maternal” is not an adjective that springs to mind. You might even call her telepresence the opposite of maternal: glossy, self-contained, occasionally remote… So what, exactly, is it that qualified her as maternal? That she is a woman of a certain age? This is the sort of stereotyping feminists have long worked to combat.
In my opinion, Fortini hit the nail on the head, although I don’t think Martin’s post was quite as dismissive as Fortini took it to be. But really, aren’t we beyond all this? What’s with the use of the word “mommy” in that context–as if it’s a synonym for airhead or lightweight? I’ll concede that morning news shows like Good Morning America are to news as Pop-Tarts are to breakfast, but Diane Sawyer has a pretty impressive resume behind that pretty face (is it the pretty that’s the problem?): she has 30 years of network experience, was an aide to Nixon, she’s interviewed the last four presidents and their wives, as well as world leaders such as Ahmadinejad, Sadaam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara, and Manuel Noriega to name but a few. She’s covered the State Department, and was one of the first female correspondents on 60 Minutes. And, um, Charlie Gibson seems like a nice guy and everything, but a hard-hitter? Not so much.
While Sawyer’s new gig may indeed be a boobie prize, perceived as but a pit stop on the way to the Metamucil aisle, I’m struck by all the analysis. Because, had some guy been given the job, we’d all be on the same side: where are the women? Perhaps we’d be more focused on this sobering fact: according to the Women’s Media Center, “women hold only 3 percent of the ‘clout’ positions in media.” But now that she’s there, the best we can do is to consume rumors of catfights between she and Couric, pick apart the career choices she’s made, what she looks like, and each other.
What will it take for us to stop judging each other and get on the same team? To stop reaching for the shards of shattered glass from those ceilings our sisters have worked so hard to crack and using them as weapons against each other, rather than sweeping them up, admiring the fact that we might be able to make it through a little easier, and getting on with our own lives and the ceilings we’ll inevitably face? Equality? Yet another reason to keep working for it–and, frankly, as good as any.