Less than half a year after anointing Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff the next-generation anchors of World News Tonight, ABC News abandoned that plan yesterday, announcing that 63-year-old Charles Gibson would take over as the sole anchor of the network’s flagship newscast beginning next Monday.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gail Shister put it, “ABC has turned to a trusted veteran to steady the rudderless ship that is World News Tonight.”
Vargas insists that she asked (however reluctantly) for a reduced role; the 44-year-old is expecting her second child in August. But blogging Vargas fans have largely responded to ABC’s anchor shuffle with anger or disappointment.
Count Omaha Media: Up Close and Personal as one who is profoundly disappointed and frustrated: “[W]ith that announcement, ABC has just set their WNT back twenty years!”
Communicators Anonymous, who was inspired by Vargas to start her own career, is infuriated, writing that “women should be furious. Just when we think we are starting to make some headway in the communications business, one of our own gets slammed. Punished for wanting to have a family and a career too, women seem to be viewed as not being able to succeed at both … especially in a place of power.”
For her part, Belle Lettre at Law and Letters asks if it seems like Vargas amended “her career plans and parenting philosophy only very recently?”
“I wonder if she changed her mind (which she is entitled to do of course) or whether ABC effectively changed it for her,” she writes. “That is, did she tell them ‘I won’t be coming back to World News after my maternity leave’ or did ABC say ‘You won’t be coming back to World News after your maternity leave’? Pronouns make a difference.”
At BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis posts a “fired-up email” from network news observer Andrew Tyndall about the “terrible message” ABC’s move sends to its viewers.
“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,” Tyndall writes. The “worst workplace nightmare the pregnant employee faces,” Tyndall adds, “is the fear that her employer will find some way not to guarantee her job back on return from maternity leave.”
Fine Young Journalist agrees with Tyndall that the move is a demotion for Vargas, but argues that “ABC’s in a tough spot: they wanted a two-person team with one person generally in studio and the other generally out somewhere on location, but Woodruff may be gone for good and Vargas can’t do both jobs herself. If she’s going away for many months, it’s strategically a good time to abandon a strategy that’s no longer viable.” “And,” the Canadian blogger adds, “there’s no good time to demote a pregnant woman or new mom. So there may be no honourable-seeming way out, but ABC certainly didn’t find one.”
But not everyone chided ABC for its “back to the future” move.
The Buck’s Blog — who as a kid watched Gibson when he was an anchor for ABC’s affiliate in D.C. — actually applauded Gibson on his new gig: “Congratulations, Charlie! I may tune in occasionally, expecting only unfair and unbalanced coverage and the party line as usual.”
Welcome to the sniper fire of the blogosphere, Charlie. It won’t get any easier from here.