Barbara did it with a formula of soft banal questions and "niceness." Taki remembers her asking Katharine Hepburn "what kind of a tree she would have liked to be had she been a tree." It struck Miss Hepburn, says Taki, "like a thunderbolt." I wish he had recalled what kind of questions Barbara had asked Monica Lewinsky or President Sadat or Alfred Einstein -- if she ever interviewed him. She might have. Did she ask him the tree question? Under her influence, America's news gatherers sweep up the justly renowned, the newsworthy, the celebrated and the freaks. |"The insatiable hunger for fame and celebrity that American has suffered from since the 1960s," writes Taki, "can be traced to her rise." Give her credit. She was historic.
I remember my own early acquaintanceship with her. I was part of a group of journalists that dined occasionally in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Barbara was there with Walter Cronkite and such print journalists as Bill Safire from the New York Times. Usually she was accompanied by an executive from her network. What was it, ABC? CBS? At any rate, the business guy would accost us at every dinner with some banal event that Barbara had provoked on screen recently and marvel at its singularity. "Did you see her ask so and so what specimen of tree or of an avocado he might be?" -- my mind spins visions.
The last time I saw her, we were at a great dinner hosted by Vice President George H. W. Bush for, I think, Shimon Peres. I arrived at the reception a bit late and everyone was going in except Mort Zuckerman, the publishing mogul, and a very nice woman who Mort introduced me to. I apologized. I did not get her name. She enunciated it again and at least one more time. It was Barbara from our journalists' suppers but with a different face. She had apparently had work done, and I was unaware of the new Barbara. She never talked to me again.