Barbara Walters doesn't apologize easily. She's been a respected journalist for so many years that it's unimaginable to some that she would ever have anything to publicly apologize for. However, her recent views on--and association with--Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is raising some eyebrows, and her reputation is being called into question.
Walters has formed an odd friendship with Assad over the past few years, even going on vacation with him and his family in 2008 and returning to her daytime talk show The View to tell the girls how charming he was. But that's not the way most people see him; in the rest of the world's eyes, he is the leader of a bloody crackdown on those who protest him--around 4,000 people by the United Nations' count, including 300 children--and someone to be feared. Walters says he is misunderstood and came into the dictatorship only after the deaths of his father and brother.
After Walters interviewed Assad last December, ABC's George Stephanopoulos compared Assad's comments to those made by Omar Gaddafi, but Walters insisted there was no comparison.
“This man is not like Gaddafi,” Walters said. “First of all, Gaddafi, his whole demeanor was that of a wild man. This man is highly educated, very calm as you can see, and as far as he’s concerned — well, Gaddafi did say he had the support of his people — but there’s just a whole difference in the way that he handles himself.”
In January of this year, Walters wrote an email to a professor at Columbia University asking him to help secure a place at the school for a 21-year old girl who worked as an aide to Assad and helped land Walters her exclusive interview. She also used her connections to try and land the girl a job as an intern for the professor's son, who works for Piers Morgan. The emails were intercepted by Syrian opposition forces and reported by The Telegraph.
January 26 - Barbara Walters to Professor Richard Wald of Columbia University
On Jan 26, 2012, at 12:37 PM, "Walters, Barbara"
Hi there. This young woman, whose resume is attached, is the dtr of the Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. She helped arrange my interview with Assad. She is only 21 but had his ear and his confidence. I have recommended her as an intern to your son for Piers Morgan. She is applying to Columbia School of Journalism. She is brilliant, beautiful, speaks five languages. Anything you can do to help? And how are you anyway?
January 27 - Professor Richard Wald in reply to Barbara Walters
From: Richard Wald [XXXXXXXXX] Sent: Friday, January 27, 2012 10:30 PM
To: Walters, Barbara
Subject: Re: Updates
The degree she is applying for is not in the Journalism school but in International Affairs. However, through the Admissions Office network, I will get them to give her special attention. I am sure they will take her.
Walters apologized when the emails came to light, expressing regret and admitting it was a conflict of interest, but it's not clear that an apology is going to ease the minds of some of her fans...especially fellow journalists, who have had to work hard to get where they are without connections.