Just days before Barbara Walters announced she will retire in 2014, the American News Women’s Club selected the veteran newswoman as honoree for its annual Excellence in Journalism award — which put its ceremony in pole position for what’s likely to be a year of tributes.
Thoughts, Ted Koppel?
“I have loved and admired Barbara Walters for so many years,” her former ABC colleague said at the National Press Club luncheon Friday. “So many, many years.”
And so began Koppel’s deliciously mean and funny roast of the 83-year-old broadcast legend: Age jokes, lisp jokes, kooky comparisons to Edward R. Murrow and FDR. Walters feigned shock (“I would just like to say that this is my friend“), and Koppel ended on a sincere note: “She has the guts of a lioness.”
This, folks, is the start of Walters’s long, long goodbye. She forged a path for so many other women journalists, from network co-anchor, to celebrity interviewer who often eclipsed her subjects, to godmother of wildly successful daytime chat show “The View.” Her reward? A year of tributes and punchlines.
Some resistance to the second half of that equation from Sally Quinn, who told the audience she’s always been uncomfortable with the notion of women roasting women. “But now that I’ve heard Ted, I realized you don’t need need to count on me because Ted was bitchy.” (Quinn segued into her own brief 1973 stint as a CBS morning host, which she said male execs and critics tried to cast as a catfight with Walters. “I just want to say this,” said Quinn. “They’re all gone and we are still here.”)
Media critic and new Fox host Howard Kurtz hailed her as the first journalist to be mocked on “Saturday Night Live.” Veteran CBS anchor Bob Schieffer said Walters — “the single best reporter that I ever competed against” — didn’t just break down barriers for women: “She’s pretty good at breaking through barriers of all kinds whether they’re police lines or security lines. Barbara always found a way to get around them, under them, or most of the time just right through them to get the story.”
Walters, 83, groaned at all the age jokes. “If one more person comes up to me and says, “My grandmother loves you. . . ‘” The secrets to her success? Aw, simple, she self-deprecated: She doesn’t sweat on the air or need a lot of bathroom breaks. She quoted Katharine Hepburn saying: “I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, I’ve made enough money to support myself, and I ain’t afraid of being alone.” And yes, she insisted, she really is retiring — though, hey, if the opportunity comes up to interview the queen of England, the pope, or the first woman president. . .
On hand for the party: Emcee Norah O’Donnell, old beau and former Sen. John Warner, Alan Greenspan, and Lady Susie Westmacott, the British ambassador’s wife who was hostess when Walters took a nasty spill on the embassy’s stairs in January. “I will never forget you,” deadpanned Walters.
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