by Sophia Madana
It’s Friday night. I’m five or six years old and I haven’t a care in the world. I’m wrapping up an excellent viewing of TGIF in my family room, my head in my mother’s lap as she’s scratching my head and stroking my hair.
I see flashing lights and hear intense music on the TV set as two charming older people appear on the screen, sitting at a desk holding papers.
“I’m Hugh Downs,” says the man.
“And I’m Barbara Walters,” says the woman, in a soft, yet energetic tone.
“And this… is 20/20.”
Not truly comprehending what she’s saying, I start to doze off as I passively listen to Barbara’s soothing voice. My mother shakes me awake a few minutes before 10 pm to alert me it’s time to go upstairs and call it a night. I beg to stay a few more minutes. I turn to the TV set once again just before she shuts it off.
“We’re in touch, so you be in touch. Goodnight.”
This became a staple routine in my household for years. My dad and I used to joke around with each other often. He used to start the line and point to me to finish.
“We’re in touch…” he would say.
“So you be in touch!” I would reply.
As a child I was simply mesmerized by Barbara. I think she reminded me of my grandmother who was also a mesmerizing character. Hugh Downs was all right I guess, but Barbara had it goin’ on. As I grew older and was soon able to stay awake through the whole broadcast, I would hang on her every word.
I was 12 when Barbara Walters started her pet project TV show, The View. It began in the summer so I watched it religiously before school started up again. Who needed Hugh Downs when you had three other mom-like ladies who could tell you the news? I remember the intro to the show wasn’t flashy lights. It was only Barbara’s voiceover explaining how she’d wanted to do a show like this for years allowing women to come together and talk about the issues of the day. At the time I’d never understood what kind of rarity that was—to hear a woman’s perspective of the news. I suppose I didn’t realize there needed to be a difference.
Clearly she was hitting her key demographic: 24-45 year-old women… and me: an awkward pre-teen oddly fascinated by stories such as developments in animal testing on beauty products and vaginal rejuvenation…
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I learned what having Barbara Walters in my home via my TV really meant. I studied journalism in college and a professor suggested that I begin to read bios of the people who I aspire to be in my career. My obvious, number one choice was Barbara and she had just published a hefty memoir that I looked forward to reading from cover to cover.
What I learned was that I admired a respectful woman based on the parts of her career that were the least exciting! My instincts told me she was fascinating but I had no idea to what extent. Barbara Walters shaped American history in a way that no one else ever could with her personable approach to interviews. She titled her book Audition overtly because she was a theater major in college. However, her stories lead me to believe it was because she felt she had to continuously prove herself to others, partly due to the fact that she was a woman.
She fought tirelessly for network anchor positions that were previously filled only by men. She pushed her way through much of the ‘Old Boys Club’ to get significant exclusive interviews and battled repeatedly to gain the respect of her interview subjects. Her sideline reports sculpted the way we now look at the Kennedy, Nixon and Carter administration as well as the others that follow, up until today. She bagged exclusives with world leaders during some of their most difficult conflicts, when their political reputation was at its worst. She and Walter Cronkite were consistently neck and neck in viewer ratings.
In the background, she dealt with a father whose failed investments put her family through turmoil, a sister who suffered from mental illness, a very eventful dating life that included courting Alan Greenspan and a married senator, adopting a daughter who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction and all of this is the just tip of the iceberg. If there’s one thing I came away with from her stories, it’s that no matter how put together your life looks, there’s usually a mess behind the curtain…that’s just the way life works.
And you know what? That makes me respect the woman even more. Her honesty among her resilience makes her an outstanding role model. To put things in perspective, without Barbara, there would be no Diane Sawyer, no Erin Andrews, no Katie Couric, no Connie Chung,… no Oprah Winfrey or Ellen Degeneres. Barbara Walters fought to give modern day women a voice. She created a new normative and paved the way for women of future generations to impact the world.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Babs is one badass bitch.