Was Elizabeth Vargas' departure really voluntary?

NOW and allies wonder just how family friendly ABC/Disney is.


Lynn Harris
May 30, 2006 7:55PM (UTC)

Monday's Washington Post reports that Elizabeth Vargas is more "at peace" than others with her decision to step down as coanchor of ABC's "World News Tonight."

The official word is that Vargas is leaving the demanding job for another: mother of a 3-year-old and a child due this summer. "For now, for this year, I need to be a good mother," she said on Friday. After the second child arrives, she'll return to coanchor "20/20." Charles Gibson has replaced her on "World News Tonight."

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But three leading women's groups aren't so sure that that's the whole story. NOW has joined with the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Council of Women's Organizations to protest Vargas' departure. In a letter sent Monday to ABC, they characterize Vargas' move to "20/20" as a "clear demotion" and "a dispiriting return to the days of discrimination against women that we thought were behind us." The letter urges ABC to create arrangements such as job sharing that would allow mothers to work in such roles. NOW president Kim Gandy finds the whole thing fishy: "It seems unlikely to me, having survived and thrived through her first pregnancy, that she would logically give up the top job in TV a few months out, anticipating she couldn't handle it."

Kathy Bonk, an advisor to the women's groups, said: "This seems like a big march backward" [for women in the workplace]. Something has to give here. There are job-sharing options, there are many ways to accommodate women. This workforce has to change."

Vargas, for her part, suggests that because her situation is unique, it should not necessarily be taken as bad news for all women. Not only is she the first person to get pregnant while working as lead anchor, but -- remember -- her former coanchor, Bob Woodruff, was critically injured in Iraq. She'd been sole anchor since January, and was anticipating six to eight weeks of maternity leave; she was wary of creating further discontinuity for viewers and staff. The "20/20" job is more predictable and less demanding, she said.

NOW still isn't buying it. "If she can't have it all," said Gandy, "who among us could?"

Over here at Broadsheet headquarters, we couldn't agree more that the workplace in general could stand a major dose of family friendliness. But we're not so sure we'd attend a "Vargas Must Stay!" rally. Her situation does seem unique -- not to mention ironic, given that she did have a job-share situation, and her partner was almost killed. Not that Katie Couric's new CBS job (did you hear about that?) means that we're done getting women into top spots, but still -- it does make this protest feel a little overblown and misplaced. Seems that this could be a story about a woman making the best of a tough situation (including a difficult unplanned pregnancy), not a story about a tough situation getting the best of women. What do you think?


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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