By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Barbara Walters’ twice-told tale

Barbara Walters must think that if you wait for everyone to forget, you can trot out an old affair and tout it as news. The media world is buzzing softly (very softly) over Walters’ revelation that she had an affair with then-senator Ed Brooke in the 1970s. She is, of course, peddling a book.

Maybe it’s because I’m old, but my first reaction was: “I knew that.” It sounded very familiar to me when we talked about it on “Beat the Press” yesterday on WGBH-TV (Channel 2). When I started searching, I found this line from a March 5, 2000, Globe profile of Brooke by staff writer Sally Jacobs, referring to his life in the ’70s: “A regular at the lavish parties at the Iranian Embassy, he did the hustle with Elizabeth Taylor and squired Barbara Walters about town.”

There’s also this, from a Feb. 17, 1980, story on Walters by then-staffer Marian Christy:

Walters has dated Alexis Lichine, the wine expert who was once married to Arlene Dahl. She used to count among her friends former Sen. Ed Brooke and Secretary General of the Organization of American States Alex Orfila. Both Brooke and Orfila are married now and, for some years, Walters’ closest friend has been Alan Greenspan, the financial wizard.

Do we not understand the plain meaning of this? Especially that Brooke became a “former” friend of Walters after he got married?

Unfortunately, the Globe’s online archives only go back to 1980, and this isn’t exactly worth an afternoon in the microfilm room. But these two tidbits make me think I’m not hallucinating about having seen gossip items in the papers during the 1970s, when the Walters-Brooke affair took place.

I don’t recall people as caring much back then. I can’t imagine anyone cares now.

More: Media Nation reader Esther points to a New York Magazine item reporting that the Walters-Brooke affair made the Washington Post gossip column, “VIP,” way back in 1975.

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  1. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    THANK YOU!!I had the same reaction to this; Brooke and Walters were commonly known to be an item back then. The media were a bit more discrete back then in reporting who was doing what with and to whom, but this struck me as a very old story.Institutional memories seem to be fading, and the kid reporters of today, with electronic searching bringing instant gratification, don’t learn about history they merely learn how to “access” historical facts when needed.Rule one for journalism students ought to be “read the obituaries, you’ll learn something.” But unfortunately, obits seem to be farmed out to interns instead of the Edgar Driscolls of the world.

  2. Esther

    Dan, you’re right, it is an old story. Go to and scroll down to the “People” section. They’ve got some background on it.

  3. Anonymous

    Even worse, when it comes to obits, is that more and more newspapers are taking paid obits, which means family members can add in lots of warm and fuzzy “he passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loving family and his adoring grandchildren” while leaving out relevant facts from the life of the deceased. Paid obits are like ads, with most papers now just taking the money, holding their noses and running whatever comes from the family or funeral home. That will leave historians with some woefully erroneous obits to use in their future research. Imagine the paid obit of a mob boss or ex-con in a suburban community? The paid obit will undoubtedly paint the man as a saint, leaving out a life of crime, involvement in a scandal or some other role that could be, in a future context, historic. It’s a sad move on the part of newspapers, eager to bring in revenue wherever they can.

  4. Don, American

    You’re right; I don’t care.

  5. Gladys Kravitz

    Thanks for confirming this Dan, It was bothering me a little too. I knew that I knew about this minor celebritiy canoodle once before. Now I’m just bothered because I must accept that I’m old enough to know about ancient B-list trivia which a generation and a half are oblivious to – yet can’t manage to extract that perfect word from my brain, or read an ingredient label without funny looking glasses from CVS. Oh well. We’ll always have Barbara.Geriatricly yours,Gladys

  6. Peter Porcupine

    DK – perhaps she’s just hurt that SHE didn’t make HIS memoirs?

  7. mike_b1

    Why would anyone brag about doing Barbara WaWa? That’s just gross.

  8. Anonymous

    Good catch Dan. Glad you pointed out how the hype machine works with regard to this new “revelation.”In the the 1970s in America, people were very tolerant of affairs among the high and mighty within reason. Of course we still are: witness Bill Clinton’s popularity even at the height of the attacks on him. But the media loves to give the people a good scandal, or new revelations about an old one. It’s cheap and easy journalism, and it helps the people ignore the issues that are actually affecting their lives and how little anyone is doing to address them.

  9. Anonymous

    Sadly, like “BaBa WaWa”, he will forever be marginalized as “Ed Bwooke”, he deserves better. Slightly OT, my brother passed away last week. Funeral home has been trying for FOUR DAYS (“sorry, it will make the Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday paper”)to get a paid death notice into the Globe. (Didn’t do it myself to ensure online link for condolences). Other papers around the country got notice in, no El Globo. From my experience of the last week, the internet is not their biggest problem.

  10. Anonymous

    Who cares? She has a book she’s trying to create a buzz for, and the consensus opinion I’ve heard around town has been, ‘so what’? I won’t buy it. I won’t be reading it or watching programs discussing it. It’s time for her to leave.

  11. Scott Allen Miller

    The affair was the subject of DC and media gossip, but from what I’m seeing the gossip never turned into a confirmed report that Brooke and Walters were an item. These days celeb tabloids and gossip columnists break legit stories, but in the 70s the gossip writers were viewed by the public with a great deal of skepticism. Gossip columns (even Maxine Cheshires) ran in the same fluff pages as the horoscopes and recipes.I still think that few people have connected the dots here. Brooke had marriage problems for a long time, but he finally decided to divorce his wife at least partly due to his relationship with Walters. That decision led to the disclosers of financial impropriety (which may or may not have been Walters-related) and then Brooke being voted out of office for Tsongas. The implications of the story are much greater than whose bed his slippers were under. 🙂

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Scotto: I was a college student, for God’s sake, not some media insider. The Walters-Brooke affair was reported at the time. I knew it then, I remember it now, and several other commenters here do, too. Just because it’s news to you doesn’t mean it “never turned into a confirmed report.”

  13. Anonymous

    I was a high school student in New Jersey and all the kids was talking about this affair Walters-Brooke it was a hot subject. Because it was a black man and white woman. Big dealAlao I was certainly and my high school friends was not some media insider either. I think it was mention in the Star or National Eq magazine at the time

  14. Anonymous

    Okay, Dan, the only thing I don’t get is, why are you even paying attention to this? Much as is the case with your inexplicable interest in AM talk radio, I’m surprised to see this even registers with you. We’re talking about BARBARA FREAKIN’ WALTERS here.Again: TV “news” is a TV show. As with the Brian Williams story, I advise that you pay it no mind.

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