Former ABC News Chief David Westin Encounters Learning Curve As Rookie Anchor David Westin was president of ABC News for nearly 14 years and often tangled with his anchors. Now he's the anchor of the morning show on Bloomberg TV, and is learning how much he really didn't know.
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Former ABC News Chief Encounters Learning Curve As Rookie Anchor

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Former ABC News Chief Encounters Learning Curve As Rookie Anchor

Former ABC News Chief Encounters Learning Curve As Rookie Anchor

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There comes a moment when many a boss looks at the more fun jobs around them and thinks, I could do that. For years, colleagues told former ABC News president David Westin that he'd be a terrific news anchor. Now, as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Westin is one.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: On any given day, you can find David Westin interviewing financial analysts or cabinet secretaries and CEOs, such as GM's Mary Barra.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID WESTIN: Is it particularly difficult for you, being at the top of the business, as you say, and not having the stock price where you like it to be?

FOLKENFLIK: Westin is many things - a University of Michigan-trained corporate lawyer, a former Supreme Court clerk and a former network president, exactly none of which qualifies him precisely to anchor a broadcast on financial news. Yet, now he's become - and let's use the term of art here - the talent.

You used to be the head of a pretty major news shop yourself. What the hell are you doing now in front of the camera?

WESTIN: Well, that's a very good question. It's not something I ever thought I would do.

FOLKENFLIK: At ABC, Westin oversaw coverage of the Clinton impeachment, 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He guided the network during the death of his chief anchor, the New York killing of another covering combat, the substance abuse tribulations of a third. He also cut back staff deeply at the behest of ABC's corporate owners. These days Westin, sets his alarm at 3:45 to prep for his shift as anchor on Bloomberg TV's morning show, called "Bloomberg ."

WESTIN: There are very few jobs you can have where they pay you a reasonable amount of money to come in every day, learn about things other people don't know about and then tell other people about it in a way they can understand and retain and use. That's a really good job. And on a really good day, make a difference.

FOLKENFLIK: He's on the air three hours a day, and it is something of a work-in-progress. Westin says the challenge is invigorating, the learning curve steep.

WESTIN: Television news is a true team effort. I knew that. I said that. I didn't appreciate the extent to which, when you're out there and it's your face and your voice going out, when someone makes a mistake - you know, the prompter's wrong, they write the wrong things in there - nobody says, oh, the control room did something wrong. Nobody says that producer made a mistake. It's you.

DIANE SAWYER: I'm told that every management at every network calls us anchor monsters. I'm just throwing that out there, not that it could possibly ever be warranted.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Diane Sawyer, former host of ABC's "Good Morning America" and former anchor of "World News." She was once Westin's star employee - now, something of a mentor.

SAWYER: This is my little chuckle. This is my tiny, little chuckle at the ironies of life.

FOLKENFLIK: Sawyer says Westin was incredibly supportive as ABC's chief news executive, but didn't always understand what she was saying.

SAWYER: When you came after a broadcast and said, let's talk about the broadcast, he thought that you were looking for reassurance or you were looking for compliments, when, in fact, you were saying, tell me - did we land the broadcast? Westin says he's apologized to Sawyer and to former ABC anchor Charlie Gibson.

WESTIN: I've said, it's not that I didn't believe you when you'd say these things, but I sort of thought, yeah, but they're just being really finicky, or they're awfully sensitive, they're temperamental, they're talent. And now I realize, oh, I see why they were so upset by that. I see why that was so frustrating to them. I understand why they lost their temper over that.

FOLKENFLIK: Westin says the idea to join Bloomberg as an anchor was not his, but Gibson's.

WESTIN: Because Charlie had, in the past, tried to persuade me to succeed him as a co-anchor of "Good Morning America."

FOLKENFLIK: You're kidding me.

WESTIN: No, it's absolutely true. And he was - Charlie was serious about it. And I said to him - and I believe I was right - I said, let's just imagine with The New York Times piece reads - David Westin, president of ABC News, appoints himself anchor of "GMA." How does that read?

FOLKENFLIK: Years later, Westin misses little on air. He's a careful listener, a quick study with a lawyer's ability to drill down. But he's not perfectly polished. The morning I visited, Westin stumbled over the name of a financial analyst. Given Bloomberg's modest ratings, the stakes would not seem to be enormous, yet he apologized, genially on the air and profoundly afterward, explaining just why it happened. I asked, what would the news president David Westin say to the anchor David Westin about that? It doesn't matter who's at fault, Westin replied. It's all on you. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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