NEW YORK – Charles Gibson, who provided a steadying hand to a “World News” broadcast reeling from tragedy, will retire at the end of the year, and ABC News appointed Diane Sawyer on Wednesday to replace him in January.
Gibson, 66, said he had been planning to retire at the end of 2007 but events compelled him to stay. He was named anchor in 2006 following the death of Peter Jennings and the wartime injury of Bob Woodruff. He’s been at ABC News for 35 years and says he plans to continue as an occasional contributor.
Sawyer’s elevation means that, with Katie Couric at CBS, two of the three leading anchors for the broadcast networks will be women.
Gibson’s comforting presence made him an instant ratings hit at “World News” at a time the other networks had much younger anchors. But NBC’s Brian Williams eventually passed him by and has been leading in the ratings for the past year, with “World News” a solid second.
“The program is now operating at a very accelerated, but steady, cruising speed and I think it is an opportune time for a transition – both for the broadcast and for me,” Gibson said in an e-mail to fellow ABC News staffers.
Sawyer was the obvious choice for a successor, said ABC News President David Westin. The 63-year-old newswoman has a lengthy resume that includes a stint on “60 Minutes.” She’s done several documentaries in the past few years, including close looks at poverty in America.
Westin said Gibson had approached him earlier this summer about retiring and he was asked to think it over. ABC had no desire to see him leave: “We were very happy with Charlie,” Westin said. “He was doing a terrific job.”
Yet Gibson was insistent. His wife, Arlene, had recently retired as a school administrator and Gibson’s only grandchild had moved with his daughter and son-in-law to Seattle over the past year.