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.