A talk with CBS's Diane Sawyer -- and the start of cable culture
Diane Sawyer is nervous. It is just a few days before she is to inaugurate the new CBS news "Morning with Charles Kuralt and Diane Sawyer," but a casual observer would never realize this calm newswoman is nervous unless Miss Sawyer revealed the fact herself. She does.Skip to next paragraph
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But since this interview, Miss Sawyer has been seen on air for two weeks on CBS every morning from 7:30-9 (check local listings) and has proved to be at ease and totally professional as she reads the news she has written and/or edited herself, deferring ever so slightly to the greater experience of her co-anchor, Charles Kuralt.
"We both think the most important thing we have to do is write what we are saying," she says. "Good journalism to us means good writing -- so we're going to concentrate on it. I think it's also a way of keeping intellectually fit."
Why was she chosen to co-anchor over so many other candidates?
"I assume it was based on a tangible piece of evidence -- the conversations Charles and I had on camera during the Iran crisis -- sometimes two or three times per day. It proved that we could work well together. I believe that if there had not been confidence in my performance at the State Department, if there had not been this sense of my journalistic capabilities, I would not be here."
Before joining CBS in 1978 Miss Sawyer assisted Richard Nixon on the writing of his memoirs. Before that, she had served on his staff in various capacities from 1970. That Nixon connection is almost always mentioned when Miss Sawyer is discussed. Does she believe ex-President Nixon was treated fairly by TV news?
"I think there were instances of unfairness -- I do believe that in some sense a double standard was at work on some narrow aspects of Watergate. But Mr. Nixon wouldn't argue, as I certainly wouldn't argue, that that was the cause of what happened. Generally speaking, given the complexity of the events and given the difficulty of getting accurate information, I think press coverage was not unfair."
What does Miss Sawyer think about expanding the evening news to an hour, as NBC is already trying to do?"
"I may be in the minority on this, but I think the function served by the 30 -minute newscast is useful, truncated though some of the stories may be, as much as we would like to expand them and give context to things. I don't think that the evening newscast should be denigrated as it stands now. There are a lot of people who don't want to spend an hour in front of the television set. At the same time, here I am with a 90-minute news show, so I can afford to say that. The luxury of being able to do a longer piece that illuminates an issue is really journalistically satisfying."
Does she see the Nixons socially?
"I have not seen him since I came up from Washington last week. But I have in the past come up to New York and had dinner with the Nixons occasionally."
Does she find him changed?
"Yes, in the sense that any president who becomes a former president changes, a priori. Needless to say, what happened was a shattering experience. He was amazingly self-disciplined through it all, after 1974. He really did maintain as much of a balance as possible and he was determined not to be mired in regrets. But it changed him."
Does Miss Sawyer believe President Nixon is a happy man now?
She thinks for a moment. "He would like to be playing a more active role in the party now. But he is very stimulated and he has a really insatiable thirst for information and for digesting information and for keeping up with events and staying alert. So he has not lost any of his incisiveness. And I believe that's one function of being happy."