A pioneer in broadcast journalism, Barbara Walters has been blazing a trail for women in news since the early ’60s when she became the first female co-host on an American news program.
In an illustrious career that has spanned more than half a century, Walters has interviewed myriad important figures in pop culture, from political leaders to celebrities and a little bit of everyone else along the way. She has always had a knack for landing the coveted “first interview,” largely due to her direct yet conversational approach to probing.
Although Walters’ days as an active anchor and co-host on The View may be over, it’s a safe bet the career journalist often mulls over the countless questions she has asked throughout the years. And with her 88th birthday fast approaching, we find ourselves applauding Walters’ awe-inspiring career too.
In a nod to this amazing example for creative women to follow, we decided to rank some of Walter’s best interview questions of all time.
10. “Does he hit you?”
In one of Walters’ most controversial interviews, she sat down with boxing champ Mike Tyson and his then-wife Robin Givens. As the couple sat next to each other, Walters asked Givens point-blank if the rumors about Tyson being abusive were true. “He shakes. He pushes, he swings. Sometimes I think he’s trying to scare me. There were times when it happened when I thought I could, after, handle it, you know. And just recently, I’ve become afraid. I mean, very, very much afraid,” Givens revealed. While asking the question in front of Tyson could have incited his rage toward Givens, it was a move that paid off. One week later, Givens got the courage to file for divorce.
9. “What kind of a tree are you?”
This could go down in history as one of Walters’ most comically offbeat questions. So why does it make the list? First, the moment wasn’t nearly as awkward as it was made out to be. Second, it’s an iconic minute in the annals of Walter’s life. What the question really spoke to was Walters’ ability to spin questions on a whim and her talent for listening to her subjects. In the interview, Katharine Hepburn mentions to Walters that she sees herself as a tree. Hence the “What kind of tree are you, if you think you’re a tree?” question. Incidentally, Hepburn totally got the line of questioning and said she’d be an oak.
8. “Do you think women can rule?”
A mere two years before Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown, Walters interviewed him in 1977 at his palace in Iran. Proving she’s a woman with some serious grit, Walters asked him if he believed a woman could rule. He said women lack men’s intelligence and abilities, but his wife seemed resistant on this point. When Walters asked the wife what she thought, she responded, “I don’t think you really believe that. But what have men done to the world, really?”
7. “Describe yourself.”
An unprecedented 74 million people tuned in to see what Bill Clinton’s ex-mistress would say about the infamous affair. Although Walters did get in a few questions about the “sexual relations,” she also asked a question no one else had taken the time to ask up until that moment: for Monica Lewinsky to describe herself. She used the time to apologize to the Clinton family, especially Hillary and Chelsea.
6. “Have you ever ordered anyone killed?”
One thing’s for certain — no one can accuse Walters of being a pushover. No matter who her interview subject was, Walters asked the questions we all wanted to but would likely be too afraid to ask. The first American journalist to interview Russian president Vladimir Putin, Walters cut to the chase and asked Putin directly whether or not he had ever ordered anyone killed. “Nyet” was his response.
5. “Do you think men should be the dominant figure in a relationship still?”
Walters has always had a special way of bringing people out of their shells, and Western screen star John Wayne proved no different. Never one to mince words, Walters asked Wayne about seemingly sexist statements he’d made about men and dominance. “Well, if this country had stayed the way it was, and if we hadn’t made it so tough for a family to keep up their type of living [that] their wives had to go to work, I would think it would be more pleasant. I think it’s be more pleasant for the lady as well,” Wayne said. Later in the interview, he alluded to a higher power being a man or a woman. It was a rare glimpse at the more pensive side of a man known to be of few words.
4. “Do you think O.J. Simpson is guilty?”
In 1996, Walters did what every single one of us who’d been following the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman homicide headlines for months wanted to do: grill Robert Kardashian to see what his real thoughts were about his BFF-slash-former-client, O.J. Simpson. And because Walters has an uncanny way of getting people to let their guard down, Kardashian responded honestly, saying, “I have doubts.”
3. “What would convince you to run in 2016?”
The next time Walters makes a prediction, you might want to take notice — ’cause she was spot-on when it came to interviewing former FLOTUS Hillary Clinton. “What would convince you to run in 2016?” Walters asked Clinton. “You know, that’s all hypothetical, because right now I have no intention of running,” Clinton responded. However, as we all now know, Clinton did make a presidential bid after all. She may not have won the election, but the fact that she ran was empowering to women everywhere.
2. “What do you sing?”
In what may be the cutest interview Walters has ever done, Walters asked Bill Gates what he sings to get his baby to fall asleep. The question, although odd, wasn’t totally out of left field. Earlier in the conversation, Gates confessed he and his wife had been taking singing lessons. Then the biggest surprise of all — billionaire Bill Gates began singing an impromptu version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
1. “Do you think [being blind & deaf] happened to you for a reason?”
Robert and Michelle Smithdas aren’t huge Hollywood celebs. In fact, they aren’t really celebs at all. Rather, they are a married couple, and both are both blind and deaf. During the interview, Walters asks Robert, who’d never seen his wife before, to describe her. “First of all, she is petite and rather delicate, very delicate bone structure.” She then turned her attention to Michelle, asking if she felt as though her being blind and deaf happened for a reason. “No, I do not question it,” she replied. “I should say that I am rather happy for what I am able to do and for what I have.” Now there’s the truth we all needed to hear!