First there are the blond-haired good looks: striking but somehow wholesome, more high school prom queen than Hollywood glamour puss. Then there's the rich, honeyed voice: husky and authoritative, but free of the severe tone affected by some females in TV news. As a reader of the news, she is masterly: businesslike but warm, her eyes now wide with the drama of the day, now crinkling ever so slightly with concern. Diane Sawyer doesn't just deliver the news, she performs it.
But there's more than mere show-biz flair here. Sawyer is a fully credentialed reporter who covered Three Mile Island and the Iran hostage crisis. Later she demonstrated smarts and interviewing skills as co-anchor of the CBS Morning News. As a member of the formidable 60 Minutes team since 1984, she has traveled from the garbage mounds of Cairo to the heart of the AIDS plague in Uganda, profiled the likes of Corazon Aquino and James Michener, and given then candidate George Bush perhaps his toughest TV grilling on the Iran-contra scandal. If she never seemed an indispensable cog in the powerful engine that is 60 Minutes, she was no Tinkertoy either.
Have a conversation with Sawyer, and you cannot help coming away impressed. Intelligent, articulate, polished -- and a bit calculated. (She calls a reporter at home to amend her earlier list of favorite reading: add Doctorow's Billy Bathgate and Mann's Tonio Kroger to a shelf that already features Flaubert, Henry James and John Fowles.) In earnest, carefully molded sentences, she strives to dispel the notion that she is strictly a TV creation. "I really love what you learn every day in the business," she says. "I love the breathtaking way we walk into people's lives and ask them anything we want and then leave. For a moment you have available to you the whole universe of a person's life -- the pain and the suffering and the joy and the struggle. You can learn from it and take it with you, and then come back the next day with somebody else. That's what I like to do."
Is it any wonder that Sawyer, at 43, is the hottest newswoman in television? The sort of star news executives battle over, make promises to, open their wallets for? Last February, after more than ten years at CBS, she was hired away by ABC for a reported $1.6 million a year. The primary lure: the chance to join Sam Donaldson as co-anchor of Prime Time Live, the new weekly show that will debut this Thursday at 10 p.m. EDT. In addition, ABC dangled occasional fill-in anchor duty on World News Tonight and Nightline. The prospect of losing Sawyer so rattled CBS's bigwigs that they virtually handed her a blank check in an effort to keep her; then, when she was irretrievably gone, they ran out and hired another high-priced star, NBC's Connie Chung, to fill the gap and save some face.