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Remembering journalist Barbara Walters

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

And now we'll remember Barbara Walters, one of journalism's most influential figures, who died yesterday at 93. Over her decades-long career, she made her mark as one of the industry's first female television writers and the first woman to co-anchor a network evening news program. Back in 2008, our host, Michel Martin, spoke with Walters about her career and childhood. Her father ran one of Miami's most prominent nightclubs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BARBARA WALTERS: I had some fascinating times sitting in the lighting booth, watching Frank Sinatra and Sophie Tucker and Milton Berle. But again, it was an isolated childhood. We moved a great deal, and my father made and lost fortunes. He was a gambler. And when I was in my 20s, he lost it all, and then I had to support the whole family, so I had to work. Now, Michel, what does it mean when you have to work? It means if you have a bad day or you're bored or it's too tough, you don't go home to Mama.

MICHEL MARTIN: You are Mama.

WALTERS: You are Mama, and you work. And then when I had my struggles, both on "The Today Show" and when I came to ABC with men who really didn't want me as a partner, I knew what it was to fail. And fortunately, you know, I know what it is to survive.

MARTIN: Well, you know, it's not ancient history, but in some ways, I think people would be shocked to find out that there are a lot of people who thought you just didn't belong there and had no problem saying so to your face, and I would just like to know how you got up every day and took it.

WALTERS: Well, the major one when I was at NBC - because I'd been very happy when Hugh Downs was there. I was a writer on the show and they were very happy times. And then a newsman named Frank McGee came in, and he didn't want to do "The Today Show." He thought it was beneath him. He had been doing the nightly news. And he sure didn't want me, and he made it very difficult. He went to the head of the news, the president of NBC News, and said he didn't want me to participate at all in the Washington interviews. So the compromise was, well, you can come in after he's asked three questions. So I went off and did my own, and that's when I did interviews like Henry Kissinger or Dean Rusk, or President Nixon, for that matter.

MARTIN: Because if you were out of the studio, then the three-question rule didn't apply.

WALTERS: If I were out of the studio, Michel - right. So, I mean, I guess my philosophy is, if I have one, is you don't whine. You just try to make yourself invaluable.

MARTIN: What do you think is your gift?

WALTERS: I listen. I write my own questions, and I think they trust me. I think they know that I'm not a hit-and-run driver. I don't start out saying, this is going to be an interview in which I'm going to be a killer so that I can make headlines. And I do it for the viewers. I don't do it for the newspapers to get a headline.

NADWORNY: That was Barbara Walters speaking with NPR's Michel Martin in 2008. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.