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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Dealing with the gathering Watergate storm, Sawyer recalls, was "bruising, nerve-deadening torment." Her response was to devour all the information she could about the scandal. "I read all the newspapers and all the testimony and all the lawyers' briefs," she says. "I became a kind of walking computer. Even the lawyers would call me occasionally because I seemed to have everything on file." Only after the famous "smoking gun" tape, released just days before Nixon's resignation, did Sawyer become convinced that the end was inevitable. She was one of the stalwarts who rode on the plane that carried Nixon to San Clemente after his farewell speech. What explains her loyalty? She ponders the question quietly for a few seconds. "When someone's life is shattered," she says, "there is only humanity."

To some friends, however, her loyalty went beyond reasonable bounds: Sawyer remained with Nixon for nearly four more years in San Clemente, helping Frank Gannon (whom she was dating) gather material for the President's autobiography. "I had the illusion of indispensability," she explains. Her job was to assemble all the on-the-record material about Watergate and the Final Days -- an assignment that led to some tense moments with the former President. But she does not regret the experience (she and Nixon still correspond regularly): "I knew that being out there with him was going to be a seminar the likes of which one could never attend. I had a real sense of the Shakespearean, dark history that I was going to be a minor character in."

Her role in that Shakespearean drama caused something of an uproar at CBS, when, shortly after leaving Nixon in 1978, she was given a reporter's job by Washington bureau chief William Small. Several correspondents, including Rather, openly expressed opposition to her hiring. "Conversations would stop as I entered the room," she recalls.

Gradually, though, she earned her colleagues' respect. For several months she labored in relative obscurity, doing legwork on stories that rarely made it on the air ("They called me queen of the stakeouts"). Her big chance came after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. She broadcast live reports from the damaged reactor -- borrowing a producer's tennis shoes so she could stand atop the microwave truck in the rain without slipping off -- and got her first major exposure on the CBS Evening News. After a stint covering the 1980 presidential campaign, she was assigned to the State Department, where she impressed her bosses with her hard work and excellent sources. Says former CBS News president Richard Salant: "I think she was the best State Department reporter we ever had."

During the negotiations to free the Iran hostages, Sawyer's reports often wound up on the CBS Morning News. "I would sleep all night on two secretarial chairs so I could get up at 4 a.m., stalk the halls and see what I could get," she recalls. Her live exchanges with Charles Kuralt led to her being tapped as the show's co-anchor, and Sawyer made the leap from journeyman correspondent to network star.

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