It looks as if ABC News bigwigs scoped the landscape — and third place ratings — and decided they needed to have one, big journalistic gun to compete with NBC‘s Brian ‘Williams and CBS-to-be’s Katie Couric in the evening newscast anchor wars:
ABC News has named Charles Gibson to be sole anchor of “World News Tonight.”
“Charlie Gibson is one of the most distinguished journalists on television. He is a superb broadcaster, the consummate professional, and a very familiar presence to the audience and everyone at ‘World News Tonight,'” said ABC News President David Westin, who announced the decision today.
Gibson’s new assignment will take effect on May 29. He will continue as a co-anchor of “Good Morning America” until June 30.
This follows an incredible period of upheaval for ABC News, which had been led by the respected — and ratings-successful — Peter Jennings for many years:
Following the death of “World News Tonight” anchor Peter Jennings in August 2005, Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff were named co-anchors of the broadcast in December 2005.
Vargas said today she had chosen to step down to take maternity leave and later return to co-anchor “20/20″ and ABC News specials.
“Going forward Elizabeth Vargas has asked that we limit her responsibilities to anchoring ’20/20′ and special primetime hours,” Westin said. “From the moment Peter became ill, no person in this organization has stepped up more than Elizabeth. I have nothing but respect, gratitude and admiration for the work she has done on our behalf oftentimes under enormously stressful conditions. Elizabeth is absolutely vital to the success and future of ABC News.”
Vargas said she had made the decision after consulting with her doctors.
She had something to say at the end of her newscast Tuesday night:
“Before we leave tonight, a note about change. There’s been a lot of it on this broadcast. From Peter Jennings’ announcement that he had lung cancer, to his death, to the decision to name Bob Woodruff and me as the new anchors.
Bob’s injury in Iraq forced us â€” yet again â€” to change the way we planned to cover the news and now, another new chapter will begin. As of Monday, Charles Gibson will be taking the helm of this broadcast as I focus on anchoring “20/20″ and the arrival of my new child.
It’s been an honor and a privilege bringing you the news every night. And the only thing that makes this transition any easier is knowing that you will be in very capable hands.
I’ll see you again tomorrow. For all of us at ABC News, goodnight”
Why now? Perhaps this fact reported in Monday’s Los Angeles Times had something to do with it:
It was just one week. But when ABC’s “World News Tonight” â€” whose viewership already has dropped by nearly 1 million people in the last year â€” slipped behind the perennially third-ranked “CBS Evening News” in the ratings last week, it was more than just a blow to morale.
It was, according to some inside the network, a sobering and frustrating reminder of the internal tug-of-war that has stalled the newscast’s efforts to recast itself after the death of anchor Peter Jennings and the serious wounds suffered by one of his successors in Iraq nearly four months ago.
Putting Gibson in as sole anchor is likely to be a wise move: Gibson is to ABC what Bob Schieffer is to CBS. Schieffer was a solid, respectable newsman whom no one could say was a flash-in-the-pan.
He’ll take over during a period when Bob Woodruff is still out due to his injuries and ABC News ratings have not been stellar. And he’s taking over in a sea-change for the evening newscasts, which some have labeled irrelevant in the days of 24-hour cable news, iPods, news talk radio and constantly-updated weblogs.
But a shift of a person CAN make a BIG difference in network news: just look at CBS‘s Schieffer. He took over from Dan Rather, whose credibility and impartiality had taken a big hit among some viewers — and so did his newscast’s ratings. Some pooh-poohed the less-than-youthful and not hyperactive Schieffer, predicting he was doomed to preside over a further ratings slide. What happened? Due to changes in the way the newscast was run, plus Schieffer’s solidity CBS ratings have zoomed up. One report said that under Schieffer (who gave younger reporters more air time on the newscast) CBS regained many of its younger viewers.
Now CBS‘s problem with Couric taking over is this: it’s as if the network will now do a new twist on an old saying by in effect declaring “if it’s not broke DO fix it.”
Gibson is a solid newsman who knows how to ask all the right questions. He appeals to a wide variety of viewers. Unlike Schieffer he has reportedly expressed interest in the anchor post in the past.
The result? By the fall network television will have been transformed by a true changing of the broadcast journalism guard with three network anchors who all have solid hard news experience and know how to interview.
And, for now, at least, the idea of two anchors sharing the same network evening newscast seems oh, so 20th-Century.
ALSO OF INTEREST:
—Jeff Jarvis looks at whether ABC‘s action was “dissing” women.
—Gawker: “But what about his morning co-host, Diane Sawyer? The poor woman has been campaigning for the anchor spot since she was in the womb.”
Is that good news for conservatives? Well, when he hosted the 2004 town-hall style debate between President Bush and John Kerry, Gibson chose a balanced set of questions that equally represented liberal and conservative concerns. Good for him — thatâ€™s a balancing act that previous town hall moderators, like PBSâ€™s Jim Lehrer and ABCâ€™s Carole Simpson, failed to do.
But as a frequent fill-in on World News Tonight and on Good Morning America, Gibson has rarely tinkered with the media eliteâ€™s liberal template.
—James Joyner: “Especially odd is that Bob Woodruff, who was seriously wounded by an IED in Iraq, is relegated to footnote treatment in the story…So, does he get his job back then? As Gibsonâ€™s co-anchor?”
—Allah Pundit: “So many questions, so few people who care what the answers are. The only interesting angle is that theyâ€™re dumping a female minority co-anchor so that a white guy can go it alone â€” and this, just as Katie Couricâ€™s about to take over at CBS. The official line is that Elizabeth Vargas wanted it this way, but me, Iâ€™m hoping sheâ€™ll play it [the race card].”
By tapping Gibson, ABC ensures a continued legacy of nightly news anchor seats being filled by old white men in drab blue suits. As Marlene Sanders wrote in Couric Follows Broken Trail of Female Anchors, over the past few decades female journalists have had brief, shining moments commanding (or, at least, sharing) the public-debate-influencing, status-wielding, nightly news anchor desk, but those moments have been short-lived, and often filled with hostility aimed at the women journalists not from the viewing public, but from their network colleagues.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that Elizabeth Vargas did, indeed, request to step down. Why, oh why, would the big boys put “Geezer” Gibson in the anchor position? Unlike the Bob Schieffer scenario of being a temporary replacement for Dan Rather, indications are that the WNT change is for the long term. I’m sorry, but Charles Gibson just needs to stay at GMA or retire. He’s getting long in the tooth. And in today’s world of ever-changing news, wouldn’t someone more youthful be more logical to put in the anchor chair–especially when the anchors go, and go, and go these days?
—The World Of Rizzo has an anti-Gibson satire post that needs to be read in full.
—Powerpundit: “In tapping Charles Gibson to anchor its evening newscast, ABC signals that it intends to present a much more serious and credible broadcast than CBS, which still believes that viewers will see Katie Couric as an evening news anchor with gravitas.”
If weâ€™re reading correctly between the lines â€” â€œElizabeth Vargas is going on maternity leave and returning to co-anchor â€˜20/20,â€™ and Bob Woodruff â€œlooks forward to contributing to (Gibsonâ€™s) broadcast as soon as I am ableâ€? â€” this confirms that rising star Woodruff is not coming back to work anytime soon following his accident in Iraq.
Another question: What does Vargasâ€™s transfer mean for women anchors? She couldnâ€™t attract a crowd? Theyâ€™re mad that she went on maternity leave? And, how does CBS expect to break the only-men-can-anchor stereotype with Katie Couric?