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Vargas out, Gibson in at ABC’s World News Tonight

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

May 23rd, 2006

Just in: Charles Gibson, long-time coanchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, will replace Elizabeth Vargas (who has been sole anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight after her co-anchor, Bob Woodruff, was injured in Iraq early in 2006) when she goes on maternity leave at the end of this week.

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.

Gibson’s tenure promises to be indefinite. ABC will not be bringing Vargas back to World News Tonight when she returns from maternity leave; instead, she’ll go back to the increasingly fluffy 20/20, from whence she came - a demotion that she has been quoted as saying is best for her family.

Props to the AP for quoting news monitor Andrew Tyndall, who placed Vargas’ demotion in its proper context:

Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies evening news content, said that by effectively demoting Vargas when she returns from maternity leave, ABC sends the wrong message to young women. With Vargas, “World News Tonight” has been devoting considerably more time to sex and family issues than its competitors, he said.

“The demotion of Vargas and her replacement by a pre-Baby Boomer not only makes ABC News’ long-term strategy incoherent, it displays a woeful tin ear towards the very demographic ABC News was purportedly courting,” he said. “What is the worst workplace nightmare the pregnant employee faces? It is the fear that her employer will find some way not to guarantee her job back on return from maternity leave.”

ABC News president David Westin told the Associated Press that Bob Woodruff’s job is waiting for it if and when his health ever improves to the point of being able to work again. “He’ll always have a role on this program as an anchor — if and when he’s ready for it,” Westin said.

Westin extended no such promise to Vargas. Big shock.

Perhaps Vargas really didn’t want the gig, as she’s said in the press… or perhaps she’s just trying to do damage control to preserve the possibility of returning to an anchor spot at some point in the future, as statements such as “My decision does not mean I’m stepping off the stage forever” would seem to imply. After all, no one will hire someone who badmouthed their former bosses.

That’s wholly beside the point. ABC could certainly have at least attempted to interview qualified women and people of color with long-term anchor credentials (PBS’s Gwen Ifill is just one of numerous examples) for the spot. They made no effort to do so, immediately reverting back to former choice Gibson… diversity, new-generation energy and creativity be damned.

More in a later post: what Charles Gibson has in common with a sock puppet — and more from Andrew Tyndall’s Tyndall Report .

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