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Barbara Walters, "Audition"

By admin Published: July 25, 2008

I have been having some technical difficulties that have kept me from posting, but the hours have hardly been empty. In between helping my mother go through some things, I finally caught up on a bit of TV reading: Barbara Walters' autobiography, "Audition."

At close to 600 pages, it's a long read and at times an exhausting one. I was far more interested in the stories from her early life and work than in the series of anecdotes about celebrities and heads of state.

But in its recounting of all aspects of her life and work, "Audition" was sort of like The Longest Barbara Walters Special Ever, trying to blend a little of everything she thinks her audience wants: the newsmakers, the stars, the little known person whose life is nonetheless interesting (in this case, young Barbara, daughter of the impresario Lou Walters), the "View"-like dish. There are stories to make you laugh, and those to make you cry, and some that will probably make you mad. (Walters's adult dealings with her parents and her sister seem quite cold at times.) One approach for some readers may be to start with the index, and skip around to the people you're most interested in; sort of like watching only parts of one of those Walters specials.

A few general things that struck me:

-- Walters knew she had to talk about her upbringing, her marriages, her affairs and her once-stormy relationship with her daughter, and she does so with what appears to be great frankness -- the sort of frankness she would expect from one of the people she interviews. But there comes a point, after she has described the end of her third marriage, when Walters writes, "I think that is enough about my personal life." And to a great extent she sticks to that. I don't think Walters would have let someone else off so easily.

-- She has some rather flexible views about conflicts of interest. Even though her news mandate was wide, it did not keep her from having personal relationships with people whose work might overlap hers, such as Alan Greenspan and politicians Edward Brooke and John Warner. To be sure, she is not unique in that respect, but it does not appear to have concerned her that she was dating people she might have to report about. She definitely took sides in the Jean Harris case, drawing what has to be an awkward line by declaring she was an impartial journalist "in terms of my own interviews with Harris, but on my own time definitely not." (ABC News ultimately told Walters she could not report on the case; she did continue to visit Harris and did interview Harris after she was pardoned.) And anyone who remembers Walters's interview with Monica Lewinsky knows how protective Walters was. (The deal-making around the interview will make some journalism purists cringe, too.) In "Audition," Walters said that "I believed in my heart that I could do the best possible interview for her."

-- She is also flexible about the truth. For example, she freely acknowledges that both Debbie Matenopoulos and Star Jones were given a chance to say they were leaving "The View" by choice, when that was not the case -- and Jones, of course, went public about her firing. There's a photo she says is from an ad for Citgo Gas; it doesn't look like an ad, but the point here is that, as she says in the photo caption, "I don't even drive." I suspect that Walters's upbringing around the illusions of show business can still be felt. And that nags at me when I consider the parts of the book where she does appear to be frank.

-- I did get to the end of the book with a clearer sense of who Walters is. I can't say I liked her any more or less than I did before reading "Audition," but I think I understand her better.

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