Legendary journalist Barbara Walters has interviewed every sitting president and first lady since Richard Nixon. Some were charming, others were brilliant -- while one, she admits, had to win her over. In this candid "Oprah's Master Class" interview, Walters reflects on the differences between our nation's leaders, and the one thing they all have in common.
"The presidents I've talked to, starting with Richard Nixon, I don't know any of them who said, 'When I grow up I'm going to be president. That's my ambition,'" Walters says.
President Barack Obama, for instance, told Walters that when he was a young boy he thought he might grow up to be an architect. "He said he never thought that he was going to be president. I mean, given his background I can see that he wouldn't have thought that," Walters says.
That similarity aside, each sitting president Walters has interviewed during her five decades as a journalist made a distinct impression.
Jimmy Carter, she says, was destined for greatness. "Jimmy Carter, I think even though no one knew who he was at that time, you could tell that this was a brilliant man and that in spite of the way he appeared, that there was an ambition there that was going to make a great deal of difference."
As for the most charming president, Walters awards that honor to Ronald Reagan. "You could not be with Ronald Reagan and not become very fond of him, no matter what the politics," she says.
Bill Clinton, on the other hand, wasn't Walters' favorite at first. "I was not, in the beginning, as big a Clinton fan as others because everybody was such a fan," she admits. "I feel differently about him now. He is one of the most brilliant men I have ever met. His knowledge, the way he articulates things, is simply a joy to listen to."
During her presidential interviews, Walters says she always found it important to get to the heart of her subject's personality. "I am fascinated by the personality of our leaders," she says.
"Who are they, what do they believe in?" she'd ask. "I used to be criticized for asking those kind of questions." The most important thing, she was told, was to ask the hard news question. But Walters didn't agree.
"I think it's important to know what's important to them," she explains. "You have to find out, if you can, what makes someone tick. Why would somebody be able to send troops in? What would go through their mind? Because personality does affect history."
What makes for a good president, according to Walters, is this: "There has to be ambition there, it can't just be pragmatic. There has to be some idealism. You have to go through so much that it takes a combination of things to make a man or a woman -- hey, I never thought I'd be saying that -- a president," Walters says.
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