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‘Nixon Weathergirl’ Diane Sawyer? Really, Bob?

To replace Charlie Gibson with Sawyer is inexplicable — save that Iger wants to destroy what credibility the network has left.

 

Dear Mr. Iger;
 
As a former Disney executive and stockholder (I think I still have some shares kicking around in my IRA), I understand why you might want to put Diane Sawyer in Charles Gibson’s seat as the face of ABC News.
 
Heck, I wasn’t even a huge Charlie Gibson fan.
 
But to replace him with “Nixon Weathergirl” Sawyer is inexplicable — save that you want to destroy what credibility you have left as a network!
 
Let’s look at Diane Sawyer — America’s “Junior Miss” in 1963 (wasn’t that before the hippies?) who goes on to be a weathergirl in Kentucky before Richard Nixon press spokesman Ron Ziegler plucked her out of obscurity to be an aide — clearly because, as a “weathergirl” he figured she could probably counteract the influence of the otherwise political Weathermen (you know, those guys like former California State Senator Tom Hayden), who were causing all kinds of trouble for America at the time …
 
After all, as you no doubt figured out, if she would believe anything Ron Zeigler and/or Nixon would tell her — like, that Nixon was a great American along with the Founding Fathers — well, she’ll clearly believe anything you tell her, too. She’ll just glisten her pearly whites, put Vaseline on her gums (to help her smile) and all the other things “Junior Misses” are taught … and go out and charm the press that don’t want to hear from you anymore.
 
You may say I have a stake in this — while she was busy espousing Nixon’s “Secret Plan” to end the Vietnam War (sound like “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to you, Mr. Iger?), two of my good friend’s older brothers were murdered in Vietnam. (His secret plan turned out to be so secret even he didn’t know it!!!)
 
So I guess by naming Sawyer the face of the network, you’re siding with Rupert Murdoch in what some somewhat facetiously call the “culture wars.” You think that anyone who believed Richard Nixon must be smarter than youl.
 
Sawyer, who I can attest from personal experience is perhaps the one of the worst reporters ever born — oh, I’m sorry, she never was a “reporter,” she was a “weathergirl” … and for Richard Nixon, at that. My bad!
 
But you see, it seems that many years ago, when I was a VP at your company, “60 Minutes” sent Sawyer out to do a story on the “Disney success story.” Now to say that we bulls—ted her would be an understatement. Our PR department had her turning in so many circles that she couldn’t even spell her own name, let alone ask a cogent question.
 
We staged fake meetings for her to videotape, complete with fake questions the PR guys gave us to ask studio heads Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner to which they would have fake answers, etc.
 
She never figured it out.
 
As a former Newsweek correspondent myself, I’ll never forget the first lesson I learned from editor Lynn Povich (yes, the sister of that Maury Povich) — there are no dumb questions, just dumb answers. But Diane — because she was a weathergirl, not a reporter — didn’t want to look dumb, so she went along with all the prepared PR material we’d made up for her … and, of course, Disney came out smelling like a rose, when in reality it was already rotting from the inside from its own success.
 
Within four years of her “exclusive inside look” at the Magic Kingdom, we’d already had the “Dick Tracy” fiasco (which was in pre-production when she was there), Eisner and Katzenberg were suing each other for more than $1/4 billion, the bottom had fallen out of the box office, EuroDisney was revealed to be a fiscal disaster needing bailouts (that was also already known when she was there, but she never asked) and on and on.
 
Now, I grant you I’m spoiled — I grew up with reporters like Edward R. Murrow (who took on Joe McCarthy), Walter Cronkite (who flew B-17s over Berlin without fighter escort) or Dan Rather, who snuck into the old Afghanistan disguised as a mujhadeen to get that story.
 
The worst part is, Don Hewitt — having saved her from obscurity as the only member of the Nixon White House to accompany him on his hegira to San Clemente — then actually empowered her. Scary thought!
 
(Though it was well-known that Hewitt could be bought — he was only offering me the job at “60 Minutes” because my then girlfriend’s grandmother owned the building on Central Park South where he lived and he wanted permission to break through into another apartment.)
 
So, now we’re stuck with her. What you’ve done, Bob, is further empower her now as an arbiter of our national life — I mean, she now represents one of the four largest news organizations in the world.
 
So the next time the question of WMD — or more troops for Afghanistan — comes up, do you really trust her to ask the right questions? Or will it be like it was at Disney, where some PR department is able to dazzle the little-weathergirl-who-never-grew up because a lead journalist is afraid to ask a question that might muss her “Junior Miss” coif.
 
Best,
Peter McAlevey

 

Peter McAlevey is a motion-picture producer and former correspondent for Newsweek. His latest movie is "Kill Her, Not Me