When President Richard Nixon went on his ground-breaking trip to China in 1972, Barbara Walters went with him. She wasn’t a star at the time, but as one of only three media women on the trip, she was on her way to fame and fortune. Never mind that she had to fly over in “the zoo plane,” as the Pan Am Boeing 707 carrying the photographers and technicians would be dubbed. Forget about the fact that, by all accounts, she was not in the best of moods as she occasionally looked up out of her window to see another 707, this one operated by TWA, carrying the big guns and good old boys of the major media du jour. She would be an important player one day.
That day has come - and gone.
If Barbara Walters were a tree she’d hardly be noticed these days against the ambient background noise generated by so many stellar female personalities – women for whom she paved the way. Hardly noticed, that is, until last week. Now she is everywhere, plugging her new tell-all memoir, “AUDITION.”
Trees are felled to make paper. Books are made of paper. But this book falls glaringly short of the value of the paper on which it’s printed. It will sell – no doubt about it – because it has some juicy stuff in it. Just to make sure the reader’s eyes don’t glaze over, as so often happens when they watch a Barbara Walters T.V. Special, she has decided to tell us about one thing that had previously been left off her impressive resume.
Barbara Walters is an adulteress. And apparently, she is PROUD of it.
Now, before anyone takes me to task suggesting that I am a narrow-minded clergyman who delights in pointing out the failures and flaws of others, let me disabuse reasonable readers of that notion. Yes, I do deal with the destructive fallout of infidelity all too often in my work. I also preach a message that includes a call to personal faithfulness and even something almost foreign to American discourse these days – righteousness.
But I also understand human nature and our common propensity toward personal failure. In theological terms this is called sin. And anytime I speak or write on a subject like this, I am mindful of St. Paul’s admonition in the New Testament: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12, New International Version)
Furthermore, I am fully aware that Jesus himself dealt with an adulteress in tender terms when she was thrown before him in an attempt to make him look bad. When he told her “neither do I condemn you” – he wasn’t suggesting that she felt no real condemnation. She very much felt shame – because she knew what she had done was wrong - she knew the rules, living as she did in the Bible-belt of her day. So, she didn’t need people piling on to tell her what was obvious. Oh, and Jesus also told her “go and sin no more.” He called adultery sin – and told her to “just say no.”
Today, the obviousness of adultery as a sin is passé. We still regard lying as bad – stealing too. And murder. But adultery is something else – it’s in, even fashionable. You can admit to sleeping with another woman’s husband and get applause from the always-full pews at the Church of Oprah.
I know I may be coming across to some as self-righteous – which is to righteousness what cancer is to a healthy cell. I get that and will take the risk. People mess up and they need grace and forgiveness. I agree. My point is that I am not all that bothered, or surprised even, that a major T.V. celebrity has had an affair with a married man. It happens all too often in our “Sex and the City” culture.
What I have difficultly with is that extra-marital sex is talked about by Barbara minus any sense of shame, guilt, remorse, other than some utilitarian concerns about breaking off the affair to avoid scandal. Barbara Walters is flaunting her adultery. My grandmother would call her a “shameless hussy.”
To Barbara Walters the affair was “exciting.” Her paramour was then U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, moderate Republican from Massachusetts – the first African-American to be popularly elected to the Senate. The illicit relationship only ended when a friend told her: “This is going to come out. This is going to ruin your career. This is going to ruin him. You’ve got to break this off.”
And she did. But her decision had nothing to do with morality or a sense of right and wrong. It was a pragmatic choice, not a principled one.
As I have watched this story develop this week with Barbara rounding up the usual media suspects to plug her book, I have wondered: Where is the outrage - where are the women of our country – is everyone going to give her a pass?
Have we reached the place where adultery is actually no big deal – in fact, something to boast about? Is acknowledgement of an affair a short-cut to the best-seller list?
There are countless spouses in our country who have felt the deep personal pain of betrayal and rejection. Someone else has found their husband or wife “exciting,” as well. But it’s not glamorous to the spouse and family left behind.
Back in the early 1970’s, as Barbara Walters was climbing the career ladder trying to break that glass ceiling, there was a commercial on the tube – this was when they still ran cigarette ads – that suggested to women: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
I guess it’s fair that most of Barbara’s interviewers are tossing her the kind of slow-pitch softball questions that have always been her interrogative trademark. But I wish someone would toughen up a bit, as she could on occasion, and talk to her as she did to a girl named Monica a few years ago.
WALTERS: “What will you tell your children about the matter?”
LEWINSKY: “I guess Mommy made some mistakes.”
WALTERS: “And that is the understatement of the century.”At least Monica acknowledged she had made some mistakes.