The Book of the Week is “Audition” by Barbara Walters, published in 2008. This is Walters’ autobiography, a detailed account of her personal and professional life. She had a long, illustrious career in TV News. She started out as a behind-the-scenes writer for the “Today Show” on NBC in the early 1960’s, when there was still a lot of discrimination against women. Nevertheless, her hard work at, talent and suitability for her job, over the course of decades, afforded her the opportunity to interview countless famous people; some, multiple times.
There were occasions when Walters received special treatment by her interviewees. In the spring of 1977, she was personally driven for six hours around the Bay of Pigs vicinity by none other than Fidel Castro. Later that year, she witnessed multiple Middle Eastern politicians gather all in one place when Egypt’s Anwar Sadat made (momentary) peace with Israel’s Menachim Begin. ABC interrupted a college football game with the “breaking news.” Viewers telephoned the network to express their displeasure, and after seven minutes of complaining, the viewers got their game back.
Walters was lucky to have helped pioneer the art of the TV interview and enjoyed its best years. She asked hard-hitting, sometimes personal questions that hosts do not ask anymore. She writes that nowadays, TV ratings rise with guests who are attention whores or criminals– whose stories are tabloid articles. Political leaders or celebrities with substance have become a rarity. “We really seem to care only if they are outrageous and call our president a devil or declare that the Holocaust never existed. Stand up and scream and we will interview you, or be reasonable and unheard.” Fortunately, the internet has become a source of intelligent discussion in some quarters– a source that is not under pressure to generate ratings.