Op-Ed: Barbara Walters’s Legacy as a Pioneer and Role Model

We deserve to win the big fight, just as Walters won hers.

Barbara+Walters+takes+a+phone+call+at+her+desk+in+New+York+City%2C+circa+1964.+Courtesy+of+Hulton+Archive.+

Barbara Walters takes a phone call at her desk in New York City, circa 1964. Courtesy of Hulton Archive.

Sophie Caulton, Staff Writer

On December 30, at age 93, legendary newswoman, Barbara Walters, passed away. She was the first woman co-host of the “Today” show and anchor of a network evening news program. In 1976, she was known as the “million-dollar baby” due to her $5 million contract, making her the highest-paid news anchor in history at that time.

Walters is famous for her interviews with celebrities and politicians in which she delved into their personal lives, revealing emotions and intimate details that seemed impenetrable. She had a talent for coaxing people who previously refused to give interviews to get on camera. Her interviews were some of the most famous of all time. For example, Barbra Streisand appeared in the first edition of “The Barbara Walters Special” in 1976. Walters interviewed many political leaders, but Fidel Castro in 1977 was perhaps the most impressive. Others include Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Katharine Hepburn, Sean Connery, Courtney Love, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Patrick Swayze.

Her forthright questioning tactics made Walters’ interviews unique and personable. Few journalists had the guts to tackle such sensitive topics as she did. One of her most iconic questions was when she asked Robert Kardashian, “Do you think OJ Simpson is guilty?” He replied, “I have doubts.” Walters had a remarkable talent for getting people to trust her and speak truthfully. This allowed her, in 1999, to get the interview that everyone wanted: Monica Lewinsky, former President Bill Clinton’s White House intern with whom he had a sex scandal. An estimated 74 million viewers tuned in to 20/20 to watch. In 2001, Walters questioned Vladimir Putin, “Have you ever ordered anyone killed?” to which he answered, “Nyet.” One of her most controversial interviews was with Mike Tyson and his former wife, Robin Givens. Walters directly addressed abuse rumors when she point blank asked Givens, “Does he hit you?” While sitting right next to Tyson, Givens revealed his true nature and admitted that she had “become afraid. I mean, very, very much afraid.” One week after the interview, Givens filed for divorce.

In an industry that was unfriendly to women, Walters broke boundary after boundary. Women are conditioned from a young age to be agreeable and meek, but Walters was consistently candid in her interviews, asking forthright questions that were sometimes criticized as impolite and invasive. She once said that she tells people, especially young women, to “fight the big fights. Don’t fight the little fight. Be the first one in, be the last one out. Do your homework, and choose your battles. Don’t whine, and don’t be the one who complains about everything. Fight the big fight.” Let her be an inspiration to women who are hesitant to be trailblazers in their careers because they are afraid to be assertive or confrontational. We deserve to win the big fight, just as Walters won hers.