When you’re hyping a high-priced memoir on Oprah, you’d better come up with a deeply personal revelation. So ABC News diva Barbara Walters, flacking her much-anticipated autobiography, Audition, marketed her “secret” love affair with married Republican senator Edward Brooke, of Massachusetts, at the time (back in the seventies) the Senate’s only African-American.
Unfortunately, the titillating tidbit is old news. Very old news.
According to Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist and former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, the Walters-Brooke romance was so well known in September 1975, when Walters was 46 and Brooke was a decade older, that Washington Post gossip-ista Maxine Cheshire put it in her popular “VIP” column.
“A year after I became President Ford’s White House photographer,” Kennerly e-mailed last night, “there were items swirling around in the press suggesting that I was dating President Ford’s daughter Susan (I wasn’t), that I was out of favor with him (I wasn’t), and that my staff was being cut back, and perhaps my whole operation was going to be eliminated (it wasn’t). Those pieces coincided with an appearance I was going to make on the Today Show with Barbara Walters a couple of weeks later in the fall of 1975. On the way over to the NBC studios in New York, I told a photographer buddy who was accompanying me that if the overly inquisitive Ms. Walters brought those matters up I was going to mention” the Brooke item.
“When the time came for me to sit face-to-face with her on live television, she quickly unleashed the heavy artillery, asking me about all of the above,” Kennerly continued. “I waited until she finished the anticipated question and said, ‘Well Barbara, I put those stories in the same category as those about you and Senator Ed Brooke, they are rumor and gossip.’ The interview took an immediate turn in my favor.”
Kennerly added that, the next day, NBC News anchor John Chancellor, Walters’s former Today co-host, phoned him at the White House. “I thought he was going to give me a hard time, but instead he said, ‘Kennerly, you’re a hero at NBC.’”
The Today interview was the beginning of a beautiful frenemyship between Walters and Kennerly, who has seldom missed a chance to dis the diva. It was Kennerly, for instance, who leaked the famous story about Walters’s crazed behavior at the 1980 Republican National Convention, when former president Gerald Ford revealed to CBS anchor Walter Cronkite that he’d be interested in a “co-presidency” with nominee Ronald Reagan. Walters was lurking outside the CBS anchor booth to wrangle Ford for herself. Kennerly recalls that when the former president left the booth, Walters was all over him, begging him to repeat the scoop for ABC. “She was foaming at the mouth,” Kennerly says. “She said, ‘Mr. President, you’ve got to do this for old time’s sake. For Alan’s sake.’ It was one of the most unseemly performances I’d ever witnessed.” After Edward Brooke, Walters had dated former Ford White House economic adviser Alan Greenspan.
A while after the story was published, Kennerly (who has since co-authored the book Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford) found himself sitting next to Greenspan on the New York–Washington shuttle. The photographer quickly owned up to planting the tidbit. “It’s not my problem,” Greenspan retorted, dryly.
Walters declined to comment through her high-powered publicist, PMK/HBH doyenne Cindi Berger, and the 88-year-old Brooke, who is married and living in Florida, didn’t respond to a phone message. —Lloyd Grove