“Weller rivetingly recounts these gutsy ladies’ time on the front lines… an inspiration for future generations of journalists.” –Vanity Fair
For decades, women battered the walls of the male fortress of television journalism. After fierce struggles, three women—Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour—broke into the newsroom’s once impenetrable “boys’ club.” These women were not simply pathbreakers, but wildly gifted journalists whose unique talents enabled them to climb to the top of the corporate ladder and transform the way Americans received their news.
Drawing on exclusive interviews with their colleagues and intimates from childhood on, The News Sorority crafts a lively and exhilarating narrative that reveals the hard struggles and inner strengths that shaped these women and powered their success. Life outside the newsroom—love, loss, child rearing—would mark them all, complicating their lives even as it deepened their convictions and instincts. Life inside the newsroom would include many nervy decisions and back room power plays previously uncaptured in any media account. Taken together, Sawyer’s, Couric’s, and Amanpour’s lives as women are here revealed not as impediments but as keys to their success.
Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Diane Sawyer was a young woman steering her own unique political course in a time of societal upheaval. Her fierce intellect, almost insuperable work ethic, and sophisticated emotional intelligence would catapult Sawyer from being the first female on-air correspondent for 60 Minutes, to presenting anchoring the network flagship ABC World News. From her first breaks as a reporter all the way through her departure in 2014, Sawyer’s charisma and drive would carry her through countless personal and professional changes.
Katie Couric, always conveniently underestimated because of her “girl-next-door” demeanor, brazened her way through a succession of regional TV news jobs until she finally hit it big. In 1991, Couric became the cohost of Today, where, over the next fifteen years, she transformed the “female” slot from secondary to preeminent while shouldering devastating personal loss. Couric’s greatest triumph—and most bedeviling challenge—was at CBS Evening News, as the first woman to solo-anchor a nighttime network news program. Her contradictions—seriously feminist while proudly sorority-girlish—made her beyond easy typecasting, and as original as she is relatable.
A glamorous, unorthodox cosmopolite—raised in pre-revolution Iran amid royalty and educated in England—Christiane Amanpour would never have been picked out of a lineup as a future war reporter, until her character flourished on catastrophic soil: her family’s exile during the Iranian Revolution. Once she knew her calling, Amanpour shrewdly made a virtue of her outsider status, joining the fledgling CNN on the bottom rung and then becoming its “face,” catalyzing its rise to global prominence. Amanpour’s fearlessness in war zones would make her the world’s witness to some of its most acute crises and television’s chief advocate for international justice.
Revealing the tremendous combination of ambition, empathy, and skill that empowered Sawyer, Couric, and Amanpour to reach stardom, The News Sorority is a detailed story of three very particular lives and a testament to the extraordinary character of women everywhere.
New York Daily News
“This immensely readable book made headlines before publication for its irresistible gossip. It is dishy, but it’s also a close up and very personal examination of three women who broke all the barriers.”
“… it’s hard to come away from The News Sorority feeling anything less than admiration, if not reverence, for Couric, Sawyer and Amanpour, and sympathy for all the women… who had to wrangle with ratings, network politics and defiantly sexist executives, while managing the delicate egos of their male counterparts. And that is, in the words of the old CBS slogan, ‘very good news.’”
Geneva Overholser, Los Angeles Times
“…a well-reported and refreshingly fair-minded biography of these gutsy and influential newswomen. Given the complexity of the subject matter, the remarkable thing is that Weller has produced a book that manages to be both compelling and resolutely evenhanded. Even when the catnip of rivalry raises its hoary head, Weller chooses balance. There are lots of controversies, but they usually come along with opposing opinions from different observers and in a broader context.”
The Washington Post
“It’s worth reading The News Sorority as both a handbook of cutthroat office politics and a cautionary tale. These women brought ego, ambition and a willingness to play just as rough as the boys to the newsrooms—and made history because of that.”
Liz Smith, Chicago Tribune
“[D]aring, dashing… Sheila Weller has written “the” book of the year on TV broadcasting, a thing that may be a dying, rapidly changing art form, but it’s definitely still going to need voices and faces and intelligence giving out the news no matter how much our socially gadget-manipulated changing world changes. There will always be stars and TV has had them in spades… This is a terrific book. I marked mine so many times, it is virtually unreadable. Believe me, if you like history and gossip and believe, like I do, that gossip IS history — you will love reading about the big three.”
Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
“Weller rivetingly recounts these gutsy ladies’ time on the front lines of domestic and international war zones, political battlefields, and live morning television; the prejudices they’ve faced; the personal sacrifices made and losses suffered, as well as the backlashes that followed their every gain, fueling their ambition and building their resilience. Weller’s portrait of how these extraordinary women, in the words of Sawyer, turn “pain into purpose” is an inspiration for future generations of journalists.”
New York Daily News
“This immensely readable book made headlines before publication for its irresistible gossip. It is dishy, but it’s also a close up and very personal examination of three women who broke all the barriers in TV news in terms of what it took, where it got them and the price they paid.”
“Weller is brave to write biographies with more than one primary person at the center. Professional biographers know that such a decision complicates research and writing exponentially. In a previous book, Weller… tackled three female vocalists. That book… deeply touched the emotions of many readers I know, female and male. I suspect The News Sorority will, too. [It’s] a book that makes age-old gender battles seem fresh.”
“[T]his book is not just the story of the fight against sexism waged by three plucky but different dames. The News Sorority is also a tale about the bygone heyday of network news… Yet it is filled with important truths—Vanity Fair style—about feminism in the news workplace… Weller is terrific in citing genuine and unique strengths: Amanpour’s relentless reporting on the horrors suffered by civilians during the war in Bosnia and the plight of Darfur; Couric’s campaign against the colon cancer that killed her first husband, complete with her on-air colonoscopy; Sawyer’s instinct for inspirational pieces about people like the Chilean miners and her humane yet probing interview with Whitney Houston.”
“Weller’s book is sure to be catnip to TV obsessives and people in the news business.”
“This is an important book.”
“As she did in her fluid multitiered biography Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon—and the Journey of Generation, Weller takes apart feminist icons of her generation—those who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s—to see how they work and how they made it to prime time. Inspiring bios of today’s professional heroines.”
“Best-selling author Weller draws on interviews with their friends and colleagues to offer portraits of the will and ambition each mustered to achieve iconic status. Weller details the personal tragedies they’ve dealt with… [and] also explores the unique personalities of these women and the set expectations among broadcast executives and viewers that they have had to overcome.”
I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated with women who were little girls in one culture – your know, the one that said, “Be nice and wait your turn and don’t brag about yourself and maybe you should marry a lawyer…” – and defied those rules, in a big way, before or just when they were changing.
Diane Sawyer, the genteel, proper Southern beauty queen who ended up sleeping on baggage carts in airports and flying in dangerously tiny helicopters to crisis zones to beat out the competition…and not marrying (or having any furniture in her apartment) until she was 42. Katie Couric, who transferred the girlishness of her high school cheerleader and college sorority-sister self into a network-rescuing super-career as a morning star and then as the heir to Walter Cronkite – all while a far-too-young widow and single mother of two. Christiane Amanpour, a traditional housewife’s daughter with Farrah Fawcett hair and a Liza Minelli scrapbook who worked as a department store salesgirl after high school – and then became the bravest, most idealistic, and most policy-affecting war reporter of her time. These are the three women of The News Sorority.
Books that take the writer on unexpected journeys are always the most interesting for the author – and, hopefully, for the reader, too. Just as all three of these women morphed — by dint of their determination, charisma, strategic shrewdness, and love of the best storytelling of all: the truth! – into icons and pathbreakers, this book changed, for me, from its conception to its fruition. I started out thinking I was going to use Diane, Katie, and Christiane as markers for the change, over 40 years, in the idea of “what news is” – from a just-the-facts relaying of political events (by men in stentorian voices) to an understanding that societal changes, domestic life, psychology, and resonant human interest stories are as much “news” as legislation and wars. But as I researched and interviewed and wrote, I saw that the story was that of three women who woke up every morning of their lives refusing to say no. They believed in themselves when others didn’t, and they loved work the way, as girls, they were expected to love a man. You can’t bottle that kind of confidence and passion, but you can encounter in it a bracing lesson or two. And that, dear reader, is my hope for you.
– Sheila Weller