Rabbitholed #82: The Ruthless Instinct and Endless Tabloid Trophies of Barbara Walters
"Give us a good rape, give us a good murder," she once wrote. "And we are guaranteed a successful broadcast."
She was savage. She was ruthless. She was a killer.
“Where was your self-respect?” Barbara Walters, the then-69-year-old most-famous-TV-reporter-on-the-planet once asked Monica Lewinsky in 1999 in what was then (and remains) the highest-rated TV special of all time, attracting 70 million viewers who tuned into the two-hour program and the “get” of Walters’ career. “Where was your self-esteem?”
Just 22 years earlier, Walters had sat down with the wildly famous country singer Dolly Parton and after first indirectly calling her a “hillbilly,” proceeded to very publicly take pity on Parton and how she looked and dressed.
“You don’t have to look like this,” Walters, ever prim and demure, told Parton. “You don’t have to wear the blonde wigs. You don’t have to wear the extreme clothes.”
In 1985, it was Barbra Streisand.
“Why didn’t you have your nose fixed?” Walters asked her. “Everybody must’ve said to you, ‘Have your nose fixed.’”
She called David Letterman smug. She called Mariah a bitch. She asked Putin if he’d ever had anyone murdered.
And that’s to say nothing of her most infamous gets—and how she secured them.
Indeed, to score her exclusive Attica sit-down one-on-one with homicidal maniac Mark David Chapman—the vicious assassin of John Lennon—Barbara Walters patiently wrote the deranged man for 12 years straight—and always on the anniversary of the day that he gunned down the Beatles’ singer in cold blood on December 8, 1980—until he finally buckled…and granted her wish. Even killers couldn’t say no to Barbara.
What an interview that was—but we’ll get to that later.
If there’s one thing to understand about the most famous female TV news woman of all time, it is this: Barbara Walters understood what worked.
And it wasn’t self-respect. It wasn’t self-esteem. It wasn’t modest dressing. And it certainly wasn’t a perfect nose.
It was pure shock and awe.
It’s the secret, as we’ll see, of how Barbara Walters, who died at the age of 93 on the second to last day of 2022, completely and competitively dominated across the decades, beating so many men who never thought she’d last, and indeed, tried their best to make sure that she wouldn’t.