Diane Sawyer's "Scandalous" Vanity Fair Cover

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 2 2009 6:07 PM

Diane Sawyer's "Scandalous" Vanity Fair Cover

Diane Sawyer, not the biggest star in the history of broadcast news but surely the glitziest, will become anchor of ABC's World News in January, a promotion long destined and long overdue. The former home of Peter Jennings and his well-cut trenchcoats, ABC has long aired the most flashy and cosmopolitan of the evening newscasts. As Katie Couric is to perky so Sawyer is to sparkly. 

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Because of Sawyer's real or perceived gravity—earned or ascribed on account of her tenures in the Nixon White House and as an energetic investigative reporter—she has managed to retain a semblance of journalistic credibility while playing the role of the glamour girl with the utmost enthusiasm. Three decades ago, she spurned suggestions that she'd be taken more seriously if she dyed her hair brown. Can it be that her refusal constituted a strike at the stereotype of the dumb blonde? And, anyway, did she also enable Fox News to hire female personalities willing to don bimbo-ish skirts and doff good taste in makeup? 
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Here she is on the cover of Vanity Fair in September 1987, when her name was already in circulation as candidate for anchor positions and the vision of journalist in an off-the-shoulder look was sufficient to cause a minor scandal. It is impossible to imagine Barbara Walters wearing Farrah-feathered hair and such a knowing grin. Though Sawyer will only be the second woman to become a sole anchor of the network news, she will break the glass ceiling for pageant queens. Just as NBC's Brian Williams is skillful about nodding with his handsome heavy chin, Sawyer is terribly sly about using her Junior Miss smile from its better side, the left.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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