Pregnant woman out as top ABC News anchor

May 24, 2006

When “World News Tonight” anchor Bob Woodruff was seriously injured by an IED while covering the war in Iraq, his co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas became the first woman to anchor an evening newscast solo, as well as the first Latina in such a prominent role.

In February, the 43-year-old Vargas announced she was pregnant with her second child.

Yesterday, ABC announced that Vargas is out, and “Good Morning America’s” Charles Gibson will take the helm.

Vargas and the network insist that she wasn’t forced out, and that Vargas stepped aside for the health of her unborn baby:

“This has been, in full candor, not the easiest pregnancy,” Vargas said. “In fact, it’s been pretty difficult. This is a show, and a staff, that deserves an anchor who can give 150 percent. I can give that any other year of my life except this one.”

She added: “To be fully honest, I’d have a hard time thrusting my baby at my husband or baby nurse and saying, ‘I’ll see you guys in two weeks, I’m going to a war zone.”

Some media critics say this could be a huge setback for working mothers:

But network news analyst Andrew Tyndall says he believes Vargas has been demoted and is living the “worst workplace nightmare the pregnant employee faces … the fear that her employer will find some way not to guarantee her job back on return from maternity leave.”

ABC firmly denies this, of course, saying the network has a committment to putting women in anchor roles and that Vargas will continue as an anchor on 20/20.

Poor Vargas is even getting flack from fellow women in the journalism biz:

“No one asks to be taken off the anchor job of ‘World News Tonight,’ ” said Emily Rooney, a former ABC executive producer. “It’s wimpy, putting the onus on her. Elizabeth just didn’t have the strength to be anchor of ‘World News Tonight.’ She just didn’t have the charisma the job requires.”

Ouch.

Here’s what I think: Vargas was in an impossible position. She was thrust into the spotlight by a terrible tragedy, then got pregnant unexpectedly and had some complications. Deciding how to balance career and family is difficult for any woman; now imagine you’re the first solo female news anchor, and the first Latina to boot. Talk about pressure and scrutiny!

I admire her honesty, and her willingness to put her very high-profile career on the backburner for the sake of her family. Maybe what happened to her colleague Bob Woodruff helped to put things in perspective; I know there are certain professional risks I won’t take now that I’m a mother, and they don’t come close to reporting from a war zone.

I wish Vargas a happy, healthy pregnancy, and hope she finds the career/family balance that is best for her.

What sacrifices have you had to make in trying to balance the wonderful craziness that is being a mother?