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Scott D. Pierce
Scott D. Pierce writes about television for the Salt Lake Tribune. Vice president of the Television Critics Associationn, he's covered TV in Utah since 1990.

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FILE - This June 23, 2012 file photo shows Barbara Walters presenting an award onstage at the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, file)
Retiring Barbara Walters is a journalism icon who helped dumb down TV news

As she announces her retirement, Barbara Walters is being hailed as some sort of broadcast journalism icon.

She's certainly broken ground. First as the co-host of "The Today Show"; then as the first female co-anchor of an evening newscast (on ABC); then as the co-anchor of ABC's first successful prime-time newsmagazine ("20/20"); finally as the producers and sometimes panelist on "The View."

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Walters has interviewed a variety of important newsmakers - up to and including heads of state. She's broken news.

And she deserves a lot of credit not just for doing that, but for breaking barriers in a male-dominated industry while she did it.

But Walters' legacy is a complicated one. She is, as much as anyone, responsible for the dumbing down of TV news. For the mixing of real news and celebrity gossip.

The term infotainment could have been coined just for her.

And in her tell-all biography, she revealed she had an affair with then Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass., that lasted for years. During that time, he was still married to his first wife.

You can draw whatever moral judgment you'd like about that. In terms of journalism, Walters was sleeping with someone she reported on. Without telling her bosses.

If it had come out at the time, she would have been fired. She would have deserved to be fired.

When she wrote a book about it years later, she was celebrated by ABC, which aired a prime-time special that essentially promoted her book.

This is where network broadcast journalism has fallen in the age of infotainment.

Walters' legacy is complicated. If you give her credit for the good, you've got to assign blame for the bad.

And there's plenty of both.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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