Barbara Walters is a notorious bloodhound in the interviewer’s armchair. When she started on The Today Show, she did ‘tea-pouring’ interviews, light assignments seeking to appeal to the feminine sensibility. Later, she was upgraded to reporter-at-large, able to produce her own reports and interviews. Immediately her output became more cerebral. She fought to be able to pose questions to Today Show interviewees after the host Frank McGee had asked the first three. By being what she calls “a pushy cookie,” Walters broke though the oaken doors of the News Journalism boys club.
Today’s television interviews are the way they are in part because of Barbara Walters. Unblinkingly and in her characteristic lisp, Walters asked questions whose answer the entire nation wanted to hear. Bob Schieffer, a CBS institution since 1969, called Baba Wawa the ‘toughest competitor’ he had ever encountered. Oprah, who withheld tears while delivering her “the greatest joy I have ever known” monologue in announcing the end of her talk show, was brought to tears by the savvy Barbara Walters.
In her legacy, many interviewers have tried to make their own Barbara Walters moment. However, lacking the Queen’s tact, finesse, and interpersonal skills, they’ve often been either too light or too blunt. The following twelve anecdotes are of interviewers who did not sufficiently grease the pan before laying down their omelet and ended up with scrambled eggs.
12. Robert De Niro Leaves Radio Times Interview for “Negative Inference”
In possibly the most recent instance of a star quitting an interview, Robert De Niro walked out during a conversation with a Radio Times reporter just this month. He was promoting his new film The Intern when the interviewer, Emma Brockes, asked him how he resists going on “autopilot” while on set. She then commented that the Tribeca district of New York, where a film festival co-founded by DeNiro takes place, is being overrun by bankers. All of a sudden, the 72-year-old actor asked her to pause her recorder, got up from his chair, and said he was cutting the interview short because of the negative inference of the questions. “[Negative inference] the whole way through and I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it, darling.”
11. Paris Hilton, Wounded, Leaves ABC Interview
By 2011, Paris Hilton no longer occupied the same place in our conception of a “celebrity.” By then, people no longer made “famous for being famous” jokes about her as they did in 2007, but rather about the hottest new item, Kim Kardashian (who already by now feels a little passé.) And even though Paris Hilton had by then been named one of Variety’s “Billion Dollar Entrepreneurs” and had a fragrance collection worth close to $2 billion, she was still apparently sensitive about her subsiding fame. When ABC’s Dan Harris asked her if she feared that her moment had passed, Paris Hilton glanced at her publicist, smirked, and then strolled off the set.
10. Robert Downey Jr. Bails on BBC Interview
Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the man whose interview Robert Downey Jr. bailed on, has a history of difficult chats. Quentin Tarantino told him he was “shutting [his] butt down” when asked about the relationship between movie and real violence. When Robert Downey Jr. walked out, the interviewer had been asking him about his past. He spit the actor’s past statement: “You can’t go from a $2,000 a night hotel suite to a penitentiary and understand it and come out a liberal,” essentially asking if he was a liberal. Downey Jr. uncomfortably evaded the question. The interviewer then asked if his tumultuous relationship with his father had affected his dark periods of drug addiction. Downey Jr. glanced to and from his publicist and then walked off.
9. Justin Bieber Hangs Up on Radio Show
In June of 2012, Justin Bieber and the One Direction boys were apparently becoming good friends. Then the story broke that Harry Styles, One Direction’s unexpected heartthrob, had slept with two much older women (in their thirties while he was still an adolescent.) According to Selena Gomez, Bieber’s main squeeze at the time, the Canadian singer banned the British singer from approaching his mom. A few days later, on the Detroit radio show “Mojo in the Morning,” the DJ told Justin that he should worry about his mom around Styles. Justin said that he should worry about his mom, to which the DJ responded: “My mom is dead.” There was a silence, the DJ quipped “This is where the interview goes really south, right Justin?” and then Bieber hung up.
8. Joan Rivers Walks Out on CNN
In July of 2014, the late comedienne Joan Rivers sat down to discuss her new book with CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. The interviewer made her first misstep when calling Joan’s fashion critiquing “very mean in some ways.” Joan responded by saying that she’s commenting on dresses, not characters, and that either way the women in the photos are so rich that they couldn’t care any less what some jesters have to say. Then the interviewer said, “Do you feel like there are boundaries ever?” Referring to Rivers’ legendary fearlessness, “You have some shock value to you. On the cover of your book, you’re wearing a fur!” Rivers, upset that was becoming a defensive interview, delivered an invigorated diatribe on comedy, then tore out her earpiece and walked off.
7. Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar Walk Out On Their Own Show
In October of 2010, republican mouthpiece Bill O’Reilly stopped by The View to promote his new book Pinheads and Patriots. In the panel, O’Reilly argued that seventy percent of Americans didn’t want the Ground Zero Mosque to be erected because, “it’s inappropriate… the muslims killed us on 9/11.” At that point, Joy Behar (whom O’Reilly had already told to quiet down and listen because she might learn something) pops out of her seat and says, “I don’t want to sit here now.” Whoopi Goldberg does the same, pats Joy Behar on the back, and the two walk off the stage in tandem.
6. French President Nicolas Sarkozy Walks Out Of 60 Minutes
In an October 2007 60 Minutes profile of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the interviewer stops the political discussion to ask the man about his romantic life. As she says in the voiceover, “the day we interviewed him, Paris was buzzing with rumors that [his wife] had left him [for a second time.]” The question she asks him: “Since we’ve been here, it seems everyday we’re hearing another story about your wife. What’s going on?” He says, “If I had something to say about Cecilia, I would certainly not do so here.” After lauding his press secretary for not making a comment a briefing earlier that day, he thanks the interviewer and leaves.
5. Selena Gomez Goes Radio Silent on Satellite Interview
In 2013, pop starlet Selena Gomez and her famous boyfriend Justin Bieber had just broken up. It being a famous liaison, she was asked about it on many television shows. She dished about it on Letterman. She chatted about it on Ellen. She flat out confirmed to Ryan Seacrest that they were no longer together. It seemed she was willing to discuss it. However, in a satellite interview with Dean Richards, she was asked: “Is there something about [Bieber] that we don’t get or we don’t understand?” referring to the young man’s erratic behavior. It seems like it was the absolute wrong question, because Selena Gomez blushed, looked around nervously at her team, and then bailed on the interview.
4. Robert Pattinson Ditches Ryan Seacrest Interview
At the premiere of the New Moon installment of the Twilight saga, Robert Pattinson sat down in a red carpet booth for a chat with Ryan Seacrest. After a few questions about the movie and the press junket, Seacrest asked: “What do you say to your fans who are desperate to know about you and your co-star Kristen [Stewart]?” Even during the question, Pattinson’s publicist started making a whirlpool motion with her finger like, Hell no; wrap it up. But Seacrest finished his question. Pattinson said: “I can tell them watch New Moon it’s amazing!” And then walks out, as per publicists orders, however very politely. Seacrest jests: “I was just cut off for the first time ever!”
3. Russell Crowe Loses His Temper on BBC Radio 4
“You’ve got dead ears, mate,” responded the Australian Russell Crowe to his interviewer’s suggestion that his performance as Robin Hood had flecks of an Irish accent. “I’m a little dumbfounded that you could find any Irish in the accent. That’s… ridiculous.” Ignoring the tension, the interviewer asked him later if he and the director Ridley Scott argued a lot on set. Crowe rambled a little but stayed cool. The interview then asked him about rumors that he didn’t want to say his famous line in Scott’s other movie Gladiator, (“and I will have my vengeance in this life or the next”). Russell Crowe, by then invisibly pissed off, walked out of the recording booth to the sound of his publicist saying, “thank you.”
2. Gary Coleman Screams: “F*** YOU!” On The Insider
In 2010, Gary Coleman, who played Arnold Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes, went on The Insider to address rumors that he had been abusing his wife. It was Coleman against a panel of four, including a lawyer with a passion for the dramatic. The lawyer kept hounding him for answers that weren’t meaningless double-talk. “Why don’t you want to answer the question about whether you abused your wife?” She finally yelled. Gary Coleman, at the end of his patience, retaliated: “You can go f*** yourself!” “Is this the kind of anger that leads to you physically assaulting your wife?” She asked. At that he stormed off, and the host said: “Gary, come back!” To which he responded: “No, f*** you!”
1. Naomi Campbell Leaves Interview, Knocks Over Camera
In 2010, British supermodel Naomi Campbell was asked about a blood diamond she allegedly received from former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Actress Mia Farrow let on to the media that in 1997, when she and Campbell had been guests of Nelson Mandela’s in South Africa, she had overheard that the model had received the diamond as a gift from the Liberian war criminal. Naomi Campbell would only confirm that she had had dinner with Nelson Mandela. She wouldn’t confirm that she ate with Charles Taylor. She said: “I’m not here to speak about that.” Naomi Campbell, ever graceful but always temperamental, got out of her seat and left, slapping down a camera on the way.