The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour--and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Co mplicated) Triumph of Women in TV News

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9780143127772: The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour--and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Co mplicated) Triumph of Women in TV News

Weller rivetingly recounts these gutsy ladies' time on the front lines... an inspiration for future generations of journalists.” --Vanity Fair

For decades, women battered the walls of the male fortress of television journalism. After fierce struggles, three women—Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour—broke into the newsroom’s once impenetrable “boys’ club.” These women were not simply pathbreakers, but wildly gifted journalists whose unique talents enabled them to climb to the top of the corporate ladder and transform the way Americans received their news.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with their colleagues and intimates from childhood on, The News Sorority crafts a lively and exhilarating narrative that reveals the hard struggles and inner strengths that shaped these women and powered their success. Life outside the newsroom—love, loss, child rearing—would mark them all, complicating their lives even as it deepened their convictions and instincts. Life inside the newsroom would include many nervy decisions and back room power plays previously uncaptured in any media account. Taken together, Sawyer’s, Couric’s, and Amanpour’s lives as women are here revealed not as impediments but as keys to their success.

Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Diane Sawyer was a young woman steering her own unique political course in a time of societal upheaval. Her fierce intellect, almost insuperable work ethic, and sophisticated emotional intelligence would catapult Sawyer from being the first female on-air correspondent for 60 Minutes, to presenting anchoring the network flagship ABC World News. From her first breaks as a reporter all the way through her departure in 2014, Sawyer’s charisma and drive would carry her through countless personal and professional changes.

Katie Couric, always conveniently underestimated because of her “girl-next-door” demeanor, brazened her way through a succession of regional TV news jobs until she finally hit it big. In 1991, Couric became the cohost of Today, where, over the next fifteen years, she transformed the “female” slot from secondary to preeminent while shouldering devastating personal loss. Couric’s greatest triumph—and most bedeviling challenge—was at CBS Evening News, as the first woman to solo-anchor a nighttime network news program. Her contradictions—seriously feminist while proudly sorority-girlish—made her beyond easy typecasting, and as original as she is relatable.

A glamorous, unorthodox cosmopolite—raised in pre-revolution Iran amid royalty and educated in England—Christiane Amanpour would never have been picked out of a lineup as a future war reporter, until her character flourished on catastrophic soil: her family’s exile during the Iranian Revolution. Once she knew her calling, Amanpour shrewdly made a virtue of her outsider status, joining the fledgling CNN on the bottom rung and then becoming its “face,” catalyzing its rise to global prominence. Amanpour’s fearlessness in war zones would make her the world’s witness to some of its most acute crises and television’s chief advocate for international justice.

Revealing the tremendous combination of ambition, empathy, and skill that empowered Sawyer, Couric, and Amanpour to reach stardom, The News Sorority is a detailed story of three very particular lives and a testament to the extraordinary character of women everywhere.

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About the Author:

Sheila Weller is a contributor to Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, and Glamour and his written for many other magazines, winning numerous awards for her journalism. She lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

 Copyright © 2014 Shelia Weller

INTRODUCTION

The News You Give Begins with

the News You’ve Lived

Diane, Christiane, Katie: 1969, 1997, 2000



I. Pushing Past Grief: Diane, 1969

Twenty-three-year-old Diane Sawyer (she used her real first name, Lila, ironically, only in affectionate letters) was working as the first ever full-time female news reporter in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky— on WLKY, Channel 32—in mid-September 1969. She had been on the job for two years, and she—a Wellesley graduate and former beauty queen— was itching to leave for a bigger opportunity, in the nation’s capital. Still, Diane’s years at WLKY had not been uneventful.

Louisville in the late 1960s had a roiling temper. Some of its residents were hell-bent on overturning the recent federally mandated civil rights advances. When black demonstrators peacefully marched through the streets to protest the stubbornly still segregated neighborhoods, angry whites rushed them, bearing swastikas, hurling bottles. On top of that, the country had just passed through a nightmare of a year, and Diane Sawyer of WLKY had reported on all of it.

Diane and her colleague Bob Winlock—who rejected being “the black reporter” as much as she disliked being “the female reporter”—witnessed painful backlash against advances they had both been a part of. Diane was kept off the riot-scene beat by her gallant bosses—at least one frontline reporter had gotten beaten—but the city’s racial anguish was on clear display everywhere, including during the emotionally fraught press conferences she covered for the station.

Violence became commonplace. Early in her tenure at WLKY, Martin Luther King Jr. had been spat upon by a little white girl who couldn’t have been more than seven. During another visit, the civil rights leader’s skull had barely evaded a rock hurled through his car window (he later held the rock high and pronounced it a “foundation” of his struggle there). Then, of course, came Dr. King’s murder—close by, in Memphis—and that of Bobby Kennedy, in Los Angeles, during that surreally violent patch of spring to summer 1968. “Diane was disconsolate” at both assassinations, the station’s general manager, Ed Shadburne, says. Still, she dutifully went out to get person-on-the-street responses. That was being a reporter: Tuck in the pain and do your job. You were a witness.

But that was the ironic thing. Diane had already been a witness— indeed, a participant—in some amazing ground-level integration gains almost a full decade earlier. Her junior high and high school, Seneca, had integrated startlingly early, in 1957, well before the city’s neighborhoods, restaurants, restrooms, and theaters had stopped barring blacks or roping them off in dingy “Coloreds” quarters. By a fluke of the school’s newness and geography, the 1957–1963 Seneca kids (“a third white, a third Jewish, a third black,” the alums today like to proudly exaggerate) and their teachers were on their own, improvising a racial amity.

In 1958, when Diane was in the eighth grade (four years before James Meredith’s federally assisted singular integration of the University of Mississippi), white boys in ducktails and low-slung jeans had written GO HOME, NIGGER! on the walls when the first black students bravely but nervously entered, and some of the kids were beaten. But by the time her class reached eleventh grade, in 1961, the students were protesting restaurant segregation together. When the boys’ basketball team traveled to racist Kentucky towns for away games, the white players refused to go into the coffee shops that didn’t allow their black teammates; they all ate in their bus. Now, in 1969, the still resonating killings of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy seemed like a Molotov cocktail hurled against those fragile, cherished Seneca High advances.


. . .


Diane’s family was her stable haven during a period of violence, regression, and sadness. Even as a working reporter four months shy of twenty-four, she was still living at home with her parents.

The elder Sawyers had come to their security and respectability the hard way. Erbon Powers Sawyer and Jean Dunagan Sawyer had grown up during the Depression in dire poverty in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, just north of the Tennessee border. Diane’s father was one of nine siblings. Diane’s mother, whose parents had the folksy names of Foxie and Norma Belle, was one of four daughters. The Dunagan children teetered on the brink of starvation. “There were sometimes only pennies and a few potatoes in winter—there were bruises, real bruises in that life” of theirs, Diane has said. Erbon and Jean had limited themselves to two children. Diane’s two-year-older sister, Linda, was the vivacious, prettier girl; Diane was the adoring little sister—circumspect, awkwardly tall, her poor eyesight requiring thick glasses.

The Sawyer family was comfortable but not seriously prosperous. The bar was very high in Louisville, a city of century-old debutante balls and Kentucky Derby Winners’ Circle families of six generations of gentry who patronized the exclusive fox-hunting clubs in Lexington. Diane’s father had made it up from a tiny junior college all the way through law school, and by 1969 he had long been the Jefferson County judge—Judge “Tom” Sawyer his jaunty sobriquet. Jean Sawyer—“Mrs. Sawyer” to decades of students—officiated at the blackboard at Hite Elementary. She was known as the best third-grade teacher in the city.

The Sawyer family was deeply Methodist. Diane had attended Methodist Youth Association camp, and, as busy as she now was as a reporter, she still made it to practice two evenings a week to blend her gifted soprano, on classic hymns, with a mélange of other voices in the St. David’s Church–based choir called the Motet Singers. When Diane was growing up, the Sawyers had hosted home Bible meetings on Sunday and sometimes Wednesday nights at their home, while their family church, St. Mark’s, was under construction. “Purpose” was a word heard in many sermons. The ideal—to live a life “of purpose”—was also fortified by Judge Sawyer.

“Diane’s father was the one who really put the idea of ‘purpose’ in her life; he was her moral compass,” says her close friend ABC producer Mark Robertson, on the basis of what she has told him. “She always says, ‘Those are real lives at stake!’” of her responsibility to the people whose stories she is telling on television. “That came from her father.”

Judge Sawyer was a serious man—a thoughtful intellectual. Diane’s love of D. H. Lawrence and e. e. cummings seems to have derived from his respect for literature. Diane was very close to him, a closeness amplified by the serendipitous fact that she was the spitting image of his sister Lila, after whom she’d been named. She’d even tried law school for one semester, mainly, friends say, because law was what he did.

Judge Sawyer was paternal in an old-fashioned way. Just after Diane had been hired at WLKY, he had pointedly dropped in one day, unannounced, on the station’s general manager to make good and sure that this man who’d hired his daughter did not have any designs on her. He was a fierce Republican—Diane’s eventual, abiding loyalty to Richard Nixon, incomprehensible to so many, owes much to his strong party affiliation. Yet the judge was not stern; he had a palpable sense of compassion. The judge’s “love for his family, intellectual curiosity, and evenhandedness were as perfect as a person’s could be,” says Diane’s high school English teacher and confidante, Alice Chumbley Lora. Finally, Judge Sawyer had given Diane the yardstick by which she chose her profession. “Answer three questions,” he said one day. “One: What are you passionate about? Two: What can you have adventure doing? Three: What can you do to make a difference?” Four decades later she would recount those unforgettably impactful words to a young ABC News female protégée.

Diane’s mother was perhaps an even greater influence. Jean Sawyer was not an intellectual (“I never saw Mrs. Sawyer reading a book,” one friend says), but she was a seizer of life, an ambitious perfectionist—and Diane was awed by this. “Growing up, I didn’t have distant idols, I had proximate ones,” Diane once made clear.

Jean Sawyer had a tremendous hold on her daughters. “Diane’s mother was a very, very aggressive woman. She was a force of nature,” says Greg Haynes, a Louisville friend whom Diane dated in college. “She pushed her daughters into all these beauty contests.” And lessons: Diane took piano, ballet, tap, voice, classical guitar, and fencing, sacrificing her social life for the palette of activities her mother lined up. “Mrs. Sawyer was a 1950s version of the Tiger Mom,” says one who knew the family: pushing her daughters, using criticism to make sure they did their best. Every opportunity Jean Sawyer hadn’t had, she made sure her daughters did have. “Mrs. Sawyer was very ambitious for her daughters,” Haynes says. “She was extremely devoted to their achievement.” Sometimes it seemed that was all she cared about. It was as if so much insecurity had suffused Jean’s and Erbon’s youths, the opposite would now be fiercely willed. A pristine security, unmarred by lack of opportunity—and certainly unmarred by tragedy—would be obtained for the Sawyer girls, come hell or high water.

And then, on September 23, 1969, that plan—that dream—fell apart in an instant.

Diane’s father had risen early that morning and gotten into his car to drive to work. The route was familiar enough to be rote; he had driven it innumerable times. Somehow, this morning, something went very wrong very fast. Minutes from his home, while ascending an overpass above the interstate highway, his car suddenly veered and shot off the unshielded bridge abutment, over the overpass. Did the judge fall asleep at the wheel? Did a tire blow out? Whatever the cause, rumors would circulate, all unconfirmed, that the fatal plunge was a suicide.

Louisville in 1969 was a small town when tragedies happened, so it was not surprising that the first newsperson who heard of the accident happened to be a member of Diane’s Motet Singers: Bob McDonald, a reporter at radio station WKLO. He was announcing the morning news when the bulletin came in that the judge’s car had plummeted and he’d been taken to General Hospital, where Diane and Jean were now rushing. Judge Sawyer’s death was announced on WKLO; then Jim Smith, Diane’s WLKY assignment editor, assumed the grim task of filming the removal of his junior colleague’s father’s destroyed vehicle for airing on the very newscast, that evening, to which Diane normally would have contributed.

WLKY’s news director, Ken Rowland, rushed to the Sawyer house to pay a condolence call. The women were “in shock more than anything,” he recalls, like “any other family who’s just lost someone in a tragic accident that there’s no real explanation for.” Diane’s friend Greg Haynes hurried to the funeral home. “Diane was very distraught,” he says. “She was devastated.”

At Judge Sawyer’s funeral service the Motet Singers performed one of his favorite songs, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The judge had been a navy officer in World War II and he was a border-Southern post-war Republican—which meant: anti-Dixiecrat. He’d stood up for some ideals that were regionally unpopular. Choir member Celia McDonald re- members, “The family”—Jean, Linda, Diane—“was just crushed” as they sat in their pews through the service.

For Jean Sawyer and her daughters, this grievous loss was also perhaps a grim reminder: For all the effort taken in thwarting them, storms of awful luck, like Depression winter winds, could still destructively whoosh out of nowhere in a heartbeat. Diane’s good friend ABC executive Phyllis McGrady views this moment as a turning point: “They lost their husband and father, these three real Southern women: charming, delightful, perfect manners yet unbelievably determined.” From this point on, Jean taught her daughters “they didn’t have to find a man to lead them through this world,” Mark Robertson says Diane told him. This was not your typical midcentury Southern mother-to-daughter lesson—proper young women in the region at the time were supposed to marry upon graduation from college—and it was one that Diane took to heart, with good result. She would become enormously successful as a single woman and would not marry until she was forty-two. In the wake of her father’s death, Diane’s determination leapt into overdrive. She surprised everyone by returning to the WLKY newsroom sooner than expected. Jim Smith recalls, “She was not out that long. She was determined to go on and do her job and we respected her for that.” Work emerged as an ennobling, distracting, consoling—and healing—device.

Dogged dedication would become Diane’s defining characteristic, at once a key to her remarkable success and a challenge for her colleagues. Even now, long past the years of earning her due, Diane barely sleeps, is known to e-mail staffers in the middle of the night, and works (says a male producer whom she fired) “harder than ten people.” That dedication would guide her journey—and an eventful journey, artfully navigated, it would be.

When this high-achieving Louisville girl had gone on to Wellesley College, she’d encountered Northeastern elitism (a little discomfiting at first) but had absorbed its useful value system, and had won distinction as a singing star. Then she utilized her instinctive ownership of the brand-new ideas about women and ambition during her two years at WLKY. Next—after her father’s death—she would blend personal independence with a political conservatism unshared by most of the emerging journalists of her generation, and she would work loyally, for eight years, for the most disgraced president in recent history. In that crucible—playing defense against an aggressive and triumphant press corps—she would sharpen her intellectual fighting skills. After that, she would meld her daunting work ethic with a deft humility in the service of proving herself to highly skeptical colleagues at her first major national news job. From then on she would soar, becoming, over the decades, a star in every TV news format, minting a compelling persona that was at once glamorous and serious—and winding up in the pinnacle position as a 6:30 anchor.

Throughout, she has been impelled by that Methodist-sermon word— her father’s word, purpose. It’s a simple word, employed by a complex woman. Nicknamed the Golden Sphinx, Diane incites awe for being an unsurpassable player of the chess game of career machinations. But while her seductive charm and elegant indirectness are legendary, so is her generosity. Not everyone who has worked with Diane trusts her, though nearly all of them respect her.

She witnessed fickle loss in her family and fickle cruelty in her community: mysteries that make a person seek answers to troubling questions. She was “never not sophisticated,” even as a poodle-skirt-wearing small-city girl, says her hometown friend Greg Haynes, and she married one of America’s most sophisticated men. Her curiosity, both about the painful mesh of agency and fate and about the world’s wide swath of arts and politics, is, she has said, why she keeps working. “Diane is the most curious person I’ve ever worked with,” Jon Banner, her original executive producer at World News, declares. And it is becoming more and more a curiosity of “purpose.” Her parents’ vanquished early hardship, her father’s death, the racial strife in Louisville: Those imprints would impel her to investigate socia...

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Weller rivetingly recounts these gutsy ladies time on the front lines. an inspiration for future generations of journalists. --Vanity Fair For decades, women battered the walls of the male fortress of television journalism. After fierce struggles, three women Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour broke into the newsroom s once impenetrable boys club. These women were not simply pathbreakers, but wildly gifted journalists whose unique talents enabled them to climb to the top of the corporate ladder and transform the way Americans received their news. Drawing on exclusive interviews with their colleagues and intimates from childhood on, The News Sorority crafts a lively and exhilarating narrative that reveals the hard struggles and inner strengths that shaped these women and powered their success. Life outside the newsroom love, loss, child rearing would mark them all, complicating their lives even as it deepened their convictions and instincts. Life inside the newsroom would include many nervy decisions and back room power plays previously uncaptured in any media account. Taken together, Sawyer s, Couric s, and Amanpour s lives as women are here revealed not as impediments but as keys to their success. Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Diane Sawyer was a young woman steering her own unique political course in a time of societal upheaval. Her fierce intellect, almost insuperable work ethic, and sophisticated emotional intelligence would catapult Sawyer from being the first female on-air correspondent for 60 Minutes, to presenting anchoring the network flagship ABC World News. From her first breaks as a reporter all the way through her departure in 2014, Sawyer s charisma and drive would carry her through countless personal and professional changes. Katie Couric, always conveniently underestimated because of her girl-next-door demeanor, brazened her way through a succession of regional TV news jobs until she finally hit it big. In 1991, Couric became the cohost of Today, where, over the next fifteen years, she transformed the female slot from secondary to preeminent while shouldering devastating personal loss. Couric s greatest triumph and most bedeviling challenge was at CBS Evening News, as the first woman to solo-anchor a nighttime network news program. Her contradictions seriously feminist while proudly sorority-girlish made her beyond easy typecasting, and as original as she is relatable. A glamorous, unorthodox cosmopolite raised in pre-revolution Iran amid royalty and educated in England Christiane Amanpour would never have been picked out of a lineup as a future war reporter, until her character flourished on catastrophic soil: her family s exile during the Iranian Revolution. Once she knew her calling, Amanpour shrewdly made a virtue of her outsider status, joining the fledgling CNN on the bottom rung and then becoming its face, catalyzing its rise to global prominence. Amanpour s fearlessness in war zones would make her the world s witness to some of its most acute crises and television s chief advocate for international justice. Revealing the tremendous combination of ambition, empathy, and skill that empowered Sawyer, Couric, and Amanpour to reach stardom, The News Sorority is a detailed story of three very particular lives and a testament to the extraordinary character of women everywhere. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143127772

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Weller rivetingly recounts these gutsy ladies time on the front lines. an inspiration for future generations of journalists. --Vanity Fair For decades, women battered the walls of the male fortress of television journalism. After fierce struggles, three women Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour broke into the newsroom s once impenetrable boys club. These women were not simply pathbreakers, but wildly gifted journalists whose unique talents enabled them to climb to the top of the corporate ladder and transform the way Americans received their news. Drawing on exclusive interviews with their colleagues and intimates from childhood on, The News Sorority crafts a lively and exhilarating narrative that reveals the hard struggles and inner strengths that shaped these women and powered their success. Life outside the newsroom love, loss, child rearing would mark them all, complicating their lives even as it deepened their convictions and instincts. Life inside the newsroom would include many nervy decisions and back room power plays previously uncaptured in any media account. Taken together, Sawyer s, Couric s, and Amanpour s lives as women are here revealed not as impediments but as keys to their success. Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Diane Sawyer was a young woman steering her own unique political course in a time of societal upheaval. Her fierce intellect, almost insuperable work ethic, and sophisticated emotional intelligence would catapult Sawyer from being the first female on-air correspondent for 60 Minutes, to presenting anchoring the network flagship ABC World News. From her first breaks as a reporter all the way through her departure in 2014, Sawyer s charisma and drive would carry her through countless personal and professional changes. Katie Couric, always conveniently underestimated because of her girl-next-door demeanor, brazened her way through a succession of regional TV news jobs until she finally hit it big. In 1991, Couric became the cohost of Today, where, over the next fifteen years, she transformed the female slot from secondary to preeminent while shouldering devastating personal loss. Couric s greatest triumph and most bedeviling challenge was at CBS Evening News, as the first woman to solo-anchor a nighttime network news program. Her contradictions seriously feminist while proudly sorority-girlish made her beyond easy typecasting, and as original as she is relatable. A glamorous, unorthodox cosmopolite raised in pre-revolution Iran amid royalty and educated in England Christiane Amanpour would never have been picked out of a lineup as a future war reporter, until her character flourished on catastrophic soil: her family s exile during the Iranian Revolution. Once she knew her calling, Amanpour shrewdly made a virtue of her outsider status, joining the fledgling CNN on the bottom rung and then becoming its face, catalyzing its rise to global prominence. Amanpour s fearlessness in war zones would make her the world s witness to some of its most acute crises and television s chief advocate for international justice. Revealing the tremendous combination of ambition, empathy, and skill that empowered Sawyer, Couric, and Amanpour to reach stardom, The News Sorority is a detailed story of three very particular lives and a testament to the extraordinary character of women everywhere. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143127772

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