Having it all means making the tough choices

April 15, 1991|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Evening Sun Staff

In a story in Monday's Accent about Barbara Walters, it was erroneously stated that Walters gave birth to her daughter. In fact, Walter's daughter is adopted. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

In 1965, Barbara Walters was leaning in from the side of the shot of the desk on NBC's "Today."

An ambitious writer for the program who wanted to get on the air -- and was granted brief moments in front of the camera -- Walters was representative of the serious women who were shunted aside by the male powers-that-were in favor of what were then called "Today Girls," female set-dressing co-hosts who were usually actresses.

So, when Walters hears all the Deborah Norville-this-year's-blond brouhaha surrounding "Today," as well as the case of Meredith Viera losing her job on "60 Minutes" because of pregnancy, she doesn't worry about the status of women in broadcasting. She remembers what it was like not that long ago.


"I don't think women are going backward at all," Walters said at a press conference at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation where she spoke last night at a gathering on 1,200 honoring Sinai Hospital's 125th anniversary.

"How many women are on TV now?" she asked. "You don't see a local news program anywhere that doesn't have a woman anchor. When I was coming along, all the women you saw were weather girls. Now, it's the weather men who supply those lighter moments.

"I think women are very far ahead in all fields of journalism."

She noted that while she was doing "Today" -- she succeeded the last "Today Girl," Maureen O'Sullivan, in 1964 and stayed with the show until moving to ABC in 1976 -- she gave birth to her daughter, but that it went totally unmentioned, and unnoticed, on the air and in the studio.

"Now they would have a separate room for the baby, a bassinet in there, it would be agreed that you could take breaks to nurse. All this would be written into your contract," she said. "And you would work up until a couple of days before delivery if you felt like it. It's totally different than it was."

At the same time, in discussing cases like that of Viera, who asked for half-time work at "60 Minutes" and was turned down, Walters said career and family do sometimes conflict.

"I've said this in several different ways, but it's very hard to have it all," she said. "It comes down to women have to make some choices, and men, too.

"If you have a job that requires a lot of travel, you have to decide if you can be away from your family. Maybe you have a husband who will stay home with the child, or another relative, of if you're comfortable, leaving it with a nurse."

But Walters said that all the discussion about women over a certain age being tolerated on television now seems to be in the past, along with so many other hurdles that, in some cases, she was among the first to jump.

"I think Dan Rather and I are the same age and nobody ever asks if he is too old for the job," Walters, who is 59, said. "So all these questions have been asked before, but I don't mind answering them because of the answers I can give.

"The fact is that people are recognizing that there are women who are 65 who can do the job and men who are 40 who can't. Look at Mike Wallace. What's he, 72, 73, something like that? And he's one of the most vibrant, important interviewers we have. Of course if I were 72, you'd be writing about me as if I were some relic."

In her talk, Walters discussed recent interviews with Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Whoopi Goldberg and Sophia Loren, describing them all as people who have had some travails in their lives, but have found their own way to success.

"Sometimes I do get tired of what I do," Walters said, describing one long, arduous journey to Saudi Arabia to interview Schwarzkopf, followed by a stopover in London to secure the first extensive post-prime minister talk with Thatcher.

"But I can't think of anything else I could do that would give me the opportunity to meet these most fascinating people."

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