Barbara Walters: The First Woman Nightly News Anchor Ever
ABC Evening news co-anchors Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner on September 30, 1976. Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives via Getty Images
For over 50 years, Barbara Walters was a familiar face on TV news, starting with The Today Show, and continuing through the ABC Evening News, 20/20, and The View.Though she broke numerous barriers, notably becoming the first woman to co-anchor a network's national news show in 1976, she will always be remembered for her interviewing style and results. Walters spoke with heads of state including Fidel Castro of Cuba, Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia, the Shah of Iran and Muammar Gadaffi of Libya.
Conversations With The Famous And Powerful
It didn’t matter whether Walters was interviewing Margaret Thatcher or Beyonce, she worked incredibly hard at devising questions that everyone wanted answered. She also wasn’t afraid of asking the most poignant query possible. Even if that meant directly asking a dictator about their brutal treatment of women and children. Barbara Walters was also a titan in the news during a time when women were rarely allowed in the door.
An Exotic But Difficult Upbringing Laid The Groundwork
Barbara’s father, Lou Walters owned a string of nightclubs called the Latin Quarter. They were located all over the east coast so the Walters moved around a lot. So not only was Barbara introduced to cities all over the country but the cast of characters, showgirls, bartenders, and comedians who worked the nightclubs. Walters credits part of her interview skills from knowing that “behind these fantasy figures were real people.”
She was also the person in her late twenties who saved her family from mounting debt and legal troubles stemming from her father’s business along with her sister’s cognitive disabilities. “In my 20s, when I should have been having this wonderful time, I was working and supporting my family. Most men, if they hated the job, or if it was boring to them or beneath them, they had to work. The women didn’t. So the women got married or they took time off or they took a trip, if they had the wherewithal. I had to work. That’s the difference. That’s why I am where I am today.”
Kicking Down The Door
Prior to Barabara Walters, women on the news were hired more for their looks than their abilities. The Today Show hired Walters after a string of “so-called Today Girls,” who read the news and served as eye candy, didn’t work out. When her on-air presence, solid reporting, and ability to track down a story captivated audiences, executives finally realized what they had in her.
As Katie Couric said of Walters, “She rattled a lot of cages before women were even allowed into the zoo.” Despite unquestionably blazing a trail for women and minorities, Walters doesn’t see herself that way. “Do I see myself as a feminist idol? No. I don’t see myself as anything. I do not see myself as a trailblazer. I don’t think about that. I get up, and I do my day, and I do my work, and I see friends. But I don’t sit and think about how I see myself, or what my legacy is.”
A Woman On Top
In 1976, after kicking ass and taking names on the Today Show and ABC News as a correspondent, Walters became the most highly paid news person on television with an annual salary of $1 million. She became the first woman to anchor network news while also hosting four prime-time specials and appearing on other networks and documentaries as well! Her salary more than doubled those men like Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, and Harry Reasoner.
Other networks decried her exorbitant salary, worried their own anchors would demand a raise. Nevertheless, ABC knew that only 13% of their audiences preferred a male anchor and Walter’s presence would greatly help them with new advertiser revenue.
Unlucky In Love
Walters has interviewed every President and First Lady since Nixon to Obama. She owns the record for the highest-rated interview ever for her sit down with Monica Lewinsky, which drew more than 76 million people. She asked Bill Gates if it bothered him that people thought of him as a nerd and grilled Hillary Clinton on “How could you stay in this marriage?” The woman was utterly fearless.
Perhaps the only area in which she didn’t succeed wildly was her love life. She married three men four times and all ended in divorce, one twice obviously. However, she says that all of her marriages ended amicably without strife. From 1997 into the 21st century, she closed out her broadcast career as a co-host of The View. Walters' on-air appearance was a 2015 interview with presidential candidate Donald Trump.
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