TORONTO (CP) - As Paris Hilton is sprung from jail and prepares to discuss her time in the slammer with CNN's Larry King on Wednesday night, she leaves a veteran newswoman already besieged by controversy in her wake.
The big-bucks clamour to snag Hilton's first post-jail interview hit fever pitch last week, with NBC reportedly offering US$1 million to the hard-partying heiress, thereby significantly outbidding ABC - where Barbara Walters apparently assumed she had the whole thing sewn up after a steady campaign seemingly designed to win over the Hiltons. NBC denied it had made any commitment to the family.
What a difference a week makes. Both networks, apparently sobered by the public backlash against paying a small fortune to a wealthy hotel heiress who allegedly drove drunk, dropped any plans to talk to Hilton. Instead, Hilton will talk to CNN's King for free.
It's arguably the iconic Walters, said to be seething at the Hiltons for dropping ABC in favour of NBC last week, whose reputation has taken the hardest hit, both for her attempts to win the interview and her behaviour when losing it.
On Monday, Walters - famous for her fawning celebrity interviews, especially chats with stars in hot water - sniffed to the New York Post that talking to Hilton was beneath her anyway.
"Look, I've done prison interviews before, but people like the Menendez brothers were really important news stories - this wasn't," Walters told Cindy Adams, the Post gossip columnist who travels in the same well-heeled Manhattan circles as she does, when asked why she didn't take up Hilton's offer to give her a free interview after NBC said it was no longer interested.
"And even though I'd already written my questions, when all that pay-for-play stuff happened, I suddenly felt this was not up to my standard ... the whole thing somehow was beneath me."
It's a strange claim for a woman who breathlessly reported on her collect call from the jailbird just two weeks ago, suggested she'd like to see Hilton guest-host "The View," and travelled to Los Angeles recently for her Hollywood Walk of Fame induction ceremonies with Kathy and Nicky Hilton conspicuously in attendance.
"Celebrity interviews are what Barbara Walters does, it's what she's done for a good long time, so she's being disingenuous," Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at the University of Syracuse, said in an interview on Monday. "This sour grapes stuff just makes her look petty and silly."
Perhaps Walters read the reaction to the piece she wrote for ABC.com just two weeks ago, when she said Hilton, who hadn't been in jail a week when she called Walters and told her she'd found God, was sick of "playing dumb" and was going to emerge from jail a better person.