Barbara Walters | Interview
Barbara Walters takes questions.
“What are you doing up so early?” Barbara Walters asks us. Why are we on the phone at 8am on a Saturday? To talk, of course, with the renowned interviewer about her new 600-page memoir, Audition (Knopf, $29.95). As the first woman to cohost the Today show, the first woman to coanchor an evening news show and a journalist who seems to have spoken with every major figure of the past 40 years, Walters, we figured, was worth an early rise.
Time Out Chicago: In writing about your family, the word guilt keeps coming up, especially around your developmentally challenged sister, Jackie. Do you still feel that?
Barbara Walters: I still feel, as a child, that perhaps I could have been more understanding. Especially when I was young, I resented her. She isolated me, not deliberately. So I still feel anguish for her. I still feel that I could have been more compassionate.
TOC: Every time you made a decision around your family, there was this sense of: But I should’ve done more.
Barbara Walters: Absolutely. Absolutely. I did so much, as it happens, because my father, who was a very large figure in show business with three of the most famous nightclubs in America, he lost everything. And I then supported my mother, father, sister and daughter before I was 30. I loved them very much, but it was a very heavy burden.
TOC: It seems you’ve really been drawn to powerful, conservative men.
Barbara Walters: It does, doesn’t it? Not necessarily conservative.
TOC: Your affair with the African-American Republican senator Ed Brooke has gotten a lot of attention.
Barbara Walters: Well, it did, yes, because I talked about it on Oprah.
TOC: There was also your romance with Alan Greenspan, your friendship with Roy Cohn—
Barbara Walters: I don’t think it was because they were Republican or conservative. I think it’s because they were very interesting men. Neither one of the husbands I really was close to were conservatives.
TOC: Why that pattern of, if not conservative, then—
Barbara Walters: Because I’m a strong woman. I was attracted to strong men. Now maybe that was because I grew up, as my father said, with a halo of fear, and so I was looking for someone strong and safe.
TOC: You’ve written five words I never thought I’d read: “a very pleasant Dick Cheney.”
Barbara Walters: He was when I first met him. A lot of people who knew Dick Cheney back in the days of Jerry Ford find him difficult to reconcile with the man today.
TOC: Many people have questioned George W. Bush’s intelligence. After interviewing him, do you?
Barbara Walters: No. No, I don’t think he is unintelligent. I think he’s stubborn and he totally believes in what he’s done. Uninformed, stubborn perhaps, but not unintelligent.
TOC: “Uninformed”—that’s not far from “unintelligent.”
Barbara Walters: I mean, I always thought it odd that, considering his father had been the head of the CIA and an ambassador to China and vice president, that his son, George W., didn’t travel, didn’t take his two daughters on some tour of Europe, never had a desire to see Paris or London or Rome. I thought that was—odd.
TOC: You lament that heads-of-state interviews gave way to the “Britney Spearses.” Did your own celebrity interviews contribute to that shift?
Barbara Walters: No, because for 20/20 I didn’t do celebrity interviews. I kept them very separate. What happened with the news magazines, with the exception of 60 Minutes, it was more and more of the celebrity who came out of rehab.… Everybody’s doing politics on cable, but there’s little on heads of state. Nobody knows who anybody is, or cares.
TOC: Did you worry your journalistic credibility could be jeopardized with The View?
Barbara Walters: It hasn’t seemed to be. I did worry about it, and that’s why I did not become the moderator ever, even after Rosie O’Donnell left. And I’m very careful not to give my political views. Nobody knows how I feel about subjects like right-to-choice or right-to-life.
TOC: But you say you’re pro-choice in the book.
Barbara Walters: Well, if I say I am in the book, then obviously I am in the book. I haven’t read every page of the book recently.
TOC: About your recent special, Live to 150—you’re turning 80 next year?
Barbara Walters: No. Thank God. Not yet. I have one fetish and that is I don’t discuss my age.
TOC: Last question: How’d I do?
Barbara Walters: [Laughs] Very good.
Barbara Walters will sign copies of Audition at Borders Michigan Avenue, Wednesday 28.