Dissing women

Andrew Tyndall, who follows, chronicles, and analyzes TV news, sent a fired-up email about the ousting/demoting/moving of Elizabeth Vargas off the ABC nightly news. Says Andrew:

Even if it is legal for ABC News to hand Elizabeth Vargas a demotion upon her return from maternity leave, the decision to replace her as anchor of World News Tonight sends a terrible message to ABC’s viewers.

To be fair to ABC News management, its press release insists that the demotion is being made at Vargas’ behest…

Yet this decision represents a smack in the face to the millions of female viewers of childbearing age — the desirable 25-54 demographic — that ABC News has been courting so assiduously.

Only two weeks ago in an analysis the Tyndall Report performed for Broadcasting & Cable magazine, we found that a hallmark of Vargas’ brief solo tenure at World News Tonight had been an increased emphasis on the Sex-&-Family beat. We spotted a recurring theme on World News. Here are headlines, week by week:
May 18th: Baby names popularity rankings: Neveah is new.
Mqy 8th: Contraceptive morning-after pill sold be prescription only.
May 4th: Autism underdiagnosed among pre-schoolers.
April 27th: Toddlers’ body mass to be screened for obesity.
April 21st: Tastebuds develop prenatally from the mother’s diet.
April 14th: New Jersey screens mothers for post-partum depression.
April 5th: Sesame Workshop unveils a video-for-toddlers entry.
March 29th: Incidence of childbirth by cesarean section increases.
March 17th: Person of the Week is Paul Gillespie, who chases child
pornographers. (Vargas reported that one herself.)
March 8th: Impact of abortion parental notification laws for teenagers in Texas.
February 27th: A touted prenatal gender identification test is flawed.

In the months of March and April, ABC devoted more time to Sex-&-Family stories than its two competitors combined (39 min versus CBS’s 13 versus NBC’s 18).

We added: “That doesn’t hurt ratings, by the way. That desirable 25-54 demographic is somewhat baby-centered, too. During the two month span, (borrowing stats posted on tvnewser.com), Vargas’s newscast has lagged behind NBC in total viewers (7.9m v NBC 8.7m), but has been virtually neck-and-neck (2.2 rating v NBC 2.3) in the pre-menopausal demo.” …

The demotion of Vargas and her replacement by a pre-babyboomer not only makes ABC News’ long-term strategy incoherent. It displays a woeful tin ear towards the very demographic ABC News was purportedly courting.

What is the worst workplace nightmare the pregnant employee faces? It is the fear that her employer will find some way not to guarantee her job back on return from maternity leave….

When Katie Couric was appointed at CBS, I argued that it was a mistake — a sexist insult, really — to focus on the fact that she’s a woman. Nonetheless, I’ll agree with Andrew that this is a big mistake.

  • Peterr

    Far be it from me to be a shill for corporate bosses, but another way of looking at this is to take ABC at its word, when they said Ms. Vargas asked for the shift.

    The logic of such a request is fairly straightforward. As part of an anchoring duo, she might have had a plan for handling not just maternity leave but also the ongoing parenting duties. With her co-anchor out of the picture, could it be that she felt that the flexibility of 20/20 would make juggling the job-parent combination easier?

    If this is the case, I’d love to hear it from Ms. Vargas herself – perhaps a news segment on parents finding ways to handle both work and parenting duties. On the other hand, if it’s NOT the case, then Go Andrew!

  • Mumblix Grumph

    Oprah-izing the nightly news with Mom and kids stories is a loser as far as I’m concerned. And don’t get indignant and accuse me of knuckle dragging and mouth breathing. I’d feel the same way if they peppered the news with NASCAR and Viagra features. This is the Goddamn NEWS we’re talking about. If I want fluff, I’ll tune to one of the 739 available outlets already in place for it.

    One more thing. Having a baby should NOT make you fireproof no matter what business you’re in. A business exists to make money. If an employee cannot contribute to that because they’re gone for months at a critical time or frequently missing because of sick kids, see ya.

  • I agree with you that it is a mistake, but the original one, I believe was to name co-anchors for the news at ABC. My guess that they never really wanted her anyway, but that she was there to make ABC the first channel to have a woman as newsanchor. Charles Gibson is an acceptable choice, however, I think that the way ABC named it, is a problem, because it seemed like they are putting down Elizabeth Vargas and that they are using her pregnancy to get rid of her.

  • Name one of the “anchors” i.e. news readers on the BBC? Can’t, that’s because they read the news to the audience, not become part of it.

    I’m also not interested in all the PR about how the anchor sits in on all the story discussions and helps decide what goes into the broadcast. If that’s the important job then they can become news editors and leave the on air stuff to a person with good diction.

    Enough with celebrity news presenters already.

  • Seriously, if Vargas requested it, what’s the big deal?

  • Waldo

    “To be fair to ABC News management, its press release insists that the demotion is being made at Vargas’ behest”

    Better get Andrew Tyndall’s email to Vargas ASAP! Maybe she will change her mind. Otherwise, Tyndall should just shut the fuck up. But, of course, only at his own behest…

  • John

    And the other co-anchor is recovering form injuries received in Iraq. Way to stand by your people AB.

  • clinton

    Jeff–enough of this media world rot. lets get back to the more universal topics

  • Duneview

    Tyndall’s analysis of the World News Tonight stories scheduled during Elizabeth Vargas’ tenure does tend to show an aggressive pursuit of a younger audience.

    Good for them – all of the evening newscasts have always suffered from older demos, but if targeting W. 18-34 were the sole criteria, Britany Spears would be strapping on the mic behind the desk right now. Far from being “incoherent” the Gibson move may be brilliant. (Tyndall makes an assumption that Vargas has more younger demo appeal than Gibson – maybe he has the Q scores to show that but I’m not so sure.)

    The Workplace Nightmare – losing your job after maternity – was not executed when Vargas had her first child, so that scenario is probably pure speculation.

    Elizabeth Vargas is a talented dedicated journalist whose skills have been demonstrated over and over again on ABC. But this is a woman who in the last year has seen her husband shot in the head during an attempted carjacking and her partner seriously injured in Iraq. I would suggest those events may alter your life view as you look forward to adding to your family.

    And that strikes me as very coherent.

  • Jim S

    At least one report that I’ve seen said that Vargas’ doctors thought this was going to be a very difficult pregnancy for her. Difficult enough to where she was going to have to severely cut her schedule back early on and keep taking it easy for a while after giving birth.

  • I think the real error here was to name Vargas and Woodruff “co-anchors” in the first place. It seems obvious to me, if no one else, that if it was going to take 2 of them to do what Peter Jennings managed solo, then neither of them were a good choice.

    However, I was happy with Vargas in the end. She had a rough start, but once she got going, it went well. At the same time, I can’t believe that anyone is so air-headed that they could actually believe placing a young woman behind the desk would have any effect on who watched the news. It’s NEWS! It isn’t the weather report, it isn’t sports, and it isn’t one of the many “news magazines.” IT’S THE NEWS. If we name a new editor at the NYT, will subscriptions go up? Unlikely.

    Anyways, the bottom line is that Gibson was the logical choice back when Jenning’s stepped down. Neither Vargas, nor Woodruff, had the same face value. Teaming them up just made it obvious.

    Given this, perhaps ABC has decided to fix a mistake they made back at the begining. Of course, without some actual reason to believe otherwise, we have to accept the ABC story, and the rest of this is just a lot of hype to get libbers’ motors running.

  • georgetowner

    to those who believe business is just business, and to let go of pregnant employees… who can’t be there for the post partum healing period and to care for a newborn – hopefully with a partner — you should be grateful your mother had you at all. Vargas is one of many women who are waiting to have children, some are deciding not to do this at all becuase of attitudes like this. America falls very short compared to innovative countries when it comes to childbirth, parenting and childcare. Look at Canada and look at Scandanavia… I am a pregnant career woman who will take leave, but I expect my husband to work equally hard to help care for this child. I do not feel women should be punished for taking maternity leave. It’s no different than medical leave, similar to what what Bob Woodruff is needing to take right now…

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