ABC tapped its morning news hosts to fill in for World News Tonight co-anchor Bob Woodruff while he recovers from wounds suffered in a bomb blast in Iraq. Meantime, rival CBS lost its longtime White House reporter to CNN Wednesday.
Both developments came as CBS and ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co., work to reshape their news divisions following the departure of mainstays Dan Rather and Peter Jennings from their respective flagship newscasts.
Rather, 74, stepped down as CBS Evening News anchor in March 2005, six months after coming under fire for a botched report questioning the military record of President Bush. ABC’s Jennings died of cancer in August at age 67.
CBS chief White House correspondent John Roberts, 49, considered a front-runner to replace Rather but passed over for the job, is leaving the network later this month after 14 years to join CNN, the cable news outlet said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, ABC News said its leading breakfast-hour personalities, “Good Morning America” co-hosts Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson, will take turns filling in as World News co-anchor with Elizabeth Vargas until Woodruff can return.
ABC News debuted its new two-anchor World News format on Jan. 3 with Woodruff and Vargas taking the place of Jennings. The network also introduced a new daily Internet Webcast and live-to-the West Coast updates of its evening news broadcast.
But the remake was derailed on Sunday when Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were badly wounded by a roadside bomb while traveling in an Iraqi military vehicle.
After being treated at U.S. medical facilities in Iraq and Germany, both men returned to the United States Tuesday and were admitted to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, outside the nation’s capital, for further care.
Woodruff, 44, the more seriously hurt of the two with head and facial wounds and injuries to his chest and shoulder, ”continues to make excellent progress” in his recovery, ABC News President David Westin said in a statement.
Woodruff’s older brother, David, told ABC News Tuesday that his sibling, who has been heavily sedated, moved his arms and legs and tried to open his eyes when moved from a stretcher to his bed at Bethesda, a sign that encouraged doctors.
“We are, frankly, saying he’s going to be back (at work) because that’s what he loves,” David Woodruff said.
In the meantime, ABC said Gibson and Sawyer would co-host World News Tonight with Vargas and help with the added demands of the new West Coast updates and daily Webcasts. Gibson and Sawyer also will remain in place at “Good Morning America.”
Roberts heads to CNN
Separately, Roberts, a Toronto native who began his CBS tenure in 1992 as co-anchor of its morning news program, will begin his new job as CNN senior national correspondent on Feb. 20, the Time Warner Inc.-owned cable network said.
His move to CNN comes after a stint of more than six years as chief White House correspondent for CBS News.
Roberts was widely seen as a leading candidate to take over the Evening News anchor chair from Rather. Instead, veteran colleague Bob Schieffer, 68, was given the job while CBS News sought a permanent successor, including efforts to court Katie Couric, co-host of rival NBC’s top-rated morning show “Today.”
Two weeks ago, newly installed CBS News President Sean McManus said Roberts possessed the skills but lacked the stature to assume the mantle of Evening News anchor.
Ratings for CBS Evening News, the third-ranked nightly network newscast, have improved under Schieffer, but McManus has said Schieffer was not interested in keeping the job on a long-term basis. There was no immediate word from CBS News on who would replace Roberts at the White House.