Last week, we asked readers “Do you remember the first time you saw Lily Tomlin?” Now we have an opportunity to ask the same question about another WVFC icon: Barbara Walters, who is 83 and is planning to retire next year. Do you remember her as a news anchor? A presidential debate moderator? A foreign correspondent, flying to a foreign capital to lure secrets out of some dictator (Fidel Castro, Muammar Ghaddafi) distracted by her smile? Or is it a newer memory, from the 20 years she’s been ruling a room with The View?
It’s been 50 years since a young news assistant named Barbara Walters first stepped in front of the camera. The list of “firsts” in any Walters discussion goes on and on. First woman to co-anchor The Today Show, to do the same in network news, to serve as sole producer for her own interview program for ABC News (while still serving as reporter and correspondent). And one of her “gotcha” interviews, with Monica Lewinsky in 1999, made a still-unmatched record for the highest ratings of any TV news interview.
Since she announced her retirement last week, journalists of every generation have cropped up to honor what an ABC News colleague called “literally one of the greatest people in the history of the business.” “I’m tempted to say that I really can’t imagine Barbara retiring,” Dan Rather told The Daily Beast. “Her whole life has been a triumph of the will.”
What Walters really means by retiring, of course, is retiring from The View: She’ll still produce her own specials, and no doubt corner a few more world leaders. Women journalists have tried to emulate Walters’s tireless work ethic, and have yearned for the personal gifts that made her such a longed-for interviewer. She’s one of the main reasons why political figures skip The View at their peril; and those who do visit have yielded often-unexpected results.
In the coming year, we’ll no doubt hear many more encomiums like that of fellow veteran Connie Chung in the MSNBC tribute below, and more stories about what makes Walters feel so irreplaceable. As the goodbyes and tribute shows roll out, we’ll keep an ear open to how Walters plans to use the “retirement,” once she’s free of that punishing weekly schedule. Something almost entirely new is about to be created. And Walters will probably teach us what reinvention means.
Connie Chung lauds Barbara Walters’ s storied career.