‘I Try To Move World To Help’
INCE TAKING OVER AT ABC World News in December, Diane Sawyer has made a point of not being anchored to her desk. She has traveled to Copenhagen for a contentious interview with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; to Washington, D.C., to interview President Obama; and to Afghanistan to file firsthand reports from the front. While she was in Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti rocked the world, and she flew straight there to cover it.
“You have to believe your first job is to be a powerful witness,” she says. “I say powerful in the sense that there are 500 people in front of you who need water, and all you want to do is drop everything and go get them water. But you have to remember your job is to help get water for 5 million people—for your heart will soon break if you don’t believe that you can do something for everybody. You say to yourself, ‘I will turn your pain into purpose. I will try to turn your pain into a fulcrum that moves the world to help.’ ”
Sawyer, 64, is now back and actually sitting behind her cluttered office desk at ABC. Her 16 Emmys haphazardly arranged around the shelves are outnumbered by the myriad pictures of her family and friends. She’s not the coolly glamorous blonde we see on TV. With her redframed glasses, jeans, and favorite pair of sweat socks—and not a speck of makeup— she has the bookish look of the Wellesley College student she once was. “There’s the other me hanging on the door,” she says, laughing and pointing toward the Anne Taylor suit awaiting her onscreen transformation later in the day.
Sawyer’s life has been so remarkable that if it hadn’t been her own, she might have had to report on it. She was raised a devout Methodist in Louisville, Ky., by conservative Republican parents. Her father was a campaign manager before becoming a local judge. “He was killed in an automobile accident when I was… hmmm…22 or 23,” she says in a very soft voice. “It’s odd, I’ve never thought of his accident in terms of my own age. I’ve only thought of it in terms of the suddenness of getting that call.”
A former America’s Junior Miss, Sawyer worked at the Louisville TV station WLKY as a reporter and “weather girl” until, through her father’s political connections, she left to work as an aide in the Nixon White House and then later to work closely with the disgraced President on his memoirs. Why did she stay with him? Was it out of loyalty?
“I had a sense of duty,” she says. “You don’t get to choose just being there in the celebrated times and then walk away when someone is living in defeat— no matter how they got there, how punishing it was, and how bruising it was for American politics. I just don’t think that’s the person I can be.”
In 1978, Sawyer was hired at CBS and in 1984 became the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes. In 1989, she left for ABC’s Prime Time Live and 20/20 before landing the job as co-host of Good Morning America in 1999. Now Sawyer is the face of the network’s news division. “I have to go to where there are things I want to learn,” she says. “It’s about the quest. I’ve said before that if there were a rehab for curiosity I’d be in it. I promise you, I wake up every single day and I have 30 things I want to know before breakfast. Which is the opposite of what my husband does,” she says, mentioning Mike Nichols, the legendary 78-year-old film director to whom she has been married for almost 22 years. “He wakes up in the midst of the creative dream he’s always dreaming—I want to learn the facts.”
Both Sawyer and Nichols are in professions that require a kind of invulnerability. Is part of their love for each other finding someone with whom they can be vulnerable? She chuckles. “I’ll put it this way,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have a safe place to be a bas-