So it turns out the journalist tried to arrange for an aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to get a job at CNN and be admitted to graduate school at Columbia University. This happened after the aide, Sheherazad Jaafari, got Walters an interview with Assad.
According to an article by Meghan Keneally and Ian Garland in the Daily Mail:
Upon her move from Syria, Ms Jaafari applied to Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and hope to translate her time working as a press aide to Assad into a staff position at a major American news outlet.
Ms Walters emailed Columbia Journalism School professor Richard Wald, former president of NBC News and vice president of ABC News, to sing Ms Jaafari’s praises. Mr Wald responded that while his position at the Journalism School is unconnected to the School of International and Public Affairs, he would do his best to help, saying that ‘through the Admissions Office network, I will get them to give her special attention. I am sure they will take her.’
Mr Wald’s son, Jonathan Wald, is the executive producer of Piers Morgan Tonight, was also the recipient of an email from Ms Walters. She told Ms Jaafari that she wrote to both Jonathan Wald and Piers Morgan on her behalf and passed along her resume for their consideration, even though she was unsure if they had any availability.
Jaafari was not admitted to Columbia, nor did she obtain a job at Piers Morgan Tonight.
According to the article, “the two appeared very close, with Ms Walters signing her emails with ‘hugs’ and ‘love’ and Ms Jaafari promising to bring back jewellery from Syria for her so-called adoptive mother.”
That is a little weird, especially since Jaafari’s only substantive connection with Walters appears to be her onetime role in getting the journalist an interview with a brutal dictator, but there’s not much of a problem here.
If someone as prominent as Barbara Walters tries to use her influence to get someone admitted to an academic program, and she still doesn’t get in, the system seems basically to work.