Sunday, May 28, 2006

NOW’s Kim Gandy: First ‘Commander in Chief’, now Vargas. ABC is a den of male chauvinist pigs
Elizabeth Vargas, Exiting Stage Center

Elizabeth Vargas says she's at peace with her decision to walk away from one of the highest-profile jobs in America. But not everyone is so thrilled about it, especially some women.

Vargas, 43, stepped down as the co-anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight" on Friday, three days after ABC announced that she would leave the broadcast and be replaced by "Good Morning America" co-host Charles Gibson starting today. ABC and Vargas said her unexpected departure was a result of the demands of the job -- and the demands of being the mother of a 3-year-old, with another child due this summer. "For now, for this year, I need to be a good mother," she said in an interview on Friday, a few hours before anchoring her last newscast.

But the announcement has been met with a mixture of disappointment and skepticism in some quarters. Some observers found the news curious, given that Vargas will return to another demanding, but less visible, job -- co-anchor of the weekly newsmagazine "20/20" -- after she gives birth to her second child.

What's more, critics question whether Vargas's departure after less than six months as an anchor was entirely voluntary, given declines in "World News Tonight's" ratings and considering that Vargas already had experienced the challenges of balancing work and family years before she became pregnant a second time.

"It seems unlikely to me, having survived and thrived through her first pregnancy, that she would logically give up the top job in TV a few months out, anticipating she couldn't handle it," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "It just doesn't strike me as a logical explanation. I don't think there are too many men who would be happy to be removed from the anchor chair."

Gandy added that ABC, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., "doesn't look like a very woman-friendly or family-friendly workplace."…

NOW has joined with two other prominent women's organizations to protest Vargas's departure. In a letter that will be sent today to ABC News President David Westin and Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney, the organizations call Vargas's status "a clear demotion" and characterize it as "a dispiriting return to the days of discrimination against women that we thought were behind us."

In addition to Gandy, the letter is signed by Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Susan Scanlan, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, an umbrella group that represents organizations with about 10 million members.

The letter suggests Vargas's job change is parallel to ABC's cancellation of "Commander in Chief," a fictional program featuring Geena Davis as the first female president. The network has "now managed to eliminate two of the country's most visible women role models and high achievers from your television lineup," the letter says. It urges ABC to create work arrangements that would enable Vargas to continue as the network's "World News Tonight" anchor and as a mother, perhaps by pairing her in a job-sharing or co-anchoring role with Diane Sawyer. Sawyer, the co-host of "Good Morning America," reportedly was passed over for the "World News Tonight" anchor job last year…
Paraphrasing an Indian Proverb: Stay five yards from a carriage, ten yards from a horse, and a hundred yards from an elephant; the distance one should keep from feminist zealots cannot be measured.

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