Barbara Walters Listed Flops Alongside Celebrated Interviews

Journalist questioned world leaders, entertainers, and a former White House intern
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2022 5:15 PM CST
Barbara Walters Listed Flops Alongside Famous Interviews
President Vladimir Putin, left, poses with Barbara Walters at the Kremlin on Nov. 5, 2001.   (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, File)

"I was never in awe of celebrities because they worked for my father," Barbara Walters once said; Lou Walters was a Boston booking agent who ran nightclubs, per the New York Times. But before she could ask her sometimes startling questions, Walters, who died Friday, had to land the interview. She was famously successful at getting the biggest stars and newsmakers to sit with her, setting ratings records and topics for national discussion. Though her questions could elicit news, Walters at times was criticized for asking trite or sensational ones, and she later conceded she regretted asking Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she might be, per the Washington Post. Her worst interview, Walters said years later, was of another actor, Warren Beatty. "I asked him 'How are you?'" she said. "There was interminable dead silence. Finally he said, 'Fine.'" Here are some of Walters' interviews that drew much attention:

Monica Lewinsky: Walters considered this two-hour 1999 interview, with the former White House intern who'd had an affair with President Bill Clinton, her biggest "get." It also was a ratings smash, per the New York Times, drawing about 50 million viewers. Among the questions, per the Hollywood Reporter, were: "You showed the president your thong underwear. Where did you get the nerve? I mean—who does that? Where was your self-respect, where was your self-esteem?" Asked what she would someday tell her children about the affair, Lewinsky said she'd say, "Mommy made a big mistake."
Fidel Castro: This was the dictator's first interview with a US journalist, after a two-year lobbying effort by Walters. The two toured Cuba for 10 days. "He called our interviews 'fiery debates,'" Walters later said, adding: "He made clear to me that he was an absolute dictator and that he was a staunch opponent of democracy. I told him that what we most profoundly disagreed on was the meaning of freedom."
Barbra Streisand and the Carters: The first of The Barbara Walters Specials premiered to record ratings in 1976, per the Los Angeles Times. Her guests were Barbra Streisand, who was promoting A Star Is Born, and President-elect Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter. Walters asked the next president if he and his wife sleep in separate beds. The answer was no.
Vladimir Putin: Walters asked the Russian president in 2001 if he'd ever had anyone killed. That answer also was a no.
Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat: The 1977 session was the first joint interview granted by the Israeli prime minister and the Egyptian president. They hesitated, per the Post, until Walters persuaded Begin, who then told Sadat, "Let's do a favor for our friend Barbara."
Mike Tyson and Robin Givens: Walters later said that if someone had never watched one of her interviews, she'd want them to see this one from 1988. Under her questioning, Givens opened up about violence in her home. "He shakes. He pushes, he swings. Sometimes I think he's trying to scare me," Givens said. "And just recently I've become afraid, I mean very, very much afraid," she added. Givens filed for divorce soon afterward.
Courtney Love: Walters' unsettling questions included whether Love blamed herself for the suicide of her husband, Kurt Cobain. When Love said she did, Walters tried to persuade her to absolve herself.
The Hollywood Reporter posted links to videos of many of the interviews here. (More Barbara Walters stories.)

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