On Your Way Out

She’s leaving. What a shame. What a pity.

Can I make a confession? I think that Barbara Walters is largely responsible for the sad state of our news media.  She started the trend that became the norm:  news that focuses on the scandal, the people, the intrigue instead of the, ummmm, news.

Yup, I lay it all on Baba.

Before Baba, TV news was above the fray.  Remember Cronkite?  Huntley/Brinkley?  Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner?  News was news.  It focused on what happened. On the event and its place in the current day and its context in history in a serious way.   It was informative, not entertaining.  And that, I believe, is how it should be.  Because news is serious business and it should be treated as such.  Is it today?  I don’t think so.  Had Barbara Walters never existed, I honestly don’t think we could have the clowns at Fox — or on the left either.  News was news and sitcoms and variety shows took care of entertainment.

Since Baba, news has been completely people-focused. Everything is personality – nothing is action. I think that is very wrong.

Since Baba, news-folk have looked for the scandal, for the tears in the story — instead of the story itself. No story is complete without tears. Without scandal. Without some personality saying or doing something that can then be replayed, discussed, analyzed as if that matters more than the results of their actions.

Of course I’m biased.

I knew Harry Reasoner, slightly. One of his kids was (and is) a close friend of mine. So I was in and out of his house growing up. He was a great dad – involved but not intrusive. Interested. Humorous – very humorous.

I hung around his house when the folks in the Nixon White House took a particular dislike to him. That alone is a feather in his cap.

I hung around his house when he became anchor of the ABC Evening News.

[I once arrived at his front door in full makeup for a play – I had to borrow a prop from his daughter.  My makeup consisted of dirt, smeared on my face, a torn dress – a rag, really. Bare, dirty feet. He and his wife met me at the front door in formal attire – they were having a seriously fancy party. His comment was classic: “Why Elyse,” he said with a delighted chuckle (having already seen the play),  “you dressed so nicely for our party! Thanks for coming!” Mortified, I ran upstairs hopefully without being seen by the crowd of Who’s Who in the living room.

I hung around his house when Baba joined him. And when he went back to 60 minutes.

I had few substantive conversations with Mr. Reasoner. I never tried to learn the scoop. In fact, it was only years later that I understood what had happened to him.

Harry Reasoner was not, from everything I ever saw, a sexist. He was a newsman who cared about words and integrity and getting the facts, ma’am. He believed that the news should be the story. Not the person who deliverd the news He believed in getting the story right and in writing well. In letting the event tell the story.

Baba Wawa is retiring – at least in part.

But today will be her last time on “The View.”  But in the way she has done for five decades, Baba Wawa makes herself the story. And that is a huge part of the problem she created in the news industry. The story should be the news. Not the journalist.   Of course, Baba has been milking this retirement. She has been for a year now, and will for another year or so.  Probably until she dies.  Because, of course, Baba is the story don’t cha see.

She’s leaving. What a shame. Don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out.

80 Comments

Filed under Childhood Traumas, Family, History, Huh?, Wild Beasts, Writing

80 responses to “On Your Way Out

  1. Gail

    I agree with your view on tabloid journalism – too sensational, graphic and focused on entertainment. But, in my opinion, the comments about Barbara Walters are too harsh. She entered a man’s world and succeeded, and if for no other reason I think she deserves a little respect for that. We’re so used to seeing women anchors now that it is easy to forget the male-oriented world she entered. I’m sure she fought many battles that women who followed in her footsteps take for granted.

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    • You’re right that she entered a man’s world and that is to be applauded. But she was the first to make the story about the personality — not the event. That, in my mind changed the whole way news was delivered — and not in a good way.

      Some of it is loyalty on my part; Mr Reasoner has gone down as someone who resented sharing billing with a woman and I don’t think it was that at all. She became the story. And that is NOT what good journalism is all about. It’s about the story, not the storyteller.

      But you are certainly allowed to disagree!

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  2. So, just so I have it clear in my head, you don’t much care for Barbara Walters, right?

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  3. I agree with a couple people who’ve said that Baba isn’t the whole problem. I think you have to lay a large amount of responsibility at the feet of We The Viewers. If people didn’t watch, the programming would change.

    But, in general, I agree with you. I like her personality, and she seems like she’d be interesting to chat with over dinner and some wine. And, I think she did open some doors for other women journalists. That being said, I never thought her celebrity interviews were all that deep or meaningful. She did a few good interviews with world leaders, but mostly she lobbed softball questions at people. I know she got “exclusive” interviews, but I think she got them because people knew that she’d always make them look good. No hard questions from Barbara.

    I think her reputation is based more on sentimentality and nostalgia than for any ground-breaking journalism. (Is that too harsh?)

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    • That is true that I give her too much blame because you’re right — if viewers didn’t accept it, it wouldn’t fly. BUT nobody really gave it to us, disguised as “real” news, before Baba.

      And no, you aren’t too harsh. She didn’t do any ground-breaking journalism. She got folks to air their dirty laundry and viewers to expect them too. Yuck!

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  4. How cool that you knew Harry Reasoner! You’re right that he represented a whole different era in news. I’m not a big fan of the personal reaction BEING the news, either. But what bugs me even more is the political agenda of the so-called news person being slopped all over the story.

    What ever happened to objective?

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    • “Knew” is a vast overstatement.

      But yes, I am soooooo sick of the way TV news is presented. It is pathetic that the hardest questions are posed by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert!

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  6. I think you’re giving Baba way too much credit. Perhaps she was a player in the transition and her being a woman in a sea of men folk made her stand out that way during that time. I’m certainly glad to see her make an exit. I’m willing to bet though, she’s not giving up the limelight totally.

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  7. Wow, Elyse! Tell us how you really feel. I’m not sure I can agree with everything you said but then again, I worked in the industry for years and she was pretty much touted as the one that cracked the ceiling for us women. Someone else may have done it better and with much less emphasis on the personality aspect of it but she did it. I do agree with you that things have gone horribly wrong with the news industry and she probably did have something to do with it. I lost a lot of respect for her when she hired Elizabeth from Survivor for the View. Don’t even get me started on that.
    It’s fascinating to me that you were ever in the presence of Harry Reasoner…never mind his house! That man is definitely “THE” man when it comes to news. I would be bowing and saying, “I’m not worthy”, if I ever met him.

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    • For the first several years, I just thought he was my friend’s dad. Then I noticed that other kids would often comment to her excitedly that they’d seen him until I finally asked what all the fuss was about (“He’s on TV”). Which is when I became intimidated! I was young and shy. He was a really nice man. My favorite memory is of a group of us playing wiffle ball with him in their living room on the carpets he brought back from his ground-breaking trip to China!

      As for Baba, well, yeah. She did break some glass. But there was a big cost — and I think it was to the integrity of the news. It should be about what happened, not the personalities.

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      • I could listen/read your stories about him all day long and still ask for more.
        I do agree that we have lost the integrity of the news and that it should be about what happened, not the personalities. I’m just saying she had a lot of help with messing it up. People like Heraldo really spun it out of control.

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  8. i never thought about it that way. but you’re right and now that it’s out there, if if baba no longer is, the barbara’s will keep on coming…

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  9. Nice post. I won’t miss her. (Mostly because I last saw her on TV about the time Gilda gave us a laugh. I never thought she had anything substantive to offer.)

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  10. Addie

    That sound you hear from many miles away, is my appreciative applause for a well written post.

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  11. Really interesting, Elyse! Love the little peek into Mr. Reasoner’s life. I have long bemoaned the lack of real news on TV (which is why I am addicted to NPR and POTUS radio), but never thought of BW’s role in that. I’ve never been able to listen to her anyway. I’m a speech pathologist…..can’t STAND to see someone making millions when she can’t even pronounce her own name!

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    • Isn’t that annoying? I mean, I am all for people who can get beyond their handicaps, really I am, but SHE DIDN’T! Everybody but Gilda pretended it wasn’t there.

      Mr. Reasoner was a good man. He is truly maligned as a sexist and worse. I think he sensed what would happen if you put a storyteller in a position of such import — telling the news.

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  12. Luanne

    Well, I have never liked her for a whole lot of reasons, the stories about her as a mother for starters. Good riddance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with the Good riddance part! I hadn’t heard anything about her as a mother — then again, I have tried to avoid her as much as possible.

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  13. A diet of sugar and salty tears is very addicting.

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  14. I will mith her and her lithp…

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  15. Hmm…I never thought of it this way, very interesting. I can honestly say I never could stand watching her on TV. My mom also does not care for her (that’s putting it mildly)

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  16. Roxie

    Baba just went with what worked for her, like a stand-up comic.

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  17. Love that Mr. Reasoner exhibited proper gravitas when you turned up at his door in costume! I think, insidious Barbara aside, it also had to do with the gutting of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting, which helped turned news into “info-tainment”.

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    • He actually introduced me to a couple of people as I tried to dash. I have no idea who, though, as I was trying very hard to die. He was an incredibly nice man, great sense of humor, fun.

      Do you really think it was the fairness doctrine? I see that as leading us to this asinine situation where we have to post both sides of every issue — like folks who believe in climate change and folks who don’t believe in science.

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  18. Eva

    What’s interesting about your insight into this topic is, and this is my opinion only, I don’t think Baba’s ‘schtick’ would have worked if they chose a man. That’s why the dudes in charge chose a woman; fluff it up, tears, emotion, talking around the story but not the story itself. “Women can’t be objective. Damnit, we need estrogen!”

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    • Baba was so vapid. Her questions! Her need to make people cry on camera. Everyone was thrown a softball — everyone looked gooey. I could never stomach her. But the thing is I think she brought in a whole ‘nuther audience of folks who bought stuff . Sad really.

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  19. I never watched her that closely, though I was under the impression that early in her career, she broke a lot of glass ceilings for women along the way.

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    • She did. She was the first female evening prime time news anchor. She was paid more than her co-host (which would have pissed me off, I will admit). But I think that she brought to TV journalism a belief that it should be entertaining to watch what had happened that day. I don’t think breaking the glass ceiling in this instance was worth the price.

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  20. I’ve never really ever watched the news. I mostly catch it online.

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  21. Great analysis Elyse! I hadn’t ever considered where the sorry state of ‘news’, but in considering your thoughts I have to admit you are likely on the money. She likely isn’t 100% to blame but owns a huge portion of it.

    And just WOW, wow. Harry Reasoner, just wow.

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    • I agree that 100% is too much for any one individual to shoulder. I’d put it at about 75%.

      As for Mr. Reasoner, you know it was one of a handful of people I met in my early life that I just didn’t learn from. He was my friend’s dad. Except that unlike other friends’ dads, I was always embarrassing myself in front of Mr. Reasoner. There was the time when I was wearing my sister’s slightly too big bathing suit when I dove into the pool with Mr. R in line to take the next turn…

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        • That’s the story of my life, actually. People laughing at me. I think that’s why/how I became a funny person. If you can’t beat em, join them.

          The moral of the story, is, however, do not wear your big sister’s bathing suit until you fit into it.

          His wife, the first Mrs. R. was a delightful woman, too.

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          • Laughing with you Elyse, laughing with you. You know you are laughing all these years later.

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            • Oh yea. And I remember the bathing suit well, too. Pink two piece. The top fit nicely, but the bottom? Nope. I had no hips yet. I had borrowed it without Judy’s permission. She laughed and laughed and let me know I was being punished. Oy. But yes I am still laughing.

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  22. Interesting article, no surprise there, but I haven’t heard of Ms Walters, possibly because I’m from the UK

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    • I imagine you have your own Babas, Peter! The folks who jazz up the news and change it into entertainment. (I’d forgotten you were in the UK!)

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  23. As much as her voice makes my ears bleed, at least she did give us one thing: the Saturday night live spoof that made “Baba” more famous than “Barbara”. When Barbara stopped talking that time and said “I DO sound like Baba…” I thought I’d plotz!

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    • Gilda was wonderful, wasn’t she? And I will have to say, BW did handle that well — she was very gracious to Gilda when they met.

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  24. As much as I agree with you, I blame 60 minutes. They started the whole “News magazine” thingy and made a profit from it. Before 60 minutes, all news programs were done as a public service and were expected to lose money. After 60 Minutes, news programs were expected to make a profit. Then there’s the fact that without 60 Minutes, there would have been no copy cat 20/20 who is the one that made Baba a household name.

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    • They did start the whole news magazine thingy, but in the beginning it really was news. It was later — much later — that it became tabloid TV. And that was part of the news media’s reaction as a whole to Baba’s success. People want to feel good about stuff, they don’t want to face the hard things that really happen in the world.

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    • 60 Minutes was, is, and will continue to be, a bastion of serious televised journalism. I have never know them to take the low road the way that idiot Walters has. I don’t think that program ever became tabloid journalism. Not even close. Walters, on the other hand, was always a bottom-feeder. Tears and crying = success in her world. An awful amoral, carbuncle of a woman.

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      • Now don’t be shy, Mark. Say exactly what I was thinking!

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        • Too much? I never know when I’ve spouted too much until it’s too late. You can’t un-ring a bell!

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        • Dan

          I’m with Mark on this one too. I like the depth they go into on their stories. They are similar too, but not quite on a par with Frontline, though I sometimes think Frontline may be a little too liberal (Elyse, HA) in their perspective and throw things off balance in their reporting. I like doing battle with the institutional and establishment (How 60’s a term.) dragons, but I want to feel their is equity in the reporting. Of course, excluding religious teachings, truth is in the eye of the beholder.

          One of my favorites as far as upbeat news reporting is Sunday Morning. I hate it when they are used as a pitchman for artists and the media, but I do like some of the features they do that exhibit our higher aspirations and better angels. I like that about the show.

          I like you too, you bleeding heart liberal. 🙂 My previous- ooh ooh, alliterative word play time- make that PAST pastor used to call me a closet liberal when I would tell him what I had heard on NPR or seen on PBS.

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          • I think that used to be true of all of those shows. But more recently they have all been crap. I mean how can you not say that 60 Mins has gone downhill when they aired Lara Logan’s total garbage on Benghazi– a manufactured crisis if ever there was one?

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            • Dan

              I mentioned once to my wife that Lara Logan gets more of her face on screen than the male reporters, especially with the noddies.(Noddy: (Noun) A stupid or silly person; (television) a cutaway scene of a television interviewer nodding, that is used to cover an editing gap in an interview. Such scenes are often filmed after the interview in question has finished.) and more of her legs than other women. Her producer is a little to liberal with the amount of noddies they put on the air. Pay attention the next time she is on. Legs and noddies. She does have better legs than the guys. If they just skipped the noddies and only cut in the legs I might not be as annoyed. 😉

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  25. Interesting analysis… and much truth there. (and one of my all-time favorite songs as a bonus!)

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    • Thanks, Nancy. While I think that I overstated it a bit, I think she set a precedence that I’ve never liked and reinforced stereotypes at the same time she was lauded as a pioneer. Ummm, not so much IMHO.

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  26. My favorite thing about Barbara Walters were the SNL parodies. She lobbed ridiculous questions (recall the “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?”) and I couldn’t watch those interviews, especially of world leaders with whom she should not even have been in the same room. And don’t even get me started on “The View”, that coffee klatsch of gabby inanities. I suspect your premise is correct.

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    • Yes, I totally agree, Michelle. Vapid, Vapid, Vapid questions. I used to cringe until I figured out that I didn’t have to watch those ghastly interviews.

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  27. I don’t know if Barbara Walters is solely to blame for the poor state of the news nowadays, but your thoughts are very interesting. And I agree, she is milking this retirement. Every day on The View this week is all Barbara. (Yes, I admit I DVR it and watch it while I make dinner…)

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    • I won’t hold watching that show against you — I love it when I see clips of Whoopi from time to time. And I think that’s more of a talk show, which is different from a news show.

      You’re right, though that Baba shouldn’t take all the blame. I do think she started the ball rolling in a very nasty direction, though. And I honestly think that that is why Mr. Reasoner didn’t like her. It wasn’t that she was a woman — it was that she was an entertainer not a newsperson.

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  28. Amazing post, Elyse! I learned, quite a bit, from your insights, perspectives,and experience.

    Like

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