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

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Rome Hartman, who was Couric's first producer at the "CBS Evening News," calls Sawyer "more qualified than anybody else in broadcasting to do that job because of what she's done in the course of her career. I think the biggest challenge is that it's 22 minutes. Katie experienced this, for sure. . . . The gender stuff is just a non-issue. Times have changed, and it's a tribute to her that no one even thinks about it."

'Competitive opportunity'

Hartman, now executive producer of "BBC World News America," says the change is "a competitive opportunity for Brian and Katie" because some Gibson fans may be inclined to check them out.

Gibson thinks that while viewers must trust the anchor, a newscast's success depends on its stable of correspondents. He tried to lead by consensus, as he did one morning last week by debating with his staff how much attention to give the Tiger Woods scandal and unconfirmed accounts on the Internet. Having attended Washington's Sidwell Friends School, Gibson likes to achieve a consensus that Quakers call a "sense of the meeting," but recognized early on that he was the "equal among equals" and sometimes the anchor has to make the call.

As a political junkie, the highlight of his tenure was chronicling the 2008 campaign. While he also liked John McCain, Gibson says that for Barack Obama, "there was just a tide of history in the election, extraordinary to behold and to cover."

He recalls the day of Ted Kennedy's burial, when the evening procession crawled toward Arlington National Cemetery and he was left with 90 minutes to fill. It was too dark to see much when the casket reached the burial site, and his producers "were screaming, 'Get off! Get off!' Why would you get off when you've just done this hour-and-a-half preamble? So I just stayed on. They can't cut you off in mid-sentence." Gibson felt vindicated when his defiance led to the network airing the dramatic reading of the late senator's letter to the pope.

By the time he reached his decision in July -- Westin asked him to spend a month reconsidering -- Gibson was anxious to join his wife, Arlene, a former private-school administrator, in retirement. He still jumped when the phone rang at home, thinking maybe he was about to be dispatched to another hot spot. He felt he had accomplished his main goal: stabilizing the news division after the tragedies that befell Jennings and Woodruff.

On a more prosaic level, Gibson is feeling his age, with its inevitable aches and pains. "I'm whipped on a Friday night," he says. "I'm not as sharp as I once was, and I don't want to stay too long. . . . It's good to leave when your elevator is up on a high floor and not on a low floor."

But it's not just about him. Gibson worries whether broadcast networks will be able to support sizable editorial staffs in an era of declining audiences, when cable news channels are louder -- and more profitable. "Objectivity -- or the extent to which we strive for objectivity -- is less of a marketable commodity," he says. "People seem to want to hear news presented according to their own beliefs, and I don't understand that.

"I'm so much of a traditional, over-the-air broadcaster. I'm aware that it's changing, and I'm not adapting fast enough with it. Having hit the perfect arc of this business, I think it's time to move on."

Morning debut

As if they didn't have enough to do covering the White House, Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie are launching a 9 a.m. program for MSNBC.

"It fits the rhythm of our day," says Todd, who also blogs, tweets, reports for NBC and serves as its political director. He sees the "Daily Rundown" as "something that has the feel of a signature Washington show for us" heading into 2010. "We're not going to ignore the water-cooler story of the day, but we're not going to dwell on it, either."

Both insist the extra work won't diminish their reporting, and the plan is for one of them to anchor from the road when President Obama is traveling. "Chuck and I have a great relationship, and we're hoping it will translate on the air," Guthrie says. "It's a matter of making all the pieces fit together."

Todd, who was passed over for "Meet the Press" in favor of David Gregory, chuckled when asked if he was fully prepared to be a host. "I've been in TV all of 2 1/2 years," he says. "Every day's a learning curve."

Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."


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