December 11, 2018

Sheila Weller Previews ‘The News Sorority’ at OPC Book Night

In her new triple biography, “The News Sorority,” Sheila Weller pulls a common thread from the vastly different lives of three female network TV news icons. Though Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Christiane Amanpour have divergent backgrounds and careers, Weller binds them together with the common qualities of tenacity and fierce persistence.

She read excerpts and shared some of her behind-the-scenes insights during a Book Night on Wednesday, Oct. 1.

Weller told the audience at Club Quarters she chose to write about these particular women because, despite their differences, they all possess charisma, ambition, strong work ethic and a talent for juggling life with hard assignments.

“The premise changed from: ‘How have women changed the idea of what news is,’ to: ‘these are three women who, each in a different way, have never woken up in the morning and said they couldn’t do something.’”

She read from a selection covering Amanpour’s early career as a correspondent in Bosnia.

“Refusing to let it die, refusing to leave Sarajevo, making CNN continue to report this story,” she said. Amanpour famously chastised President Bill Clinton during a teleconference for “flip-flopping” on his policy during the worst of the conflict.

“And that’s how he found out who she was,” Weller said.

She did not interview any of the three directly, but instead used a host of secondary sources for insight into their lives. 

OPC board member Emma Daly, who also worked as a journalist in Bosnia makes an appearance in the book.

“’It became normal to walk into a room at night and not reach for the light switch, because there was no electricity. It became normal to live without bathing for several days,’” Daly recounted in the book. 

Daly, who now works for Human Rights Watch, interviewed Weller during a Q&A session. She asked Weller if she thought women’s representation as reporters and anchors for TV news had worsened since the heydays of Amanpour, Couric and Sawyer.

“We’ve got three white guys again at 6:30. Of course 6:30 doesn’t mean what it used to,” she said, referring to network news anchors Brian Williams, Scott Pelley and David Muir. “Middle America likes to see a white man in that chair at 6:30.”

Asked what she learned that was most surprising about her three subjects, she mentioned that Amanpour once kept a Liza Minnelli scrapbook and took her first journalism course only because her younger sister had dropped out and she didn’t want to waste the tuition. She said Sawyer’s reputation as a “weather girl” was unfair because she had only done that for a short time before beginning her news career covering civil rights marches in Louisville, Kentucky.

Of Couric, she said she was surprised by her commitment to cancer activism, including the funding of clinical trials.

“I think she keeps that in the background. It’s almost ‘character collateral’ for her,” she said. “That’s a secret dimension that comforts her when she gets criticized, and she gets criticized a lot.” 

To hear a recording of Weller’s reading and comments during Book Night, click on the audio player below.