Whoopi Goldberg goes to “Reflection Camp” for airing her views on The View
Whoopi Goldberg handled an insensitive moment on The View perfectly, so why did the President of ABC News suspend her? Center founder Jeffrey Cole weighs in.
By Jeffrey Cole
Now in its 25th year, The View has not only built a reputation as a place where controversial views can be shared, that sharing is encouraged. It even designates the beginning of the show (and some entire episodes) as Hot Topics. There have been spirited — sometimes explosive — exchanges in the past between conservative hosts such as Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Megan McCain as they sparred with their less-conservative co-hosts. Those exchanges have become the signature of the show.
It is why many people watch: to see what happens.
On January 31, 2022, and for a day after, it happened.
Leading off The View, Whoopi Goldberg, the moderator, and her three co-hosts discussed a Tennessee school district banning Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, for its use of language and nudity. Tennessee’s law was designed to police its schools’ teaching of race. The Holocaust-themed Maus got caught up in the debate.
In the back-and-forth about current events that the program promises and encourages, Goldberg wondered why the Holocaust was being lumped in with a conversation about race. To her, the Nazi persecutions were not about race because it was white on white violence. The differences between Germans and Jews were not visible to the eye the way the differences between blacks and whites usually are. The co-hosts strongly disagreed and explained why the Nazis considered themselves the master race and Jews as inferior.
Divergent opinions — not welcome by ABC?
This was exactly the kind of controversial discussion with divergent opinions, some accurate and others misinformed, for which Barbara Walters (the original moderator) created The View a quarter century before. Viewers gained some key insights about race and hate. The tension in the conversation proved that the premise of the program was working.
And then, as my old professor Ralph Richardson used to say, the ice-cream hit the air-circulating devices. Goldberg quickly realized she had stepped in the ice cream.
Later that day, she Tweeted to her 1.6 million followers (and news media around the country): “On today’s show, I said the Holocaust ‘is not about race, but about man’s inhumanity to man.’ I should have said it is about both. … I’m sorry for the hurt I have caused.”
In one of those television coincidences that occasionally seem to happen, Goldberg had previously been booked that evening on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She took the opportunity to further clarify and apologize.
With no delay or discussion of any other topic, she began with Colbert by acknowledging that her comments that morning had upset a lot of people. She explained that she viewed the issue as a Black woman and had never thought of the Holocaust as about race. She went on, “I think about race as something I can see,” but then came to accept “I respect what everyone is saying to me.” She promised, “I will work hard not to think that way again.”
The next morning, she opened The View by again apologizing and brought on Jonathan Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to further discuss why the Holocaust was not just about ethnicity but also about race and why her comments upset so many people. It was another opportunity to further the mission of the program by seizing a learning moment. Greenblatt Tweeted (as everyone does) that he deeply appreciated Goldberg for inviting him on the show, “to have an important discussion on the importance of educating about the Holocaust.” After his appearance he added that, “Whoopi has been a long-time ally of the Jewish community and her apology is very much welcome.”
A win-win-win goes awry
It was a win-win-win. Goldberg gained some important insights and demonstrated her willingness to learn and change. The Jewish community was able to add an important discussion to the understanding of the Holocaust, and The View enhanced its reputation as a forum for Hot Topics and public discourse.
This is where it should have ended.
Shortly after, ABC News President Kim Godwin called Goldberg’s comments “wrong and hurtful.” Godwin continued to say that “while Goldberg did apologize” she was being suspended for two weeks “to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.”
This boggles the mind. The only one who did anything wrong and needs two weeks to reflect is Godwin.
Goldberg did what she should have done: she shared her views and, upon hearing how people were upset, thought about it, and changed her mind. She then explained and apologized on her own show, on Twitter, and on the country’s highest rated late-night program. She invited the head of the ADL to share his views. He was satisfied with the opportunity to elaborate and teach.
A public forum for controversy — or not?
The View did what it was supposed to: it served as a public forum for current and controversial topics. When one of its hosts said something offensive or inexplicable, the others called her out on it. There were two important outcomes to the incident: Goldberg learned and changed her mind; the audience gained an important perspective. This is what the show is about!
How condescending and humiliating that Godwin “gave” Goldberg two-weeks suspension “to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.” In the 24 hours after the original airing, she had learned and reflected. Her comments and apologies proved that she understood the impact of her comments.
Furthermore, while what Goldberg said may have been incorrect or insensitive, it was neither malicious nor hateful. When she saw how others reacted, she gave a full apology (several times) for not understanding, not a wimpy, “I’m sorry if what I said upset you.”
What is two weeks going to teach Goldberg? She already learned the important lesson. After all, the name of the Program is, The VIEW. (caps added)
Everything worked out the way it should have before Godwin stepped in it. The View fulfilled its mandate by encouraging debate and delivering a teaching moment. In Godwin’s world, there would be no debate but everyone parroting the same views. John Stuart Mill’s concept of the marketplace of ideas–where good ideas compete with bad ideas so that the best version of the truth emerges–has no place in Godwin’s ABC News.
The director of the ADL quickly shared that Goldberg’s apology “was very much welcome.” He didn’t need Goldberg to reflect for two weeks. She reflected, acted, and apologized immediately. There was nothing left for her to do.
The only real impact of the suspension will be to produce a chilling effect on the hosts’ willingness to tackle Hot Topics on The View.
Jeffrey Cole is the founder and director of The Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.
See all columns from the center.
February 9, 2021