If you want to pay me $15 million a year, I promise never to say a bad word about you. I will work until I drop. I will be a saint to my staff. And if our project fails, I will take all the blame.
That's not how it works in television news, which is why there's enough backbiting, envy and ambition in The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour -- and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News to fill almost 500 pages.
On one level, The News Sorority is a serious book, a valuable history of a transitional era in media that will be read and taught long after no one can remember why "anchor" doesn't just apply to boats.
For now, though, it won't be read that way, for The News Sorority is a dish fest -- if you care what Katie and Diane and Christiane are really like, for God's sake do not start reading on a Friday night, because you'll miss Bill Maher and may just be finishing when John Oliver comes on.
How dishy? Like this:
When Diane scored an interview that Katie wanted, Katie asked, loudly: "I wonder who she blew this time."
Diane, on wardrobe choices for women in broadcasting: "Always wear clothes in fabrics that men like to touch."
Katie once told an executive she'd been fired -- she hadn't been -- so could get a promotion to a job she wanted.
Diane's such a slick politician that "she thinks she doesn't leave fingerprints --- but she leaves cat paw prints on people's foreheads."
Katie gave a Christmas party for her entourage that could be seen by lesser staffers at the lesser party.
Diane once had her then boyfriend Richard Holbrooke call a production assistant and reduce her to tears.
And Christiane? Where's that dish? Scarce. Very scarce. She never said she went to Brown -- although she was a housemate of John Kennedy Jr., she graduated from the University of Rhode Island -- but if that was your misimpression, she wasn't always quick to correct it. In the early days of CNN, she sometimes cleaned the foreign desk with Fantastik. And, much later, she wasn't above saying, "Do you know I'm the world's best known foreign correspondent?"
There's not much dish on Amanpour because she's the real deal, an old-fashioned correspondent who runs toward trouble and doesn't neuter her reporting with the bullshit false equivalency of too many of her colleagues. Her reporting in Bosnia is probably the single biggest reason Bill Clinton and Tony Blair intervened in that humanitarian crisis. And her dispatches from the Middle East could be tough on Israel.
Because most readers will probably skip or skim the chapters about Amanpour, this book is, for practical purposes, about Katie and Diane and their footrace to be the first female anchor of the evening news. That gives the book the feel of instant nostalgia. As Weller writes, "The venerable six-thirty news broadcast has been a classy feature of American conversation almost since the beginning of television, but it was also a relic of another era: before 24-hour cable and the Internet, which gave the news in real time; before the complicated, constantly in flux schedules of modern life." Translation: The 6:30 p.m. network news is as dead as disco. And that makes Katie and Diane's careers seem like a fool's errand, a waste of time and talent. Yes, they broke the glass ceiling, but no women will stand on their shoulders. They were the first -- and the last.
I loved Weller's last book, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon --- and the Journey of a Generation for its authoritative reporting and deep understanding. Like that book, The News Sorority is exhaustively reported. And unauthorized, which is a good thing -- can you imagine if Katie and Diane and their handlers had final approval of the manuscript? This would have been the story of the Bobbsey Twins and their bookish friend Christy. And I wouldn't have lost a weekend and you wouldn't have read this.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]