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Journalism In the Hands of Ms. WaWa

Barbara Walters At the Helm, Then and Now

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 15, 2000.

In the old days, journalists would say or do anything to get into the good graces of the powerful in order to obtain wished-for information. Sycophants of the press would write the puff pieces and civilization beamed its approval. This was widely considered bad, even if everyone knew and accepted the script and so was rarely fooled. More to the point, journalists were not in it for the money because there was so little of it, and the readers tended to side with the poorer party, because they could relate to them.

But things are changed. Now the press is fawned over and praised beyond reason by the mighty, and everyone thinks this is good because, well, the press assures us it is and we get these juicy stories about intimate secrets and sex lives of the actually beautiful and everyone's salary is so much higher.

In the Carter Presidency, years ago, Barbara Walters practically took credit for the Camp David Accords because, she felt, she and lesser journalists had, solely through their own efforts, brought Begin and Sadat to a compromise under President Carter because of some well placed and received phone calls. It was the first sign of a dementia that hasn't left this woman. It apparently never occurred to her that in the old days when nations were not speaking but needed to, an ambassador would suddenly become ill and take to bed. Nobody would disdain the civilized gesture of the ambassador of the opposing nation visiting to offer personal condolences. It was understood they could talk about whatever was needed, after which a miraculous health cure occurred, a treaty could be signed, and history putter forward yet again. These days, of course, that isn't nearly fast enough, and press leaks and reluctantly given press interviews often serve the same goals. But the media always chooses, against all sense and evidence, that they are the cause of the benefits, rather than the mere tool of very clever, or not, heads of state. This is often only embarrassing, but not always.

The parents of JonBenét Ramsey allowed themselves, heroically, to be interviewed by Barbara Walters, and in the words of Walters, she found them "credible." Evidence for this, it seemed to Walters, is that they did not have a lawyer present, whereas all other people she had interviewed while they were under suspicion did, including Monica Lewinski. Walters finds it unbelievable that the Ramseys would risk this dice with death if they were guilty. How else, Walters implies, can you explain it?

My hand goes up. The reason, Ms. Walters, is that the Ramseys consider you, with much evidence, an idiot. They would be under more pressure being interviewed live by Kathy Lee Gifford, because that wreck is so unstable you never know: she might ask out of nowhere the question that folds up the Ramseys disgusting life performance. Barbara Walters, on the other hand, is as predictable as a soap opera. She doesn't telegraph her punches, she packs a steamer trunk in full sight minutes ahead of time and has it sent in by hobbled coolie. The Ramseys could have been stinking drunk and on truth serum, the interview done live, and still no threat to their secret would exist in front of the nip and tucked ancient goddess of lisp.

But Walters doesn't get it. She really thinks she is a highly regarded journalist, feared for her ability to elicit the truth from the unwilling. On the contrary, she is the organ of choice when a celebrity wishes to reveal some positive or attention getting gambit. Walters gets high ratings because she is considered a journalist by the unwashed.

It may be that the Ramseys are innocent, but I cannot believe that anyone can credit their explanations for their daughter's stage routines and activities, or can look upon Patsy Ramsey - an evil Stella Dallas - as less than an emotional refrigerant who cannot act her way out of paper bag and doesn't seem to know it, or listen to John Ramsey describe what, based upon his emotional depth of feeling, seems to be a third person description of a Peruvian bus plunge years ago, but is really the tale about his daughter's murder in his own home. Nobody presses the Ramseys, if they originally thought the child had been kidnapped, how they could have placidly talked through the anointed time for the kidnapper's phone call they were expecting according to the criminal's note, a three page second draft written without fear of discovery within their own home.

But because Walters sees no evil, and couches her softball charges in the third person, the Ramseys walked away no worse than they went in and with a big plug for their book about their alleged ordeal. This is the danger when the journalist is more powerful than the subject, because there is no reward for pressing for truth. There is only reward for air time.