Women in journalism are mourning the death of pioneering TV broadcaster Barbara Walters, who died Friday at 93 years old after a career spent breaking barriers in a male-dominated industry.
Many women journalists praised Walters — who started her career at NBC’s “TODAY” show in 1961, becoming the only female producer and first female co-host of the show before later becoming the first female anchor of a network news program at ABC — for breaking the glass ceiling for women in broadcast journalism and helping others succeed along the way.
“Barbara was a trailblazer, a singular force who opened the door for every woman in television news,” ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer said. in a statement.
“Sadness. Gratitude. And a salute from all of us who know what we owe her,” added Sawyer, who previously anchored ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight” over the course of her decades-long career. Sawyer and Walters also co-hosted “20/20” together on Sundays from 1998 – 2000.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ Chief Washington Correspondent and host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC, said in a statement that Walters “was a role model for all women aspiring to become broadcast journalists when television news was exclusively for men.”
“She was a role model for me when she broke through on the Today show with talent, brains, hard work and a lot of guts,” Mitchell continued. “She became a mentor and a friend to me and so many others fortunate enough to know her. No one will ever be her match for getting the big interviews and asking exactly what people wanted to know.”
Several women who followed in Walters’ footsteps as “TODAY” co-hosts — including current co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb — paid tribute to her successes and her support for the women who followed her.
Guthrie posted a throwback photo of Walters at the “TODAY” anchor desk with the caption: “Thank you, Barbara. you showed the way. you made it possible for the rest of us.”
Kotb wrote that Walters “was the first…she blazed the trail–she kicked the door down..so we could walk through.”
“Inside Edition” anchor Deborah Norville, a news anchor on “TODAY” from 1989 – 1991, said in an Instagram post that Walters was “encouraging and consoling” when her career “hit a pothole.”
“In later years, we would occasionally have tea and she was always filled with good stories (and good gossip!) … every one of us in a TV studio today gets to be there because Barbara was there first,” Norville wrote.
Katie Couric, who co-anchored “TODAY” from 1991 – 2006, called Walters “the OG of female broadcasters” in a lengthy Instagram post.
“She was just as comfortable interviewing world leaders as she was an Oscar winner and her body of work is unparalleled,” Couric wrote.
“I was a lucky recipient of her kindness and encouragement,” Couric continued. “When I landed a big (impromptu) interview with President Bush, she wrote me a note that I still have framed in my office: Dear Katie, You were terrific with Mrs. Bush (you knew far more than she did) and nabbing the President was a real coup. You are so damn good! Bravo! “Barbara”
Meredith Vieira, who moderated “The View” as one of its original co-hosts alongside Walters from 1997 until she left to co-anchor “TODAY” in 2006, tweeted: “Barbara Walters blazed the trail for every newswoman and we will forever follow in her footsteps.”
“The world of television journalism was a man’s world”
Walters’ path to journalistic stardom was a bumpy road as she battled sexism from male broadcasters – experiences she discussed openly later in her career.
When the late broadcaster Frank McGee joined “TODAY” as a co-host in 1971 — three years before Walters was officially named a co-host — he instituted a new rule: in interviews, she could not ask a question until after he had asked three, she said.
Her next history-making role — at ABC, where she was the first female anchor of a network news program — wasn’t much better in regards to on-air sexism.
A clip circulating on social media following Walters’ death shows her famously frosty relationship with the late “ABC Evening News” co-anchor Harry Reasoner, who Walters said refused to speak to her off air, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote in 2011.
In the clip, Reasoner says he “had a little trouble thinking of what to say” to welcome her to her first broadcast.
“Not to sound sexist, as in, ‘you brighten up the place,’ or patronizing, as in, ‘that wasn’t a bad interview,’ or sycophantic, as in, ‘how in the world do you do it? ” he said, as Walters laughed.
“The decision was to welcome you as I would any respected and competent colleague of any sex, by noting that I’ve kept time on your stories and mine tonight — you owe me four minutes,” he continued before signing off.
“The world of television journalism was a man’s world,” Walters said in a 2014 interview with OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, adding that “it is no secret, for example, that I had difficulty with … [late “ABC Evening News” co-anchor] Peter Jennings.”
“He would cut me off, he would never say ‘thank you’ or ‘that’s interesting,’ and we all sort of took it for granted,” she added. “It’s the way it was thought of then — the so-called ‘hard news.’ A woman couldn’t do it, the audience wouldn’t accept her voice, she couldn’t go into the war zones, she couldn’t ask the tough questions.
“The fact that I asked the tough questions was something that was very controversial. Some people admired it; others said, ‘she’s rude,'” Walters continued.
“On the one hand, it made me more valuable, on the other hand I got the reputation as being a ‘pushy cookie’…if I said to a politician, ‘yes, but you didn’t answer my question,’ it sounded terrible. If a man said it, it didn’t sound terrible. You know, I was the pushy one.”
‘Her powerful legacy lives on’
As Walters’ career blossomed, being “the pushy one” also meant pushing other women reporters into their own seats at the anchor desk, several journalists said in their social media tributes.
ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts wrote in an Instagram post that Walters “taught me so much and took me under her wing” after asking her to join her on ABC’s “20/20,” where Walters was an anchor, in 1995.
“Her powerful legacy lives on in all the women journalists who were influenced by her passionate work and searing interviews,” Roberts wrote. (A report published last year by the Women’s Media Center found that women make up 43% of prime-time weekday broadcast and cable TV news anchors and correspondents.)
Former “ABC World News Tonight” co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas — who became the third female anchor of a network evening newscast, after Walters and Connie Chung of “CBS Evening News” — tweeted that Walters “shattered glass ceilings and blazed a trail for so many women in television news who would follow her…like me. I will never forget her.”
In a statement provided to NBC News, Chung said: “Barbara fought the all-boys world of television journalism with her indefatigable drive, brains and confidence – to tower above men. She paved my path as she ‘Mom’d’ me, consoling me when I hit roadblocks. No one will replace Barbara.”
Current “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell called Walters “the reason I wanted to be a journalist” and “the only woman on television at the time interviewing presidents, prime ministers and the most important actors, authors and artists in the world . She inspired me.”
“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts tweeted that Walters was “a true trailblazer.”
“Forever grateful for her stellar example and for her friendship,” Roberts added.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, wrote on Twitter: “Barbara Walters’ massive body of work will not be replicated and her legend will remain firmly etched on the Mount Rushmore of our profession.”
CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward called Walters “a force of nature, a trailblazer for women in this industry and one of the most gifted interviewers of all time.”
“You paved the way for all of us, dear Barbara,” wrote CNN journalist Lisa Ling. “What an honor it has been to know you and to have been the beneficiary of your titanic spirit and wisdom.”
Margaret Brennan, CBS’ chief foreign affairs correspondent and the second woman to host the network’s “Face the Nation” after Lesley Stahl, posted a message of thanks to the late broadcaster: “Thank you to Barbara Walters for blazing the trail that all of us are following…”
“Barbara Walters a true GOAT,” Gayle King, co-host of “CBS This Morning,” posted on Instagram. “She was in a class of one and all I can say at this moment is thank you Barbara for so many things….”
NBC News’ senior legal and investigative correspondent Cynthia McFadden said in an Instagram post that she will always remember Walters as brave.
“Every woman in broadcasting has benefited from her thick skin and bold heart,” McFadden wrote. “Imagine being told she couldn’t ask a question [on “TODAY”] until the male co-host had asked three.”
‘This is my legacy’
Walters appeared to agree that her greatest achievement was the door she opened for women in journalism and the many who followed her.
On Walters’ final show on “The View” in 2014, Oprah introduced a surprise parade of women journalists — including Sawyer, Couric, Guthrie, Kotb, Vieira, McFadden and others — who marched out on stage to thank Walters for paving the way for their success.
After hugging the women one by one, Walters took the microphone and turned back to the audience.
“I just want to say – this is my legacy,” she said.