Barbara Walters and Charles Gibson.

Barbara Walters has come full circle.

And not just from being a respected and groundbreaking television journalist to being a celebrity gossip. Now the gossiper has become gossip herself.

She's written a tell-all autobiography. And she's promoting it on ABC, which continues to employ her.

Once upon a time, legitimate news organizations would not have allowed a conflict of interest like this. But in an age when Britney Spears is a bigger "get" for a TV "journalist" (and I use that term loosely) than an interview with the president of the United States, Walters herself is a "get."

And the ethics of TV news have been so weakened by the likes of Walters that this lapse isn't going to cause ripples, let alone waves.

Hey, ABC is letting its No. 1 personality — "ABC World News Tonight" anchorman Charles Gibson — conduct the interview on "Audition: Barbara Walters' Journey" (9 p.m., Ch. 4). 'Nuff said.

Essentially, tonight's "special" (and I use that term loosely) is an hourlong advertisement for Walters' book, also titled "Audition." And Walters, knowing you need good gossip to sell books, has included gossip about herself in her book.

She reminisces about dating Sen. John Warner, R-Va., which was not something they tried to keep secret.

But Walters also reveals that she had an affair with then-Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass., that lasted for several years — while he was still in the Senate and still married to his first wife.

Let's try to leave aside any question of the morality of this. Despite the fact that Walters herself has made this public fodder, let's just say it was a private matter.

If the affair had come to light while it was ongoing, Walters should have been fired immediately. And you could argue that ABC ought to cut ties to her now even though decades have passed.

Walters was a journalist sleeping with a source. She covered Washington and the U.S. government; she was sleeping with a U.S. senator.

This is the woman who's being lauded as a pillar of American broadcast journalism. She's been held up as a role model for women.

That's beyond distressing. That's revolting.

Less than a year ago, it came to light that Mirthala Salinas, an anchorwoman at the Telemundo station in Los Angeles, was having an affair with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. She was suspended, reassigned and eventually quit (or was forced out, depending on whose version of the story you believe).

And the station's news director was suspended; the station's general manager was reassigned; and the president of the Telemundo stations group was disciplined.

Apparently, Telemundo has higher ethical standards than ABC. Unless you consider giving an employee who violated journalistic standards a free hour to sell her book discipline of some sort.

Women should not be held to a higher standard than men. Neither should they be held to a lower standard.

Any journalist who gets romantically involved with someone they could potentially be covering and doesn't reveal that relationship to his or her bosses (and Walters admits she did not) should certainly not be put up on a pedestal as some sort of icon.

Walters is anything but a journalistic icon.

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TV Land's series "The Big 4-0" features a Utahn tonight (11 p.m.) ... and it's full of baloney.

This is straight from the TV Land release: "Growing up as part of the only Italian-American family in rural Utah, Rita DiLello and her 12 siblings never really felt like they belonged."

Where in "rural Utah" did DiLello grow up? Bountiful.

What a load of you-know-what. "Suburban," maybe, but not rural. Nor were they they only Italian-Americans in Bountiful.

I hope DiLello had a lovely 40th birthday in Italy. But this is garbage.

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