In addition to her drive, Walters’s success also had a lot to do with timing. By 1953, half of all American homes owned at least one TV set, but it was still a minor medium for news and entertainment. The only respected journalists worked in print, and nightclubs and theaters were in their heyday. That same year, Walters was cutting her media chops by producing a children’s show called “Ask the Camera” for WNBT, NBC’s affiliate in New York – and sleeping with her married boss.
This motif recurs again and again as Walters shares her narrative: Her talents expand into new venues, and she is continually attracted to and unable to stay committed to influential men.
If this were the story of a man’s rise in power that disclosed the nature and number of his bedmates along the way, it would draw yawns. But present the same story from a female perspective and it becomes a bestseller.
Perhaps it has something to do with Walters’s instincts for knowing what viewers at home want to see: unexpected relationships, lasting friendships, and the vulnerability of the powerful.
The maturing of her talents, becoming the first female cohost of NBC’s morning program “Today” in the 1970s, coincided with the progress of and backlash against women in the workplace.
Her presence was a source of agitation to her male cohosts, Frank McGee on “Today,” and later Harry Reasoner on “ABC Evening News.” As a result, Walters found much comfort in being sent out of the studio and into the field to record interviews. One of those trips happened to be President Nixon’s 1972 trip to China. While Nixon was announcing “This was the week that changed the world,” the world of news reporting changed as well.
“The China trip probably marked the seminal moment in which television assumed superiority as America’s primary source of news,” Walters writes. She was only one of three women journalists invited on the trip, and the only female broadcaster.