Barbara Walters would later downplay her relationship with the feminist
movement, her early career is marked by a number of moves that were
in part responsible for breaking down the all-male facade of U.S.
network news. A Today Show regular for 15 years, including
two years as the show's first official female co-host, she was a
visible presence in, at first, the program's "feature" segments,
then going on to covering "hard news"--including serving as part
of the NBC News team sent to cover President Richard Nixon's historic
visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972. Her most controversial
"first" involved her decision in 1976 to leave Today to co-anchor
the ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner (the first time
a woman was allowed the privileged position of network evening anchor)
for a record-breaking seven-figure salary. Public reaction to both
her salary and approach to the news, which critics claimed led to
the creeping "Infotainment" mentality which threatens traditional
(male) reporting, undercut ABC News ratings, and she was quickly
bumped from the anchor desk.
this public relations disaster, Walters undertook a comeback on
ABC with The Barbara Walters Specials, an occasional series
of interviews with heads of state, newsmakers, sports figures and
Hollywood celebrities that have consistently topped the ratings
and made news in themselves. In 1977, she arranged the first joint
interview with Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime
Minister Menachem Begin; she has since interviewed six U.S. Presidents,
as well as political figures as diverse as British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, U.S. presidential contender Ross Perot, and Russian
Federation President Boris Yeltsin. In 1984, ABC returned her to
an anchor desk as co-host (with Hugh Downs) of the newsmagazine
Despite her status as both national celebrity and the recipient
of numerous awards from journalists, television broadcasters and
women's groups, public reaction to Walters has remained ambivalent,
perhaps as a result of changing notions of the nature of "news"
in the television era. Walters's interviews have not been limited
to figures embroiled in the matters covered by "hard news" subjects
like politics and war; many of her more popular specials (and 20/20
segments) have been celebrity interviews and chats with more
tawdry news figures. Certain memorable moments--such as the time
she asked actress Katherine Hepburn what kind of tree she would
like to be--have worked to undercut her image as a serious journalist.
And the late Gilda Radner's classic parody of Walters's distinctive
style as "Baba Wawa" on Saturday Night Live remains popular
as a timeless critique of the cult of personality in television
began her career in broadcast journalism as a writer for CBS News.
She also served as the youngest producer with NBC's New York station,
WNBC-TV, before joining Today. After less than a year as a writer
for Today, she was promoted to reporter-at-large (or, as then-host
Hugh Downs described her, "the new 'Today girl'"), although gender
politics at the time severely constrained her role. According to
Walters, she was not allowed to write for the male correspondents
or to ask questions in "male-dominated" areas such as economics
or politics, and she was forbidden to interview guests on-camera
until all of the men on Today had finished asking questions.
Thanks in part to Walters's contributions, these commandments no
Photo courtesy of Barbara Walters
WALTERS. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 25 September
1931. Educated at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York,
B.A. in English, 1953. Married: 1) Robert Katz (annulled), children:
Jacquieline Dena; 2) Lee Guber, 1963 (divorced, 1976); 3) Merv Adelson,
1986 (divorced, 1992). Worked as a secretary at an advertising agency;
assistant to the publicity director, NBC's WRCA-TV, New York; producer
and writer, WRCA; writer and producer, WPIX Radio and CBS-TV; worked
for a theatrical public- relations firm; hired for NBC's Today show,
1961; regular panel member, 1964-74; co-host, 1974-76; moderator
of the syndicated program Not For Women Only, 1974-76; newscaster,
the ABC Evening News, 1976-78; host,The Barbara Walters
Special, since 1976; co-host, ABC-TV news show 20/20,
since 1979. L.H.D.: Ohio State University, 1971, Marymount College,
1975, and Wheaton College, 1983. Recipient: National Association
of Television Program Executives Award, 1975; International Radio
and Television Society's Broadcaster of the Year, 1975; Emmy Awards,
1975, 1980, 1982, 1983; Lowell Thomas Award, 1990; International
Women's Media Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 1992; Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame, 1990. Address: 20/20,
147 Columbus Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, New York 10023, U.S.A.
Today Show (co-host from 1974-76)
1974-76 Not For Women Only
1976-78 ABC Evening News (co-anchor)
1976- The Barbara Walters Specials
early 1970s; Moderator, early 1970s.
to Talk to Practically Anybody About Practically Anything. New
York: Doubleday, 1970.
Carter, Bill. "Tender Trap." The New York Times Magazine,
23 August 1992.
Judith S. Women in Television News. New York: Columbia University
Martin. "Dangerous Liaisons: Journalists and Their Sources."
Columbia Journalism Review (New York), July-August, 1989.
Mark Crispin. "Barbara Walters's Theater of Revenge." Harper's
Magazine (New York), November 1989.
Oppenheimer, Jerry. "The Barbara: 20/20 Vision Reveals Ms. Walters
as Queen B." Washington (D.C.) Journalism Review, May 1990.
Paisner, Daniel. The Imperfect Mirror: Inside Stories of Television
Newswomen. New York: Morrow, 1989.
Julia. "Woman in the News." Vogue (New York), February 1992.
Marlene. Waiting for Prime Time: The Women of Television News.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Steve. "Barb's Wired." Time (New York), 6 November 1995.
also Anchor; Gender
and Television; News,