Walters Makes Light of Adultery in Autobiography

ABC journalist Barbara Walters' autobiography Audition hit store shelves yesterday, and the half-dozen juiciest pages are about her affair with married former U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, the first African-American to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction. 

In interviews with Walters, The Washington Post and Oprah ignored the fact that Walters is an adulteress, focusing instead on the interracial angle. 

Oprah set the tone for the portion of the May 6 interview with Walters by asking “How did you pull it off at the time?” as if there were no moral implications to consider.  Walters' replied, “remember this was 30 years ago.  If this were today, it would be different.”

Walters elaborated:

But the fact that he was married, also that he was black, and it was at the time I was negotiating to leave NBC for ABC.  It was during that time period, '74, '75, '76.  We were in secret. Had this come out, it probably would have, at the time, ruined my career and his.

A May 7 Washington Post feature by Howard Kurtz adopted the same tone. Kurtz allowed Walters to spin the criticism of her relationship with Brooke as racial tension when he quoted her saying “The whole idea of my being with an African-American would probably at that time have cost me my job.” 

As if to justify her actions Walters added, “I am not the first person to ever have a relationship with a married man.”

Neither Kurtz nor Oprah asked Walters follow up questions such as “how is adultery in the 1970s different from adultery now?” or “did it ever occur to you that your actions would affect Brooke's wife or two children?”  Or “what kind of example did you hope to set for your own daughter?” 

Kurtz simply asked, “Why go public now?” and Oprah's response was “right” with a nod of apparent approval.

Walters' affair with Brooke lasted two years, and according to the Oprah interview, ended only because a Washington gossip columnist was on their trail.

WALTERS: Very few people.  But a gossip columnist in Washington was beginning to print blind items that weren't so blind.  So I said to him, 'I can't sneak around anymore, I can't do this and we have to break it off.'  He did something he had never done.  He went home and asked his wife for a divorce. 

WINFREY: This was after two years of the affair?

WALTERS: Yes.  And he had not gone home Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

WINFREY: Was he spending it with you?

WALTERS: He was spending it with me.

At this point, Oprah could have asked “why did it take two years before you decided you couldn't do this anymore?” Instead Oprah empathized with Walters:

WINFREY: …okay so as a woman who was taking care of herself but, but this married man is with you for Christmas and Thanksgiving, was this—and I say this because I've also admitted having an affair with a married man—who, I know, never went home and I know that if you get a holiday you think, well, now things are changing.

WALTERS: Were you his mistress?

WINFREY: Oh please I've never been anybody's mistress. 

WALTERS: So there we are.  I rest my case.

WINFREY: Until this conversation with you I thought that's what I was but no man has ever taken care of me so if it means—yeah, thank you.  But when you get the holiday, having the holiday,  that means you are the important one. 


WALTERS: I think that's why I said we cannot go on like this. 

Kurtz and Oprah had a great opportunity to take a stand for morality by asking obvious follow up questions to Walters' defense of her actions.   Instead they chose to treat adultery as if it were no big deal.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.