Will Diane Sawyer Play Fair on ABC News?

Conservatives can still remember the arrogant way ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson questioned Gov. Sarah Palin in the run-up to last year‘s presidential election.

He peered down at her behind his glasses, like a professor ready to dress down an undisciplined student.

Does anyone think ABC’s own Diane Sawyer would act much differently?

The question matters with the news that Sawyer, the “Good Morning America“ mainstay, will be taking over for Gibson starting in January 2010 as host of ABC‘s “World News” broadcast.

The latest anchor chair switch certainly means less than it once did in the Rather/Brokaw/Jennings era. This changing of the network news guard won’t have the impact of Dan Rather replacing Walter Cronkite, or even Gibson swapping in for Rather.

But when 2012 rolls around it could be Sawyer interviewing the presidential hopefuls. And let’s not forget the lingering impact of Katie Couric’s interview with Palin — that disastrous Q&A set the template for the media to follow right through the election.

The move means two of the three nightly news anchors will be woman — Sawyer joins ratings-challenged Couric over at CBS. But that kind of gender bean counting doesn’t mean much these days, since nightly news telecasts represent the preferred news delivery service from another era.

Today, people are getting their headlines from other, faster sources, and the declining ratings for all three network nightly newscasts reflect that cold reality.

Gibson could never match the unmitigated bias of MSNBC stalwarts Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews. But he’s proven to be far from the fair and balanced model, and a quick glimpse at some of Sawyer’s greatest hits hints at more of the same on network news.

Her background doesn’t suggest another liberal cheerleader.

Sawyer, born in Glasgow, Ky. and raised in Louisville, once served in the Nixon-Ford transition team and helped President Nixon write his memoirs.

She blossomed into yet another cog in the liberal media machine all the same, according to the Media Research Center. Through the years she’s proven to be a big time booster of Democratic politicians, from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — “She’s galvanized steel with a smile” — to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — “Political mastery, every bit as dazzling as [her husband‘s], the thoughtful speech, unapologetically strong, emboldening Democrats, electing Senators.”

She’s also been less than tough on thugs like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the heinous North Korean government in past news reports. She painted the former’s health care and educational systems in glowing terms.

L. Brent Bozell III, Founder and President of the conservative Media Research Center, says ABC’s broadcasting switch “is like replacing Tweedle Dee with Tweedle Dum.”

“When she’s discussing a liberal icon she can’t help but gush in that singular Diane Sawyer way,” Bozell says. “Her demeanor is overtly fawning in nature if she’s talking about Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton or Fidel Castro.”

Bozell bristles while recalling Sawyer’s commentary during past Castro-related news reporters.

Had she bothered to interview actual Cubans suffering under the Castro regime it might make her think twice before filing such sunny reports about his social programs, he says.

Her tone changes dramatically if she’s cornering the likes of Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito or Kenneth Starr.

The Saywer move is to ask people about things spoken about them in the past, but when it’s a liberal guest she’ll pick friendly, fuzzy quotes. Conservatives in her cross hairs are confronted with nastier comments, he says.

Bozell suspects Sawyer will face a similar challenge Couric faced when switching from morning to nightly news broadcasts.

“They made the calculation that [Couric‘s] popularity from ‘The Today Show’ would translate over to CBS News. It was a terrible miscalculation,” he says. “The formats are so different.”

“It obviously isn’t working,” he adds. Couric’s ratings are much lower than the numbers Rather once drew, and lower than her network peers.

Couric’s ratings for the week of Aug. 3 trailed second place NBC’s news broadcast by more than 1.5 million viewers, according to media

“The same thing is going to affect Diane Sawyer,” he says, adding her early morning, ‘lets chit-chat mode’ will hurt the ABC news product.

The aggressive news reporting of Sawyer’s ascension to the nightly news anchor ignores just how swiftly the media landscape is changing.

“Who knows if the big three networks will still be around in five years? I don’t say that facetiously,” he says.