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ABC 'World News' anchor Charlie Gibson set to retire, gives way to Diane Sawyer

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 14, 2009

NEW YORK

When Charlie Gibson decided in August to give up the ABC anchor chair, he quickly got a call from the woman who once backed him for the job while coveting it herself.

"I'm gobsmacked," Diane Sawyer said, asking whether Gibson was sure he wanted to retire.

As he begins his final week on "World News," the 66-year-old veteran is handing the baton to a colleague enveloped by an aura of celebrity that was always beyond his reach.

"I don't like the term star power, but she'll bring a buzz and an attention to this program that I could not," says Gibson, hands folded on the big desk in his Upper West Side office. "That will bring a lot of people in the tent. But do you keep them?"

A conversation with the former Capitol Hill correspondent makes clear that he feels the journalistic culture is passing him by, that the values he came to embody are fading -- indeed, that he is a throwback in a business struggling for survival.

Looking down as he cleans his glasses, Gibson declares his absolute certainty about surrendering the chair -- "You have to trust your gut as to when it's the right time" -- before wavering a moment later.

"You spend your whole life working up to it, and then to walk away from it. . . . Five days a week I think, 'This is really exciting' " to be leaving. "Two days a week I think, 'You're the dumbest idiot in the whole world.' "

He reconsiders: Maybe the split is more even, like four days to three.

Having made the leap from "Good Morning America" in 2006, Gibson knows the transition facing Sawyer, his longtime morning show partner, who finished her decade-long run on the program Friday. He has advised her about the "biorhythms" of "World News," and she has been sitting in on the 9 a.m. editorial meetings.

"There aren't any idle 12 seconds on the program," Gibson says. After the freewheeling morning format, "I think she'll find it something of a shock."

A onetime reporter at Washington's Channel 7, Gibson never expected to be a network anchor, and it took several twists of fate to land him in what people at ABC still think of as Peter Jennings's chair. He was plucked from the Washington bureau in 1987 for his first run at "GMA" and eased out in early 1998. But months later, during a ratings swoon, he was asked to return -- with Sawyer -- in what was billed as a temporary gig.


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