The ABC hype machine is in overdrive as it trumpets the retirement of Barbara Walters from on-air broadcasting. Walters’ last broadcast will be on the May 16 edition of “The View.” ABC will honor her with a two-hour prime-time special that evening.
ABC’s president, Anne Sweeney, gushed about Walters, “Her influence on television, and American culture, will resonate for decades to come.” The CEO of Disney, ABC’s parent company, Bob Iger, said, “In this business, there are legends, there are icons and then there is Barbara Walters.” His effusive praise went on, saying Walters “set the standard for journalistic excellence for more than 50 years.”
Walters did, indeed, make a name for herself and made mountains of money for ABC with her prime-time specials, and her work on the newsmagazine “20/20” and daytime chatfest “The View.” Her career deserves a retrospective, but from a standpoint outside of the ABC public relations office.
Walters broke into the media business as a behind-the-scenes writer at NBC, eventually working her way up to be co-host of “Today.” She entered the network news world with no journalistic credentials, a fact that bothered the grizzled news veterans of the day.
She made history in 1976 when ABC hired her to be the first woman to co-anchor a network evening newscast. The gimmick of hiring a “Today” host to do a serious newscast never worked. Walters had built her career as a morning gabber, and that didn’t translate to the serious news anchor desk.
Walters came on board when the ABC evening news show was mired in last place in the ratings. When she departed the anchor chair in less than two years, ABC was still dead last.
Walters’ co-anchor at ABC was veteran newsman Harry Reasoner. It was clear to viewers that Reasoner didn’t like working with Walters. Reasoner was a nationally recognized journalist who made a name for himself at CBS as a reporter and founding host of “60 Minutes.” ABC brought Walters on board with a million-dollar-per-year contract, five times what the veteran Reasoner was making at the time. No wonder he was miffed.