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How an interview by Barbara Walters helped Americans understand their president


Barbara Walters, who has interviewed American presidents for half a century, has interviewed the world’s most powerful men about their regrets, their mothers, their marriages, and even their sleeping arrangements with their wives.

“Double bed,” Jimmy Carter told reporters in 1976. “I always have one.”

Perhaps more than anyone in recent American presidential history, Walters helped make it clear that men in the White House were human. The pioneering television journalist died Friday at the age of 93.

Walters broke the news and held the president accountable, but she was sometimes criticized for being too soft. She moderated the presidential debates between Gerald Ford and Carter and Carter and Ronald Reagan. In moments of national crisis, including wars and recessions, she asked important questions that shed light on policies and approaches.

Jimmy Carter during an interview with Barbara Walters, circa December 14, 1978.

Yet her insistence on tracking down the president’s character and mining whatever she finds there ushered in a new era of individuality in politics and helped lift the veil of the inner life of the man who would lead the free world. rice field.

“Are you mean? Do you have a cold and a stingy, mean streak? Do those blue eyes get cold?” she asked Carter before asking about her bedroom setup.

In 1981, during a visit to his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, she asked Reagan.

“Are you discussing these things with your dad?” she asked George W. Bush during a conversation about global threats in the months following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. .

She has interviewed every sitting president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, and has spoken in the years before Donald Trump and Joe Biden entered the Oval Office.

Many of these interviews included the president’s wife, who had the opportunity to ask the first couple questions about their ambitions, preferences and marriage.

“You wanted him to quit politics. And you were outspoken about it. It affected your marriage,” she asked Michelle Obama in 2010.

Instead of holding the presidential subjects at arm’s length, she visited their ranch, climbed into a jeep, and sat next to the Christmas tree with a page of prepared questions.

She interviewed the first sitting president in 1971 and left with a nervous-looking Nixon in the Blue Room.

After discussing Vietnam, Walters asked for something more.

“There’s been a lot of talk about your image and the fact that the American public sees you as rather stuffy and inhuman,” she asked. mosquito?”

Thus began a decades-long procession to unearth the temperament of successive commanders-in-chief.

“I’m fascinated by the personalities of our leaders. Who are they? What do they believe in?” she said in a 2014 episode of “Oprah’s Master Class.”

She participated in President Nixon’s landmark visit to China in 1972 and joined the itinerant press corps. She was one of the few women in the crowd of men. She stepped off a Pan Am charter plane in her long shearling her coat and camera wrapped around her wrist.

Her most famous interview with Nixon took place after he resigned during the Watergate scandal, asking him on a live special years later: “It’s a shame you didn’t burn the tape. Is it?”

“I probably should have,” he admitted.

Walters seemed fascinated by the president’s remorse. She told George H.W. Bush (who wrote she was the president she knew best “on a personal level”) after he was actually forced to raise taxes, using his campaign phrase “My Read Lips: No New Taxes.”

“It caused credibility issues at the time,” Bush admitted. “I have to rank it as not a howling success.”

In 2005, she asked her son George W. Bush if he regretted the US invasion of Iraq.

“But without weapons of mass destruction, would it have been worth it? Now that I know it was wrong. Was it worth it?” she asked. (Absolutely, Bush said.)

Walters had her own regrets, too. She “couldn’t muster up the courage” to ask Ford about falling down the stairs of Air Force One. And she said she was wrong not to air a walk-and-talk interview with Betty Ford when the first lady appeared drunk.

“If I were interviewing the First Lady today and she was clearly intoxicated, I would definitely air it,” she wrote.

At times, her questions seemed to predict future events. She asked Bill Clinton in 1996 how important it was for a president to “lead by example.” Years later, she met Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern who rose to prominence in the 1990s when her affair with then-President Clinton came to light. I interviewed in front of an audience.

Walters wrote in her book, “I never really felt in touch with Clinton.” there is no.

Reagan was another story. Like many Americans, Walters seemed drawn to his movie-star charisma, but in one interview Walters was skeptical that his communication skills were genuine. .

“Do you think there’s acting experience in it?” she asked him.

In the decades since she began interviewing presidents, personal questions have become commonplace for politicians and their spouses. Voters have come to expect to have views on the personalities of their leaders, or at least the personalities they have cultivated for public consumption.

“I was being criticized for asking questions like that. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what he or she thinks.” Most importantly, only tough news questions. I don’t think so,” Walters said after his retirement. “I think it’s important to know what’s important to them. If possible, we have to find out what drives people.”

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