Barbara Walters used an appearance on Oprah today to reveal her three-decades-ago affair with a married member of the U.S. Senate: Ed Brooke, the liberal Republican who represented Massachusetts from 1967 to 1979, and the first African-American ever elected to the chamber.
The veteran newswoman and View co-host told Oprah that the affair ended shortly before Brooke’s 1978 reelection campaign, after Walters was warned by a male friend that she was playing with fire.
“He said, ‘This is going to come out. This is going to ruin your caree,'” Walters said. Then the friend, speaking of Brooke, added: “This is going to ruin him. You’ve got to break this off.”
So the affair ended and Walters’ career was no worse for it, since no one—until now—found out. But it may—indirectly—have ruined Brooke’s anyway, because his messy divorce from his wife, Remigia, became the focal point of his failed bid for a third term in ’78.
Brooke had built his electoral success in Massachusetts with the backing of the state’s small (though not nearly as small as now) Republican base and a substantial number of crossover votes from liberal Democrats. This was back in the era when the partisan lines in Washington were not nearly as deep and entrenched as they now are. Brooke supported busing and publicly funded abortions, and his supporters included a 36-year-old Jesse Jackson.
But his divorce exploded onto the front pages in ’78 when, in June, the Senate Ethics Committee launched a probe into loans that Brooke had received from his wife and failed to report to the Senate. The committee expanded its inquiry in the fall—at the height of the campaign season—and Brooke’s personal finances came to dominate the campaign story line. On Election Day, he was knocked off by Paul Tsongas, who was then a second-term congressman from Lowell, and shortly after the election—and entirely unsurprisingly—the ethics probe disappeared.
But Brooke’s political career was finished. He was floated by some Republicans as a possible candidate for Senate and gubernatorial races in the ’80s, but never took the bait and now, at age 88, lives in Florida.