Katie shares stories about her relationship with legendary icon Barbara Walters over the years.
Legendary news anchor Barbara Walters has died, according to a statement from her spokesperson. She was 93 years old, and passed away on December 30th, “peacefully in her home surrounded by loved ones,” having lived a “life with no regrets.”
It’s hard to think of a woman whose shadow looms larger over the journalism industry than Walters, who was a feminist trailblazer and icon throughout her career, which spanned fifty-plus years. In honor of her memory, Katie shared a poignant tribute to Walters in an op-ed for the New York Times.
“Every female broadcast journalist working today owes a debt of gratitude to the O.G.,” Katie wrote.
“I know I do… I never would have become a co-anchor of the ‘Today’ show if it hadn’t been for this trailblazer. Because Barbara was the first, she had to draw the blueprint, construct the house and constantly keep the winds of sexism from knocking it down.”
Katie admired so much about Walters, but one of the traits she particularly appreciated was Walters’ journalistic instincts. “Barbara did have a knack for asking disarming questions that sometimes made both her subjects and her viewers squirm,” Katie noted.
“At the last minute, she asked Richard Nixon if he was sorry he didn’t burn the Watergate tapes. (He said he was.) She asked Barbra Streisand, ‘Why didn’t you have your nose fixed?’ and Monica Lewinsky if Bill Clinton was a ‘sensuous, passionate man.’ Barbara was fearless about going there — that’s what made her interviews so mesmerizing and ultimately revealing.”
Interestingly, Walters wasn’t just a mentor for Katie: she was also her direct rival for a period of time. When the two women were both working as major fixtures in journalism, they often competed for big scoops and interviews.
“When I was competing with her for a big get, I knew I had to gird myself for the battle,” Katie wrote. “I can’t count how many times, much to my chagrin, I got word that a sought-after newsmaker was sitting down for an exclusive interview with Barbara.”
“I was crestfallen when Christopher Reeve, the ‘Superman’ actor who became quadriplegic after an accident, and his wife, Dana — whom I had gotten to know and greatly admired — decided to take part in a primetime special with Barbara on ABC. But when I watched Barbara tell their story with such compassion and sensitivity, I became too moved and impressed to be disappointed.”
Over the years, Katie and Walters developed a complex, deeply layered relationship, one built upon mutual admiration and appreciation. You can read Katie’s full essay on Walters here, which includes the hilarious comment Walters made about Katie’s husband, John, when she realized they were in a serious relationship, as well as the heartwarming story behind a framed message from Walters that sits in Katie’s office to this very day.