A look back: Dianne Sawyer's history of exclusives in Middle East

In a sea of older male journalists, the always perfectly-coiffed Diane Sawyer stood out

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In a sea of older male journalists, the always perfectly-coiffed Diane Sawyer stood out as the sole female anchor of an American network nightly news program. After nearly five years in the anchor’s chair, Sawyer announced Wednesday that she will be stepping down to pursue other positions at ABC News, after a dazzling career filled with high-profile interviews with Middle Eastern leaders.

Sawyer’s post will be filled by her colleague David Muir, leaving the major American networks once again without any female nighttime news anchors.

Sawyer, who took over the job in 2009 from her former morning show co-anchor Charles Gibson, is now set to take the lead on special interviews for the network. She was the second woman to host a nightly news program on a major American network.

“For many years to come Diane will be a driving force at ABC News with her exceptional storytelling genius,” said James Goldston, president of ABC News, in a memo. “She is one of the giants of modern journalism. Her curiosity, passion and energy are unmatched, and I can’t wait to see where she’ll lead us next.”

In her over 25 years at ABC News, Sawyer has conducted several high-level interviews, notably her 1990 interview with then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The 1990 interview was Hussein’s first interview with a Western television station in over a decade. The interview was followed by controversy when, in a meeting between Hussein and then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, Hussein reportedly told Glaspie that the Sawyer interview “was cheap and unjust.”

Several media outlets have differed on the exact wording, but the exchange reflected Hussein’s distrust of the U.S. and its media.

The meeting between Glaspie and Hussein came eight days before Hussein invaded Kuwait. In reflection, years after her interview with Hussein, Sawyer said she realized that dictators “start hearing only what [they] want to hear. And so [they] become increasingly ignorant of the real world.”

In 2009, Sawyer landed an exclusive interview with then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The interview took place in the midst of heightened pressure on Iran from the international community with regard to its nuclear program. When Sawyer asked about the nuclear program and documents purporting that Iran had been testing a neutron initiator, Ahmadinejad became defensive. “I think that some of the claims made by the American and other Western statesmen about our nuclear issue have turned into a repetitive and tasteless joke. They always come up with papers saying that they have got documents. These are all baseless talk. From our point of view, they are of no legal value and not worth paying attention to. Even we are not ready to investigate them…I don't want to see them [the documents] at all. I don't. Because they are all fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government,” Ahmadinejad said.

During her eventful career, Sawyer has also conducted notable interviews with a variety of politicians and presidents including Fidel Castro of Cuba and Manuel Noriega of Panama among others. Sawyer got her start in journalism as a weather woman for her local television station in her home state of Kentucky. From there, she moved to Washington, DC before landing a job in the White House press office under former President Richard Nixon. She later transitioned to network news channels, where she remains to this day.

While Sawyer will work on special projects and interviews for ABC News, she will be replaced by her ABC colleague, David Muir, who was most recently the anchor of ABC’s News’ show 20/20. Sawyer’s move will leave the major networks’ nightly news programs anchored by men, and men alone: NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelly and now ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir.

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