Diane Sawyer stepped down as the anchor of “ABC World News” and the “face” of the network (her job to be effectively split between George Stephanopoulos and David Muir) with characteristic dignity, grace and understatement.
And, OK, she still looks gorgeous.
But where are the next 10 women in line for her place?
Once upon a time, all of the broadcast anchors were men. Then there was the “first” woman co-anchor and then the first woman anchor and then — as unbelievable as it seems — there were two, which should mean you can stop counting. Someday, I used to tell my students, counting will seem silly, like counting how many male nurses there are.
And then there was one anchor.
Now there are none.
Is counting really so silly? Is it possible that this is all just the product of a gender-blind, race-blind world? What an amazing coincidence that would have to be.
I am absolutely certain that no one making any of these decisions at the broadcast networks in any way experiences themselves as discriminating. Some — more than there used to be — are even women and minorities themselves. So while it is still true that most of the people who make most of the major decisions about just about everything except maybe what happens in elementary school classrooms are men, and while it is absolutely true that the most natural thing in the world is to assume that the person who looks like a younger version of yourself is, strictly on the merits, the most qualified, it is also true that the best person for the job is not always a woman.
But none of the four best?
Since 1995, the number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies has grown from 0 to 23, meaning the number of men has dropped from 500 to a mere 477.
I know women have children, and many women put family first, and I’m the last to say that’s wrong. But not all women have families, and children grow up, and 0 for 4 or 477-23 are just not the kind of numbers you get at random, just aren’t explained by the demands of family, just don’t make sense unless someone was paying so little attention to all of the unconscious factors at work that they had no idea that their high-minded principles were producing mid-20th-century results.
That’s why we started counting — why Catalyst started counting women CEOs and why The White House Project started counting women on the Sunday shows and why I started counting op-ed pages and we all started counting things we hoped we could soon stop counting.
It’s not to impose a quota. It’s to sound a wake-up bell when the numbers are out of whack with what should be the 21st-century reality.
Oh, sure, anchors aren’t what they once were — unless, God forbid, it’s one of those moments when you might depend on their judgment, their calm, their ability to hold us together. I remember watching Walter Cronkite when President Kennedy was shot.
Diane Sawyer has always been a class act. There must be a successor somewhere. And another Katie, and another Barbara, not to mention some Hillarys in the wings, if only we look for them.
Susan Estrich is a law professor in Southern California and managed the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis.