For female journalists, Barbara Walters has always been one of the biggest global references. Her way of speaking, softly but straight to the point, her bombastic interviews with celebrities and polemics, she was undoubtedly a pioneer, as all obituaries point out. Oprah Winfrey, today is even better known than Barbara, said that “I wouldn’t have Oprah without Barbara”. And you’re right (as always). And in the early hours of the last day of 2022, Barbara Walters passed away at home, aged 93. The cause has not yet been disclosed.
Barbara Walters began working as a journalist when the medium was still dominated by men, back in the 1950s. He left university straight to the CBS newsroom, working on the network’s morning paper. Years later, she moved to NBC, where she started as a researcher and editor, but being an agile and insightful reporter, she managed to stand out with increasingly relevant stories. She was one of those chosen to travel with the then-First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, gradually gaining prestige.
Men called her “competitive”, many highlighted her rivalry with Diane Sawyer, and others defined her as “obstinate” to get the biggest interviews. The winners were the viewers. “If it’s a woman, it’s caustic; if it is a man, it is authoritative. If it’s a woman, it’s very insistent, if it’s a man, it’s aggressive in the best sense of the word,” he commented on criticism of his style.
Many also complained that she “blurred” the line between journalism and entertainment, always finding an interviewee’s vulnerabilities to make them cry and also expressing her personal opinions, as she did with Monica Lewinsky in 1999.
From the day she entered journalism to making history as the first woman to host the morning news show Today, it took Barbara 20 years. Soon after, she broke another taboo by signing a $1 million contract with ABC to co-host The Evening News, becoming the first woman to host a major network nightly news show and, in addition, the highest-paid TV journalist at the time. She moved to the prestigious program 20/20 a few years later, where she became one of the presenters and it was there that she made the most history with a series of exclusive interviews, whether with celebrities, politicians, or even criminals. She interviewed every American President since Richard Nixon (except Donald Trump, as American newspapers remember, who spoke with her before being elected), and being in front of Barbara Walters was confirmation that that story was important.
After 25 years, she left 20/20 and created The View, a women’s roundtable where women of different ages and backgrounds discuss all kinds of topics. She stayed in the program until she retired in 2014. At the time, she said she was satisfied with all the victories she had already achieved.
Barbara Walters was a reference in American pop culture, being parodied by comedians and not always praised by colleagues. But it was arguably unique. She died at home, surrounded by her family who, paraphrasing Edith Piaf, said in a note that the journalist lived without regrets. She is one of the main female references of the 20th century and especially for journalists who dreamed of telling stories and talking to interesting people. There are no obstacles to true talent. R.I.P. Barbara Walters.