Interviewing Barbara Walters
The crowd in Reisinger Auditorium started forming an hour before the event. Tickets had been snatched up almost instantly a month in advance. The response on campus seemed to indicate the presence of a rock star, but the honored guest was actually an alumna. Barbara Walters, the acclaimed journalist and one of Sarah Lawrence College's best-known graduates, sat down with faculty and students for an intimate question-and-answer session.
Students were enthusiastic about the event for a variety of reasons. Lauren Hudson '12 and her friend Zoe Frederick '12 both mentioned the example Walters' life-long career provides to women. Among her many achievements, Walters was the first female co-host of the Today Show and the first female co-anchor of the ABC Nightly News. "I'm proud to have her as an alumna of the school. It sets a certain standard," said Hudson. Frederick explained that her grandmother attended Sarah Lawrence and had given her a book of essays by alumnae reminiscing about their time on campus. One of the essays was by Barbara Walters. "It was from before she was famous, but it was well written, and it got me really excited," Frederick said.
Other students were more familiar with Walters from The View and her celebrity interviews. When asked why he had come to the event, Michael Foote '10 claimed that his mother made him attend. "But I'm an adamant watcher of The View," he admitted. Nellen Dryden '11 said, "I'm interested to see what she has to say about celebrity culture and how her Sarah Lawrence education has helped her in her life."
The evening kicked off with a brief video depicting the highlights of Walters' career, including clips of her interviews with personages from Fidel Castro to Monica Lewinsky. The television icon then took a seat and permitted herself to be the one interviewed for a change. Faculty members Rachel Cohen (writing) and Nicolaus Mills (literature) joined senior Jane Claire Quigley '10 onstage with Walters and started the conversation before opening the floor to the packed audience. For an hour Walters spoke candidly about her career, her process when preparing for an interview, and even the challenge of finding a balance between career and personal life.
Asked who she was proudest of interviewing, Walters identified Anwar al Sadat, the former President of Egypt due to "his role in changing the course of history." Walters was the first person to arrange a joint interview between Sadat and former Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin, who were later both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for creating and ratifying the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.
On the topic of the media in today's culture, Walters acknowledged that news is everywhere these days. But she argued that it's actually harder to get an accurate understanding of current events because most "new media," such as blogs and cable TV shows, tend to be very opinionated and less balanced than more traditional sources like newspapers and network news. "You're not getting the other side. You're not finding out what the rage in this country is really about," she cautioned students who admitted to getting their news from Comedy Central's The Daily Show.
At the end of the night, Walters concluded by describing several experiences in her career that have touched her personally, from the moving stories of children coping with disabilities to the bravery of Christopher Reeve after his accident. "The joy of my life has been to feel that maybe I've made a difference in the lives of people I've interviewed or in the lives of the people watching. That's the reward."
-Sophia Kelley MFA '10