Stuck between Let’s Make A Deal and General Hospital in the United States daytime television ratings is The View, a venerable and sometimes controversial forum for gossip, banter and political debate. For some, it is an inspired cultural phenomenon; for others an embarrassing mess. Sometimes both.
Anyway, it’s been around since 1997 after it was created by Barbara Walters, tear-inducing specialist and current affairs legend, around the premise of women of different generations – “the ladies” – debating the headlines of the day.
Last week it – again – turned controversial when Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg – a black cast member since 2007 when Rosie O’Donnell stormed out after an explosive confrontation with co- host Elizabeth Hasselbeck on the Iraq War – voiced her. opinion that the Holocaust was “not about race”.
“It’s white people doing it to white people, so you’re all going to fight amongst yourselves,” she continued after being challenged that it was specifically about race and ethnicity. The show’s producers switched to background music and cut a commercial break.
The conversation had its own controversial origins: a recent decision by a Tennessee school district to remove Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the Holocaust graphic novel, from its curriculum.
Goldberg provoked an outcry from Jewish groups and others, continued to repeat her thoughts on late-night television, later apologized twice, and was later sentenced to a two-week unpaid suspension and advised by ABC News President Kim Godwin “to take the time and reflect on the impact of his words”.
In a sense, last week’s spat was the kind of hot interaction The View excels at and it generated a slew of headlines and talking points. On the other hand, no one in their right mind wants a host accused of anti-Semitism and the headlines were largely the kind any network leader would prefer to avoid.
But The View has long been a source of trouble – good and bad – and a huge national platform. In its original format, The View counted Walters, broadcast journalist Meredith Viera, attorney Star Jones, television host Debbie Matenopoulos and comedian Joy Behar among its members.
“We started with them because we liked them the best,” producer Bill Geddie recalled in Ramin Setoodah’s account of the show, Ladies Who Punch. “An actress in her 50s, a mum journalist in her 40s, a professional lawyer in her 30s and someone in her 20s.”
Three weeks into the show, Princess Diana was killed in a car accident. Debbie cried. “By focusing on feelings, The View embodied a moment,” Setoodah wrote.
Five months later, the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted with its scorching characters: a president who claimed to be a feminist, a young woman, a vindictive friend in the form of Linda Tripp whom Behar dubbed “Mrs. Ronald Macdonald,” and a devastated woman. “The Europeans are laughing at us,” Behar continued. “You can’t bring a country to its knees because a girl is on its knees.”
The show quickly became a political benchmark for its direct access to stay-at-home moms. “Politicians want to go on view because it gives them a national audience and also gives them access to individual groups watching particular panels,” political strategist Hank Sheinkopf told the Guardian.
In 2010, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to appear on this chat show or any daytime chat show. His successor appeared 18 times before taking office, including one in which he said his daughter was so pretty he could date her.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the show as a warm-up act for her 2008 and 2106 presidential elections. Most recently, last October, she warned “the ladies” that Donald Trump was continuing to perpetuate a ” total constitutional crisis”
But in recent years, The View has slipped in the ratings.
Barbara Walters retired and the show took a more controversial political turn when she hired Meghan McCain, daughter of the late center-right Senator John McCain. She left last year, saying she had enjoyed her four years in what she described as an “anthropological experiment in left-wing media”.
McCain wrote in a later memoir, bad republican, that The View was a “toxic” work environment. She left the show, she wrote, because she felt her co-workers abused her for holding conservative views. “As the country got worse under Trump, the treatment of Whoopi, Joy and some staffers got meaner and less forgiving.
“It was like the co-hosts and staff knew only one Republican – me – and vented all their anger on me, even though I didn’t even vote for Trump,” McCain added.
The latest outburst with Goldberg could have been handled better, according to many commentators. Sheinkopf says ABC parent Disney could have flown Goldberg on the corporate jet to Poland “to show what really happened” and to “watch the news instead of publicly shaming him.” Instead, the exchange remained “controversial and unresolved.”
According to Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an African-American Jew and professor of theoretical physics who studies the history of race in science, the comments reflects contextual disagreement. “I think Whoopi Goldberg is wrong and that the Holocaust was genocide rooted in racialization. But I think we have a frame disagreement, and there’s nothing anti-Semitic about her comments.
To Maiysha Kai, Lifestyle Editor at thegio.comthe exchange reflects “the weird kind of comparative dialogues that aren’t always as useful as we’d like”.
“I don’t think Whoopi intended to be offensive, but I think there was an error in the way it was answered. This is a forum created for these women to have the freedom of expression and an often very lively dialogue on certain things.
Closing the conversation, Kai says, came across as abrupt, especially after what black progressives had witnessed for years with Meghan McCain on the same panel.
“I feel like we’ve been robbed of a necessary and probably long overdue dialogue. If there’s any education that needs to happen, which clearly there is, I don’t think it’s an education that she alone needs.
The show’s mandate is to keep the conversation public: The View’s 25-year-long epic television innovation that has centered the views and opinions of outspoken women.
In an exchange reported on Ladies Who Punch, Hillary Clinton went on the show the day Rosie O’Donnell roasted Donald Trump for his infidelities and money troubles, sparking a long-running feud that made it into two presidential debates.
Clinton told Behar she was laughing so hard backstage that she was worried she wouldn’t make it to the set. “Every day we have problems on this show,” Behar replied. Clinton expressed curiosity, wondering why this might be happening. “I don’t know,” Behar replied. “We are only women.”