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Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
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ABC News shuffle: Sawyer moves out, Muir moves into 'World News' job

TelevisionCBS Corp.ABCNBCNews AgencyBarbara WaltersGeorge Stephanopoulos

It used to be that change at a network anchor desk was huge news.

Now, with all the fragmentation, not so much.

Anchor changes like the ones announced at ABC News today are a real barometer of how far network news has sunk in prestige and power -- though the networks are still making money off the nightly newscasts as they crawl on bloody knees to the media boneyard.

ABC News announced today that it is shuffling its anchor desk. Diane Sawyer, who helped make "World News" a more aggressive operation and led a ratings surge that overtook Brian Williams and his sinking NBC News ship, is leaving the anchor desk.

Probably the best translation of all the network-windbag-PR-speak is that she is taking on a senior role loosely defined as thinking big thoughts, helping conceive of big stories and doing big interviews. The latter sounds like a Barbara Walters kind of role.

Sawyer did great work for ABC News, and I think she is still capable of being among the very best in TV news as she showed in her unflinching interview with Hillary Clinton. No bowing and scraping from this interviewer. Her tough questioning of Clinton only added to the respect I have for Sawyer.

The proof of what her new job truly is will be in what she makes of it. It could be an emeritus post, with a nice office and mostly ceremonial roles, or she could help ABC offer something journalistically and intellectually that the compromised and simple-minded NBC News is incapable of.

David Muir will replace Sawyer as anchor and managing editor of "World News."

Yawn.

Muir doesn't strike me as being as shallow as Williams, but then few on-air figures this side of Ryan Seacrest do. And how exciting is Scott Pelley at CBS News, anyway, once you've heard him repeat his Edward R. Murrow talking points again and again?

The next time you think you might like to give Pelley and the last-place "CBS Evening News" a try, consider this: Its new executive producer is Steve Capus, the guy who hired Chelsea Clinton as a special correspondent for NBC News at $600,000 a year when he was president there.

Capus not only hired her, he also said "it was if she had preparing her whole life" for the network news role. This is the guy who will run "CBS Evening News" starting in July, and he would not have gotten the job had not Pelley, anchor and managing editor, signed off on it.

Compared to that, maybe Muir's OK.

The changeover at the "World News" anchor desk is scheduled for Sept. 2.

George Stephanopoulos, the co-host of "Good Morning America," also moves up in the shuffle with the title of chief anchor for ABC News. He will be leading coverage on politics and major breaking news stories -- duties that used to belong to the anchor of "World News." I'm not sure if that says more about Stephanopolous or Muir.

I was OK with Stephanopoulos the last few years, but the more the greed, arrogance and dishonesty of the Clintons becomes apparent these days, the less comfortable I am with a loyalist like Stephanopoulos leading political coverage on any channel.

But, hey, he made lots of money for ABC in the mornings interviewing the contestants kicked off "Dancing with the Stars" the night before, so, of course, he should be their chief political on-air presence.

I know Sawyer worked for Richard Nixon for a stretch early in her career. She even continued after he resigned the presidency. But I never had the feeling that she was trying to shape the narrative of his presidency the way I sometimes do with Stephanopoulos and Bill Clinton.

But such is the downsized state of network news -- and the men and women at the anchor desks --  today.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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TelevisionCBS Corp.ABCNBCNews AgencyBarbara WaltersGeorge Stephanopoulos
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