Television interviews are the way they are today in part because of Barbara Walters. During her fifty-year long career in broadcasting, Walters has interviewed heads of state, celebrities, embattled public figures — sometimes making history, not just witnessing it. She worked her way up from a "Today" girl and fought to be able to ask questions once co-host Frank McGee asked the first three, and went after her own interviews.
She famously went head-to-head with Walter Cronkite, and Bob Schieffer called her the "toughest competitor" he ever encountered. Below, take a look back at some of the broadcaster's biggest interviews.
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin
Walters sat down with former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in a historic joint interview — right as the two countries began the peace process — in 1977. Walters traveled to Israel to cover Sadat's visit, which was the first time an Egyptian president was visiting Israel since its founding. She recalled going to Egypt on the orders of ABC News, which had learned that was where Walter Cronkite was, and securing an interview with Sadat. Later, she traveled to Jerusaleum to interview Begin, and he told her that he had asked Sadat if they could do his interview with Walters together.
She said that when people ask her which of her guests she admires the most, her answer is Sadat.
Walters' interview with Monica Lewinsky was watched by 74 million people — a record for a news program. Last year, Walters revealed that she is still in touch with Lewinsky "from time to time," and that she would love for Lewinsky to be her last interview.
Walters' 1977 interview with Fidel Castro made history for being his first interview with an American journalist. She traveled to Cuba and they spent 10 days traveling through Cuba together, him driving a Jeep and her in the passenger seat holding his gun. Walters has firmly denied rumors that they ever had a romantic relationship.
Oprah teared up during a very personal interview with Walters in 2010. The media mogul discussed her friendship with Gayle King, saying, "I don't know a better person," and said she was crying because she had never told Gayle that. Oprah also addressed rumors that she is a lesbian. "I'm not a lesbian. I'm not even kind of a lesbian," she said. "And the reason why it irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I'm lying. That's number one. Number two: why would you want to hide it? That is not the way I run my life."
Shah Reza Pahlavi
Walters interviewed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi at his palace in Iran in 1977, two years before he was overthrown. She asked the shah, who was sitting next to his wife, whether he believed a woman could rule. He said no and that he did not believe women have the same intelligence or ability as men. Walters asked his wife what she thought of his answer. She said, "I don't think you really believe that," adding, "But what have men done to the world, really?"
"I could only imagine their conversation in their bedroom that night," Walters wrote in her memoir "Audition."
Walter's interview with Jiang, then-secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, in 1990 made headlines. She asked him what became of the tank man in Tiananmen Square, and his response caught her off-guard.
"It takes a lot to stop Barbara Walters in her tracks," the New York Times wrote about the exchange. "But when Jiang Zemin, China's party leader, declares in an interview to be shown on the ABC News program '20/20' tonight that the massacre of hundreds of Chinese in Beijing last June was 'much ado about nothing,' even she is taken aback."
Walters was also the first American journalist to interview Russian president Vladimir Putin. She asked him if he has ever ordered anyone killed, to which he responded, "Nyet."
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