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Girls on top

by editor2
September 13th, 2006

Katie Couric is in the top job at CBS. Diane Sawyer is the highest paid news personality at ABC. And the fortunes of “Today” are riding on the shoulders of Meredith Vieira, who this morning makes her debut on NBC News’ top moneymaker.

“It’s like the insect world, isn’t it? There’s a queen bee and there’s the worker bees,” says network news analyst Andrew Tyndall.

In the anthill of TV journalism, Couric is on top of the heap, earning a reported $15 million annually, while Sawyer is said to rake in at least $13 million, much more than her former “Good Morning America” co-host, Charles Gibson.

Vieira’s defection from “The View” to “Today” comes with a hefty raise to $10 million a year, according to reports.

Vieira, long the breadwinner in the family (her husband, Richard Cohen, is an author and journalism professor at Columbia), has graduated to medallion member status.

But it wasn’t always that way.

“I was a quota,” says Vieira. “When I came into the business in 1975, it’s because I was a woman and they wanted a woman, and in my case they also looked at me as a minority.”

Vieira is of Portuguese descent, but the vowels in her surname often led people to assume she is Hispanic, she said.

“So that’s how I got in the door. And I think that’s how a lot of women were getting in the door.”

Women have always been paired with men in television news, but in the past they were hired for their fluff appeal, there to soften the hard edges of the male co-anchor. Now they must be capable of doing the very serious interviews with intellectuals and heads of state while effortlessly segueing to cooking demonstrations and home decor tutorials. And that’s one reason they can command the kind of money and power once lavished exclusively on men.

“Women can switch roles more easily between doing the hard news stuff and doing the news-you-can-use, friendly stuff,” says Tyndall.

“A woman doesn’t look so silly interviewing a senator as a man does wearing an apron doing a cooking segment.”

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