It’s a position Diane Sawyer is definitely not accustomed to.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, at least in TV terms, TV’s most elegant news personality became a late-night laughingstock in the wake of her much talked-about “performance” as anchor of ABC’s Election Night news coverage.
Sawyer, 66, was the focus of much commentary Tuesday night for her seemingly light-hearted approach to covering the election returns. Seated at a desk alongside George Stephanopoulos in ABC’s studio overlooking Times Square in New York, Sawyer led the network’s coverage.
As the telecast’s anchor, it was her job to introduce segments and correspondents from remote locations (generally hotel ballrooms where enthusiastic crowds awaited word on the fate of their candidates), and take part in conversations with Stephanopoulos and an array of correspondents and commentators who were seated elsewhere in the room — including such ABC News luminaries as Cokie Roberts, George Will and Jonathan Karl.
As the evening wore on, viewers began to notice the somewhat ebullient tone Sawyer was setting for ABC’s coverage, and began commenting on her demeanor on social media such as Twitter. Eventually, at various moments where Sawyer seemed, at least to some, to be unusually giddy (she even pronounced “Barack Obama” as “Barack O-Rama” at one point), some viewers Tweeted that she seemed like she was broadcasting “under the influence.”
Well, that impression has stuck to her public image like glue in the days since Tuesday night, especially since, to our knowledge, the anchor of “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” has made no public statements that would help to explain her Election Night comportment.
Sure enough, when the late-night shows resumed Wednesday night, Sawyer was one of the hot topics on the late-night monologues. Jay Leno made the most hay of it. He was still talking about it on NBC’s “Tonight Show” three days later — on Friday.
“My favorite story to come out of the election the other night is about Diane Sawyer,” Leno said, in the clip, above. “Did you see her on ABC Tuesday night? She was slurring her words so much that the rumor was that she had been drinking. In fact, people thought she may have gone from ABC’s ’20/20′ to Mad Dog 20-20 – that’s how bad it was!”
“I don’t want to say she was drunk,” Leno said, setting up another Sawyer joke. “I’m not going to say that. But now, Kathie Lee and Hoda are suing her for stealing their act!” The punchline was a reference to Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb’s habit of drinking wine on their mid-morning hour of NBC’s “Today Show.”
At least those were only jokes. On the two previous evenings, the jokes were visual as Leno’s producers doctored up some video from ABC’s Election Night coverage to make it look like Sawyer was guzzling beer and moonshine. Take a look:
Leno appears to be the only late-night host who stayed on the Sawyer subject past Wednesday night. On that first night after the election, however, Sawyer was the butt of jokes on both NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on CBS.
In fact, as you’ll notice in the clips, below, both of those shows seized upon the same approach for some of their Sawyer comedy — slowing down some Election Night video to make it seem as if a number of top network news personalities were drunk and slurring their words. These included NBC’s David Gregory and CBS’s Scott Pelley and Bob Schieffer on the “Fallon” show, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on the “Ferguson” show.
We thought Jimmy’s joke about “drunk-dialing” was kind of clever. “Did you hear about Diane Sawyer?” Fallon asked in his monologue on Wednesday. “There was talk that ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer … seemed drunk on the air last night. It was kinda weird. Sawyer was like [and here Fallon broke into a "drunk," slurring tone of voice] ‘Breaking news! We are now calling … my ex-boyfriend, Nick, to see what he’s up to these days!’ ”
For his part, Craig Ferguson didn’t really make a specific joke at Sawyer’s expense. But he did use the speculation swirling around her as the basis of this visual comedy bit, in which Wolf Blitzer was made to seem dull-witted from intoxication. “You know who’s getting a lot of flack today? Diane Sawyer,” Ferguson said. “People were saying about Diane Sawyer that she seemed a little drunk. I didn’t see that at all when I was watching. I thought she looked fine, but I am a little worried about Wolf Blitzer!”