Barbara Walters Fights Defamation Lawsuit From Woman Claiming To Be Her Daughter's Ex-Lover

The View star Barbara Walters has been sued over allegations that she lied and defamed a woman in her 2008 autobiography Audition: A Memoir.

A Massachussetts woman named Nancy Shay claims to have had a relationship with Walter's daughter nearly 30 years ago when both were teenagers. Shay says she was expelled from school at Walters' behest back then, thus ruining her life, and was bullied to remain silent all these years. Now, after being allegedly subject to an unflattering portrayal in Walters' memoirs, Shay is suing for defamation.

The lawsuit is being pursued in Massachussets federal court. Shay takes exception to Walters' book, which describes in one passage how in 1983, her adopted daughter Jackie, then age 15, befriended another student named Nancy.

Walters introduces Nancy in the book as a girl "whom the school kicked out midterm for bad behavior" and describes how she had to contend with a situation where both girls were "found in the nearby town, high on God-knows-what."

Walters writes about the difficulties this caused her daughter's school, which "didn’t want to lose Barbara Walters’ daughter," and when Jackie started visiting Nancy in Boston after her expulsion, Barbara intervened to make sure Nancy's school didn't allow visits from Jackie.

Shay says she is the "Nancy" in the book but tells a slightly different story of what happened. “The behavior in question had nothing to do with the imaginary incident in a nearby town," says the lawsuit. "Rather, it refers to the incident in Ms. Shay’s dormitory room involving Ms. Shay and Jackie Guber."

A memorandum to the court on Thursday spells it out further, saying that further discovery in the case will show that the two girls were engaged in a lesbian relationship that was sanctioned by students and faculty at the school.

"Barbara Walters used her influence and power to have Plaintiff Nancy Shay expelled from the Wykeham Rise School, when the Plaintiff was about 16 years of age. This interference was motivated by Defendant’s desire to end a relationship the Plaintiff was having with Jackie Guber, Walters’ adopted daughter."

Shay's lawyer, Mark O'Brien, hints that his client could have filed a lawsuit against Walters back in 1983 for harrassment and tortious interference between Shay and her school, but the famous newswoman allegedly bullied Shay into silence. "Don’t say anything about this to anybody," the legal papers quote Walters saying to Shay back then. "You’ll ruin your name. Never mind, you’ll ruin my name and my daughter’s name.”

Walters' autobiography has prompted Shay to come forward. "If Ms. Walters had told the whole truth in her book, Nancy Shay might have been spared her emotional suffering," Shay's lawyer tells the court. "In the very least—if the truth had been something Ms. Walters wished not to address—then it would have been better for Nancy Shay if nothing at all had been written about her."

The lawsuit was first filed in late May.

Since then, Walters' attorney, Orin Snyder at Gibson Dunn, has motioned to dismiss it on grounds it "violates the First Amendment rights of one of this country's most celebrated newswomen."

In a competing brief to the court, Walters' legal team says that the book never mentioned Nancy Shay by full name, that the actionable statements were two sentences in a 579-page memoir, and that the plaintiff is attempting to inflate her defamation claim by pleading "time-barred and duplicative tag-along claims."

"This misguided lawsuit has no merit," said Snyder in a statement. "Ms. Walters' autobiography did not defame anybody. We look forward to the court's ruling on our motion to dismiss the complaint."


Twitter: @eriqgardner