Pioneering TV journalist Barbara Walters signs off

Year
2014
Month Day
May 16

On May 16, 2014, broadcast journalist and TV personality Barbara Walters retires from ABC News and as co-host of the daytime program “The View.” In a landmark career that spanned some 50 years on air, the 84-year-old Walters blazed a trail for women in TV news. On Walter’s May 16th “View” sendoff, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric were among the more than two dozen female broadcasters who appeared on the show to pay tribute to the legendary newswoman.

Born in Boston on September 25, 1929, Walters, whose father was a night club owner, grew up in Massachusetts, New York City and Miami. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Walters worked as a TV writer and producer in New York before joining NBC’s “The Today Show” in 1961 as a writer and, eventually, on-air reporter. In 1974, she was named an official co-host of the program, the first woman to hold the job. Two years later, Walters became the first woman to co-anchor a nightly network newscast, earning a record $1 million a year. However, after experiencing tension with her “ABC Evening News” co-host, Harry Reasoner, and low ratings, Walters left the program in 1978. From 1984 to 2004, she was a co-host and producer of the TV newsmagazine “20/20.” Additionally, in 1997, she created “The View,” co-hosting the program from its inception until her retirement.

Best known for her interviews, over the decades Walters went one-on-one with American presidents (she interrogated every commander in chief from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama), world leaders, movie stars, convicted killers and scores of other newsmakers. In 1977, she convinced Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to submit to their first joint interview, and that same year she also traveled to Cuba for a headline-making sit down with dictator Fidel Castro. In 2001, she interviewed President Vladimir Putin of Russia and asked whether he’d ever ordered anyone killed (he said “nyet”). She also conducted interviews with such notorious figures as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Moammar Qadaffi and Syria’s Bashir al Assad. In 1999, Monica Lewinsky, whose affair with President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment, gave her first TV interview to Walters; a record-breaking 74 million viewers tuned in, making it the highest-rated news program ever broadcast by a single network.

Walters, who interviewed almost every major Hollywood celebrity, also earned a reputation for skillfully asking probing questions that made a number of her famous subjects tear up. However, one question Walters had a tough time living down occurred during a 1981 on-air conversation with Katharine Hepburn. After the actress compared herself to a tree, Walters said, “What kind of tree are you, if you think you’re a tree?”

On May 13, 2013, Walters announced that after more than half a century in TV, she would retire the following year. Shortly before the acclaimed journalist made her official farewell on “The View” in May 2014, her longtime employer, ABC, honored her by naming its news headquarters in New York City the Barbara Walters Building.

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Mt. Everest sees its single deadliest day

Year
2014
Month Day
April 18

On April 18, 2014, 16 Nepali mountaineering guides, most of them ethnic Sherpas, are killed by an avalanche on Mt. Everest, the Earth’s highest mountain. It was the single deadliest accident in the history of the Himalayan peak, which rises more than 29,000 feet above sea level and lies across the border between Nepal and China.

The avalanche, which occurred around 6:30 a.m., swept over the Sherpas in a notoriously treacherous area of Everest known as the Khumbu Icefall, at approximately 19,000 feet. At the time, the Sherpas had been hauling loads of gear for commercial expedition groups. The disaster, in which no foreigners were killed, reopened debates about the dangerous risks undertaken by Sherpas for their typically affluent clients (in addition to lugging most of the supplies for an expedition, Sherpas are responsible for such tasks as setting lines of fixed ropes and ladders for climbers), as well as the over-commercialization of Everest, where human traffic jams during the spring mountaineering season and massive amounts of litter have become common.

In 1953, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to officially reach the summit of Everest, which the British named in 1865 for George Everest, a Welsh-born surveyor general of India. Andrew Waugh, his successor as surveyor general, chose the mountain’s moniker; it’s unlikely George Everest ever saw the peak named in his honor. (Meanwhile, the Nepalese refer to the mountain as Sagarmatha, while Tibetans call it Chomolungma and the Chinese know it as Zhumulangma Feng.) Since Hillary and Norgay’s historic achievement, more than 4,000 people have scaled Everest, while at least several hundred others have perished in the process. In 1996, eight climbers were caught in a storm on the mountain and died, as chronicled in the best-selling book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. That season, a total of 15 people lost their lives on Everest, making it the deadliest season until 2014.

In the aftermath of the April 18th tragedy, a number of Sherpas boycotted the remainder of the climbing season, out of respect for the 16 guides who were killed and also to protest such issues as the pay and treatment of Sherpas. As a result, many commercial expedition companies opted to cancel their planned ascents.

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