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‘Drunk’ Diane Sawyer: Should we really be laughing at her?

This photo released by ABC shows Diane Sawyer, left, and George Stephanopoulos during election night coverage early Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, from ABC News' Times Square Studios in New York.

DONNA SVENNEVIK/AP/NBC

Snicker away, but it's just not that funny.

Diane Sawyer's alleged "drunken" performance during election coverage last night has become a "Twitter hit," as CTV announced, with plenty of jokes and quippy puns. Had ABC's co-anchor started "celebrating" too early? Atlantic, in collecting the most clever tweets, quoted this one: "And Diane Sawyer declares tonight's winner is … chardonnay!" Gawker produced a video montage of her more egregious slurs and stumbles. This is "massively entertaining," another commentator on Twitter observed. The ones who came to Sawyer's defence were the minority. One tweeted: "Hate to be a downer, but she was probably just tired" – a reasonable conclusion given that Sawyer had been covering Hurricane Sandy extensively before the last days of the campaign.

Tired or drunk, there's no doubt it was a pretty rough performance, with Sawyer rambling on, stumbling over President Barack Obama's name, and, as Gawker captures it, making a bizarre comment about the exclamation point in the president slogan.

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But should we be laughing at her?

It's true that it was a long election, we're all feeling a little giddy now that it's finally over, and there was a certain tedium to the long hours of election-night coverage. The Atlantic points out that it's not the first time that it's been suggested Sawyer was drunk on camera – the morning after the Obama's inauguration in 2009, she appears on Good Morning America in similar word-slurring condition.

On the face of it, her behaviour suggests there may be something serious going on here – and it's bad form to be having so much fun at her expense. Taking gleeful delight in the mishaps and meltdowns of celebrities is regular sport, and when Mel Gibson goes on one of his racists rants, sympathy is hard to find. But Whitney Houston's very public meltdown (brought to a head in an interview with Sawyer, actually) ended with a very tragic punch line – and an outpouring of support and concern that was hypocritical in the aftermath of her death.

It's not yet known what was up with Diane Sawyer last night, but we should hold back on the giggles. Maybe she really was just as weary as the rest of us. And maybe not. But consider the rising rates of alcoholism – and the impact that is having on people's livelihoods and families – it's nothing to joke about. Would we have the same chuckles over someone with a mental illness, for instance?

Twitter has already proven it can be a vehicle for the best of human nature – witness the support and help that it provided those caught up in Hurricane Sandy. But too often, it's an anonymous, sneering forum for the worst side of ourselves. And that's not good for anyone.

Harmless fun or potshots in poor-taste. What did you think of the Web's reaction to Diane Sawyer's on-camera behaviour?

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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