Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pregnant Rumors

I miss Elizabeth Vargas.

This week marks the first in which ABC Nightly News opens with its new anchor, Charles Gibson. I have nothing against Charlie. He is a competent, solid and engaging choice to lead ABC's news flagship.

But I miss Vargas. She was an inspired choice. And ABC cut her loose far too early. I can't help but be worried about the gender signals ABC might (or might not) be sending.

Frankly I've been pissed off about it for several weeks.

I am a man who's enough of a feminist to have loved seeing Vargas on his TV screen every night. (I'm an ABC news guy—I worshiped at the journalistic altar of Peter Jennings.) I thought it was high time that a network nightly news show was helmed by a woman. I was one of the people who groaned that she had to share the honor with Bob Woodruff when the two began their ill-fated, younger, hipper stint as co-anchors just a few months ago. As with Charlie, nothing against Bob whatsoever. I just thought Vargas was top-notch and could easily handle the job herself. She had poise and class and a comprehensive grasp of her duties. And yes, she was, it's true, very beautiful.

And then Woodruff was almost killed in Iraq and is still away, recovering. Vargas announced she was pregnant. And Katie Couric revealed she was leaving NBC's Today Show to take up the news desk at CBS, easily the lowest-rated of the three networks. (Oddly enough, I am not nearly as excited about Couric taking over the CBS desk—I will reserve judgment, but I don't sense the gravitas necessary to pull it off). And just like that, ABC found itself dead last in the ratings and floundering.

Did they give Vargas a chance? Is she really leaving because of her pregnancy or is ABC using that as a convenient smoke screen to push her out? Certainly Vargas has every right to decide what is best for her and her unborn child. If that means leaving a vaulted position voluntarily to care for her health and that of her baby, who are we to judge this working mother? I just hope that's all it is. Originally, when she announced her pregnancy, Vargas had no plans of vacating the anchor desk but for the weeks immediately surrounding the birth. And now she is gone. Permanently.

I don't want to turn Elizabeth Vargas' pregnancy into a referendum on pregnant women in the workplace, but it raises such questions nonetheless. She's not just carrying the weight of a child, she's carrying the weight of a nation of onlookers all wondering if ABC corporate has set gender equality back a few decades.


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