NOW, Feminist Groups Protest ABC 'Discrimination' Against Elizabeth Vargas

May 29th, 2006 7:08 AM

The National Organization for Women doesn't seem to be the powerhouse it used to be. Paul Farhi reports in Monday's Washington Post that the old group is sending a letter (along with other feminist groups) protest the demotion of Elizabeth Vargas as anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight." Question: does it take a week to get a letter together?

Feminists protesting the demotion as pregnancy discrimination -- and not the ABC newscast's drop in the ratings picture -- is entirely predictable. But why so slow? It's also entirely predictable that the Post reporter only called the feminists "women's groups" as he rolled out their complaints:

"It seems unlikely to me, having survived and thrived through her first pregnancy, that she would logically give up the top job in TV a few months out, anticipating she couldn't handle it," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "It just doesn't strike me as a logical explanation. I don't think there are too many men who would be happy to be removed from the anchor chair."

Gandy added that ABC, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., "doesn't look like a very woman-friendly or family-friendly workplace."

An ABC News spokesman defended the network, saying it has accommodated several mothers of young children, including anchors Cynthia McFadden of "Nightline," Kate Snow of the weekend edition of "Good Morning America" and Vargas herself.

NOW has joined with two other prominent women's organizations to protest Vargas's departure. In a letter that will be sent today to ABC News President David Westin and Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney, the organizations call Vargas's status "a clear demotion" and characterize it as "a dispiriting return to the days of discrimination against women that we thought were behind us."

In addition to Gandy, the letter is signed by Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Susan Scanlan, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, an umbrella group that represents organizations with about 10 million members.

The letter suggests Vargas's job change is parallel to ABC's cancellation of "Commander in Chief," a fictional program featuring Geena Davis as the first female president. The network has "now managed to eliminate two of the country's most visible women role models and high achievers from your television lineup," the letter says.

Vargas said she "appreciated" the "women's groups," but said her situation was "unusual and complicated," since she became pregnant just months after being awarded the job, and her co-anchor Bob Woodruff was sidelined after being caught in an explosion in Iraq.