Sawyer? Gibson? Westin’s Dilemma


The tough task of selecting a replacement for the late Peter Jennings as the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight—difficult in any circumstances—may be getting even harder for ABC News President David Westin.

Insiders at the network are buzzing over Diane Sawyer’s apparent interest in the blue-chip slot. Word is that the Good Morning America co-host began contemplating an evening-anchor role for herself when news surfaced late last year that CBS boss Leslie Moonves had made overtures to NBC’s Katie Couric about the CBS Evening News gig (see B&C, 12/12/04).

After Jennings unexpectedly relinquished the World News position last spring and it became apparent that he would not return, factions at the network began promoting Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas for the anchor job; neither of those two have Sawyer’s star patina, and observers began detecting that she had started campaigning for the job.
VP, ABC News Communications, Jeffrey Schneider said Sawyer was not a candidate for the job.
Saying he had talked to both ABC News President David Westin and Sawyer, Schneider said: "Diane Sawyer has never asked to come off Good Morning America. She is not a candidate to host World News Tonight. As you can imagine in a post-Peter Jennings world, everybody has been asked to step up and help out in other areas. We are talking to Diane about doing documentaries and other events."
Still, Sawyer’s recent insistence on doing fewer celebrity interviews—unless she’s talking to bona fide A-list personalities—and on doing more hard-news material was interpreted by network tea-leaf readers as a sign that Sawyer was positioning herself for the World News job.

All this, of course, could put her at odds with her able GMA co-host Charlie Gibson, who has made no secret of his desire to take the World News reins, where he has been alternating, most often with Vargas, in the anchor chair.

One scenario being touted outside ABC’s walls: If Gibson doesn't get the World News job, he might be open to an overture from Fox Broadcasting once his contract comes up for renewal, reportedly next year. Fox brass have recently been floating the idea of launching a national newscast; someone of Gibson’s stature would give instant credibility to the project.

Some ABC insiders note glumly that, by rights, this should be a time of excitement and backslapping at GMA, which after a long, hard slog is seriously challenging the dominance of NBC’s Today. Instead, GMA is rife with uncertainty about who, other than co-host Robin Roberts, will still be with the show in the none-too-distant future.

As one ABC insider tells Flash!: Westin, a close ally of Sawyer’s, “is going to have to play King Solomon.”