Video: Star Power: Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer, with a new prime-time show and a $1.6 million contract, is hot. But are celebrity anchors like her upstaging the news?

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Yet an excessive focus on stars has its costs for the news division. For one thing, it diverts resources from bread-and-butter reporting. Salaries for top people keep going up even as the networks trim their news budgets to the bone. Says former CBS News president Ed Joyce: "You simply cannot pay a large stable of news stars these million-dollar salaries in the diminished economy that now exists in television without it coming from somewhere. My concern is that it is happening at the expense of the basic responsibility of network news organizations: to maintain bureaus overseas, to maintain bureaus domestically, and to cover the news coherently and responsibly."

What's more, these news stars -- whom the networks must keep happy at all costs -- are wielding more and more power behind the scenes. CBS's Rather, who is managing editor of the CBS Evening News as well as its anchor, is a force to reckon with at CBS News, with a major say in the assignment of reporters and even news executives. NBC's Brokaw too has been accused of becoming an "anchor monster," of engineering the departure of former News president Lawrence Grossman and of being reluctant to yield the spotlight to correspondents who might threaten him, such as Chris Wallace (who has left the network for ABC's Prime Time Live). In order to keep Nightline's Ted Koppel happy, ABC gave him an unprecedented contract that allowed him to set up a production company and make news specials both for ABC and for independent distribution.

The anchors insist that their power has been overrated. "Careers did not go into decline at NBC because anyone argued with me," says Brokaw. "I protected Chris Wallace. I said it was a mistake to lose him." CBS News president David Burke has clipped Rather's wings a bit by shifting some of the anchorman's supporters out of key executive positions.

Then there is the problem of what to do when stars collide. Sawyer and Rather are a case in point. The CBS anchorman insists that he did not prevent Sawyer from anchoring the CBS Evening News and that he even told her she would % be considered the front runner if the network decided he needed a co-anchor. Those close to Rather, however, are skeptical that he -- or either of the other two network anchormen -- would willingly agree to share his platform with a dynamic female like Sawyer.

Sawyer has proved that she can fend for herself in the corridors of power. Her determination to reach the top rung on the network ladder has been matched by her adeptness at making the right moves on the way up. That political savvy probably dates from her Louisville childhood. Her father was a Republican county executive active in state politics; her mother was a teacher. At 17, Diane won the America's Junior Miss competition. Her talent: reading an original poem about the Civil War and singing songs representing the North and South. A newspaper account at the time described Sawyer as a straight-A student who "wants to study foreign languages, for a possible career in diplomatic and foreign service. Her other interests include journalism."

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