A network whose news operation thinks nothing of sticking a camera in the face of a child in Littleton, Colo., to ask intimate questions about what it's like seeing your friends executed by a gunman should not expect 200 TV critics to back away from asking Diane Sawyer questions about why she was missing in action from "Good Morning America" two days last week just because she says it's personal.
"I think some things should be personal; I just do," Sawyer told reporters Tuesday at the summer TV press tour after dodging the question for the third time during a Q&A session.
The Associated Press reported several days ago that Sawyer is friendly with former ABC employee Anthony Radziwill and his wife, Carole, who are relatives of John F. Kennedy Jr. and were particularly close to Kennedy and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. The Kennedys and her sister, Lauren Bessette, died when the plane he was flying crashed off Martha's Vineyard on July 16.
An ABC News spokeswoman is quoted by AP as saying that Sawyer didn't do the Monday and Tuesday broadcasts because "she felt she couldn't be on the air."
That Sawyer would not just say she was too close to the story to cover it and have done with it left critics sniggering that she was, as Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel put it, "Greta Garbo up there vanting to be alone with her answers."
Some ABC News executives had tried during Tuesday's Q&A to rescue Di.
"It's perfectly understandable that everyone's curious about this," ABC News President David Westin told the pack after the question had been put to her for the fourth time. "As soon as anybody says, 'This is private and is personal,' everybody gets more curious. . . . But it is what it is, and I'm not sure there's a lot more to be said."
The TV critics didn't buy it.
"GMA" executive producer Shelley Ross also tried in vain to explain; she suggested Sawyer's absence was negligible because she showed up on the show later in the week. "Diane did not miss a major story," she said.
"She missed two days of a major story," one peeved critic shot back.
For people who are journalists, the ABC News guys sure didn't get it. The gang was looking for a story, and Sawyer's disappearance appeared to be their only hope of getting one out of the "GMA" session. That is, unless you consider word that "Good Morning" is moving into its shiny new Times Square studio on Sept. 13 to be stop-the-presses stuff. I guess it could be if you consider, as Charlie Gibson said he did, that Times Square is the most important crossroads in the country, if not the world. (New Yorkers can be so provincial.)
The group also tried to find out whether Sawyer would still fight to keep her Wednesday 10 p.m. "20/20" time slot now that she's so busy with the "GMA" gig. There's been speculation for the past two seasons that ABC's entertainment division wants the slot back for a drama series, but that Sawyer has fought to keep it for her newsmag.
"We're going to bring Jell-O in here, we're going to strip down to tank tops, we're going to wrestle right here in front of you," she joked.
"Fortunately," she continued, "I don't have responsibility for programming, and I know it's a very difficult art to decide which programs go where, and I really wouldn't go anywhere near hypotheticals about what may and may not happen down the road." Another joke, no doubt.
And the critics tried to find out how much longer Sawyer and Gibson are going to anchor the morning newscast. Westin answered by taking issue with use of the word "temporary" to refer to their co-anchoring status. They aren't temporary, Westin said, they're "indefinite."
Gibson, for his part, said he and Sawyer were "not going to be there forever." But then, he noted, neither is Bryant Gumbel and neither are Katie Couric and Matt Lauer of the rival "Today" show.
"If we actually gave you a date then you won't have anything to write about," Gibson said.
On the contrary, Mr. Gibson, if you'd given us a date we would have had something to write about.
And, about 11 hours after Diane Sawyer said questions about her "GMA" absence got into things too personal, Charlie Gibson went on "Good Morning America" and interviewed the weeping mother of a murder victim.