Barbara Walters, whose career as a journalist has spanned over 50 years, has retired. Well, sort of. The pioneering 84-year-old female interviewer and reporter is stepping down from her position as co-host of the popular morning talk show, The View, but will stay on as executive producer.
Walters has had an impressive career that has opened the doors for other women in television journalism. She was born Barbara Jill Walters in Boston, Massachusetts in 1929. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English in 1953 and soon after began work in the broadcasting industry. Walters first came to prominence as an anchor on NBC’s Today Show in the 1960s, and stayed with the program for over a decade, building up a career as a respected journalist. Walters later accepted a job at ABC in 1976, becoming the first woman co-anchor of a network evening news program. She also moderated a presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford that same year. Walters began working at ABC’s news magazine show 20/20 in 1979, first as a correspondent and later as a co-anchor. During this time Walters became famous for her one-on-one interviews that often aired in television specials.
Barbara Walters scored dozens of interviews with prominent leaders and celebrities that would mark her as a “go to” interviewer. For example, one of her earliest and most historic interviews was between the president of Egypt and the prime minister of Israel in 1977, just as the two leaders were brokering a tenuous peace deal. That same year Walters also made history by interviewing controversial Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his first interview with an American journalist. She also landed an interview with President Richard Nixon--the first television interview the disgraced former leader had since his 1974 resignation. Her most watched interview was with Monica Lewinsky in the wake of the exposé of the latter’s affair with former President Bill Clinton. That program had 74 million viewers and remains the single most watched television interview ever.
Despite her success, Walters has faced her fair share of criticism throughout the years. Early on in her career she faced sexism for male colleagues who thought she was unqualified. She has also been accused of forwarding “personality journalism” rather than hard hitting journalism and of approaching world leaders and celebrities with the same tone and scope of questioning. She was also famously lampooned on Saturday Night Live by Gilda Radner. The “Baba Wawa” sketches parodied Walters’ speech impediment and mannerisms and at times chipped away at her credibility. Nevertheless, despite this challenges Walters’ legacy has emerged largely untouched and she has enjoyed prominence and acclaim far longer than many of her contemporaries.
The final episode of The View with Walters at the helm featured the return of all of the former co-hosts, including Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Debbie Matenopoulos, Joy Behar, Lisa Ling, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Rosie O’Donnell. They joined current co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, and Jenny McCarthy at a huge table to celebrate Walters’ life and career. The View, which has been on the air for 17 years, has changed the face of daytime television by featuring a roundtable of women of a variety of backgrounds debating, often passionately, everything from pop culture to politics, and sparked copycat programming such The Talk and The Real.
However, not only did her former co-hosts return to salute Walters, so did a plethora of women journalists, including Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Lara Spencer, Elizabeth Vargas, Amy Robach, Juju Chang, Deborah Roberts, Katie Couric, Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales, Tamron Hall, Maria Shriver, Cynthia McFadden, Kathy Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Jane Pauley, Gayle King, Gretchen Carlson, Deborah Norville, Paula Zahn, Connie Chung, and Joan Lunden. Oprah Winfrey was also a guest and revealed, “You're the reason I wanted to be in television.” Likewise, guests Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michael Douglas praised Walters as well.
Pop culture critic Mary McNamara notes that Walter’s “legacy is certainly most easily defined as that of being a pioneer — she was the first female morning show co-host, the first female co-anchor of a network nightly news show, the first female anchor to make a million dollars — but the bigger, wider wall she helped tear down was the one between hard news and feature reporting, exposing the intimate relations between power and influence, personal and political.”
During her final taping of The View, Barbara Walters summed up her legacy similarly, noting her pride at seeing “all the young women making and reporting the news…If I did anything to make that happen, that's my legacy.” No small legacy indeed.