In 1987, as the Soviet Union was unraveling, Diane Sawyer arrived in Moscow to interview Boris Yeltsin. Armed guards prevented her from entering the Kremlin. Women, they explained, were not allowed. “I’m not a woman,” declared Sawyer. “I’m an American journalist.” She was permitted to enter and the result was a fascinating, inside account of the changing of the guard in the Soviet Union. Sawyer became a household name as a result of her prowess in two forms of television news: investigative reports, on subjects ranging from biological weapons in Russia to gay adoption; and exclusive interviews, with subjects as varied as Michael Jackson and Saddam Hussein. Her career highlights include coanchoring CBS’s 60 Minutes (the first woman to do so), coanchoring Primetime Live for ABC, and coanchoring ABC’s 20/20. When she joined Good Morning America in 1999 as cohost, Sawyer became the first person to concurrently anchor a prime-time newsmagazine and a morning news show. Sawyer’s tenaciousness as a reporter, along with her flexibility, always stands out. In addition to getting into the Kremlin, Sawyer has performed a headstand alongside Elian Gonzales and changed the diapers of the Dilley sextuplets, explaining, mid-diaper, “a journalist gotta do what a journalist gotta do.”
Born Lila Diane in Glasgow, Kentucky, on December 22, 1945, Sawyer grew up in nearby Louisville, where she was editor in chief of her high school newspaper. In 1963, she won the America's Junior Miss pageant, which included a scholarship prize of $6,000. With the money, she attended Wellesley College and earned her BA in 1967. She then enrolled at the University of Louisville in Kentucky to study law, but changed her mind after one semester.
Because of her desire to write, Sawyer decided to pursue a career in journalism, and landed a job as a "weather girl" and part-time reporter for the local ABC affiliate, WLKY-TV. Promoted to news correspondent within a year, Sawyer began to learn the ropes of broadcast reporting, often acting as her own field crew: to land an interview with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, she accompanied him on a hike along Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, carrying camera and sound equipment herself. Hoping to improve her career choices and to pursue an interest in politics, Sawyer moved to Washington, DC, in 1970. Unable to find work in broadcasting, Sawyer took a job in the White House press office where she became assistant to Ron Ziegler, then White House press secretary. She later worked as Richard Nixon’s personal assistant. When Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate, Sawyer relocated with him to California, remaining on his staff for four additional years, primarily to assist in the research for his memoirs.
In 1978 Sawyer returned to Washington and again found it difficult to find work as a journalist: because of her connection to Nixon, she was perceived as politically biased. Sawyer ultimately was hired as a general assignment reporter for the Washington bureau of CBS, where she gained recognition for her powerful on-the-scene coverage of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, the nuclear power facility in Pennsylvania. She was promoted to correspondent in 1980 and, six months later, became CBS’s state department correspondent. The Iranian hostage crisis was the event that catapulted Sawyer to national prominence. After delivering prepared reports for CBS’s Morning with Charles Kuralt, Sawyer would converse extemporaneously with Kuralt about the hostage situation. Her composure and intelligence led to critical praise and to notice from network executives. In 1981, when CBS expanded its morning format to ninety minutes, Sawyer became coanchor of the show, which was renamed Morning with Charles Kuralt and Diane Sawyer. At Morning, Sawyer began her long list of “gets” by interviewing Richard Nixon on the tenth anniversary of the Watergate break in. Ratings rose thirty percent during Sawyer’s first two years at Morning, an increase largely attributed to her presence. In 1984 Sawyer transitioned to prime-time newsmagazines, becoming the first female anchor on 60 Minutes.
Five years later, Sawyer left 60 Minutes to join ABC News as a coanchor for Primetime Live. In 1998 she became coanchor of ABC’s 20/20.During her tenure at ABC News, Sawyer has reported numerous important and controversial stories. She traveled to Afghanistan in 1996 for a segment that went “behind the burqa” to bring national media attention to the plight of women under the Taliban’s oppressive rule. Other notable Sawyer reportage includes an investigation of the questionable business practices of three major televangelists; a hidden-camera investigation of racial discrimination; and a story on living conditions in a maximum security women’s prison, for which Sawyer spent two days and nights behind bars. In addition, Sawyer has landed many exclusive interviews with news figures, including Fidel Castro, mobster Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, and President George W. Bush in his first national interview after the 2000 election. One celebrity Sawyer has never interviewed: her husband, director Mike Nichols. Along with coanchoring 20/20, Sawyer joined Good Morning America in 1999. Sawyer’s large fan base has contributed to the increased ratings of the morning program—in her first week on the air, GMA picked up a million new viewers.