ABC has made official what has been apparent for some time: That “Good Morning America” — and its entertainment-over-news priorities — is the most important part of its news division. That was codified in Wednesday’s announcement regarding the replacement of Diane Sawyer, which tapped David Muir to fill her “World News” seat, but made “GMA’s” George Stephanopoulos the network’s face during major events and breaking-news situations.
If the splitting of those duties sounds relatively minor, it represents a sharp departure from history, where the evening-news anchor was always the “face” of the news division. One need only think back to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when the trio of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings held sway, as they had so many times before during various tragedies and milestones.
This isn’t intended as a slight to Stephanopoulos, who has demonstrated himself to be a workhorse, anchoring the Sunday discussion show “This Week” as well as the ascendant “GMA.” But there’s no getting around the fact he spends his mornings hanging out in the TV equivalent of a radio morning zoo, a broadcast as committed to fashion and cooking and musical performances as it is to anything approaching a traditional understanding of hard news.
ABC has been fairly unabashed about this shift in priorities. Indeed, as far back as early 2012, ABC News president (and Disney Media Networks Group chief in waiting) Ben Sherwood rejected the distinction between “hard” and “soft” news as a concept, a mind-set that is readily apparent in the downward slide of “Nightline” into something approaching a fuzzy syndicated newsmagazine. As evidence, look no further than last week, when the program that Ted Koppel had made one of TV’s most prestigious broadcasts featured a breathtaking expose on male strippers — helpfully promoted as “the real ‘Magic Mike,'” just for those who couldn’t figure out the connection on their own.
Given the success of “GMA” in unseating “Today” as the morning’s ratings leader, pragmatists will find it hard to question ABC’s strategy. And in terms of sheer tonnage, the morning has long had an advantage, what with two hours of airtime to sell each day, compared to a mere half-hour for “World News” and its counterparts.
Still, if serious journalism at times appears to be dying the death of a thousand small cuts, consider this one more wound. And to those who would consider such a lament just another example of journalists clinging to a past that no longer exists, fine, guilty as charged — and get off my lawn.