Latest News & Current Events

Barbara Walters to retire - but not just yet

Barbara Walters the grande dame of American TV journalism announced her retirement on Monday, but she's not going just yet. Walters who has interviewed every sitting US president since Richard Nixon says her last day in front of camera will not be until May 2014.

 Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters on The View: 'I've been thinking about it for a long time, and this is what I want to do.' Photograph: Lou Rocco/AFP/Getty Images

Over the next 12 months, ABC, the network that has hosted her for the past 37 years, will be awash with Barbara Walters idealiziation.

There will be the final interview with the Obamas, a series of final Barbara Walters specials and a primetime retrospective of her TV career spanning more than half a century. As fellow ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos put it in a tweet: "Congrats to Barbara Walters on a spectacular, path-breaking career. Can't wait to celebrate this whole year."

Setting the tone for what is to come, the Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, rolled out its big guns to hear Walters announce her future departure on The View, the morning chat show she co-created in 1997. Bob Iger, Disney's chairman and chief executive, recalled how he first met her in 1976 when he was a lowly production assistant and was asked to deliver something to her dressing room. "You were extremely nice, you put me at ease, and from then on you called me Jim. My name is Bob," Iger said.

Walters, 83, recalled how she was first hired in 1961 on a 13-week contract with the NBC Today Show. She said there was no-one as surprised by her success as she was: "I wasn't beautiful like many of the women on the show before me, and I had trouble pronouncing my Rs – I still do."

But she said she was proud to have permanently changed the description on women on the show from "girls" to "co-hosts". In 1976, she was made the first female anchor on an evening network news programme, on rival ABC News.

A sequence of clips aired on The View as a foretaste of the blitz that lies ahead showed some of Walters' most memorable moments: crossing the Bay of Pigs with Fidel Castro; interviewing together the two previous enemies Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel; asking Boris Yeltsin on air whether he drank too much and Vladimir Putin if he had ever ordered anyone to be killed.

"It's been a joyful , rewarding, challenging, fascinating and occasionally bumpy ride and I wouldn't change a thing. It's my decision, I've been thinking about it for a long time, and this is what I want to do," she said.

Not everyone though has bought into the veneration of the "ground-breaker" and "pioneer" that will set the tone for the Barbara Walters farewell tour in the coming year. Alex Pareene in an article titled "Good riddance, Barbara Walters" in Salon said she was "probably as responsible as any other living person for the ridiculous and sorry state of American television journalism … Her entire public life has been an extended exercise in sycophancy and unalloyed power worship."

"Her legacy as a breaker of barriers is sound," Pareene concluded. "Her habit of using her position to protect and cover for some of the worst abusers of power in the world should also be remembered as we are forced to spend the next year celebrating her achievements."

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