ABC News gave Whoopi Goldberg a two-week suspension Tuesday evening for her comments on “The View” about the Holocaust and Jews. In doing so, the company, like so many who panic in a crisis, seems to think "you ain’t acting unless you’re overreacting," to coin a phrase.
Goldberg had already apologized for her words, which pretty clearly came from a place of ignorance and not malice. But what is perhaps most shocking about this story is not that Goldberg was suspended, but rather learning that “The View” is part of ABC News.
At a time of growing concerns over misinformation, where are news organizations placing the bar
I am not so naive as to ignore the fact that journalism has increasingly morphed into a genre of entertainment. (For example, CNN is not running documentaries on Princess Diana because she has received inadequate news coverage in the decades since her death.) But at a time of growing concerns over misinformation, where are news organizations placing the bar?
Despite “The View” being the most popular daytime talk or news show in the country, I am not a regular viewer. But my sense from watching the clip of Goldberg pontificating, wrongly, about the Holocaust is that we’re not talking about an Algonquin Round Table here.
While the original panel of hosts for “The View” included two journalists, Meredith Vieira and Barbara Walters, the current lineup includes a comedian (Joy Behar), an entertainer (Goldberg), a lawyer (Sunny Hostin) and a TV host (Sara Haines), the last of whom is the only one with a background in journalism.
“The View” is intended to be entertainment and not hard-hitting reporting, and that’s a good explanation for why it’s more popular than, say, PBS’ “Washington Week.” But the hosts of “The View” do discuss serious, newsworthy topics — which is perhaps one of the reasons why they seem to so frequently make foolish or inappropriate comments.
That runs the gamut from Rosie O’Donnell (not a journalist) "mocking spoken Chinese" or Behar (not a journalist) comparing religious faith to mental illness or Meghan McCain (only kind of a journalist) questioning the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines and mask-wearing. Goldberg’s mistake is simply the latest in a long string of comments by "The View" hosts that have gotten them in trouble.
Maybe the real problem here is having five random people discussing complex topics that they don’t appear to fully understand or appreciate.
Occasional co-host Ana Navarro, in responding to Whoopi-gate, told CNN: “When you have five women, discussing complex topics, in five-minute segments on unscripted, live TV, sometimes things come out the wrong way.”
Navarro is right about the pressure of live television — but maybe the real problem here is having five random people discussing complex topics that they don’t appear to fully understand or appreciate.
If we want to broaden the critique, the same can be said of Joe Rogan, who has a huge platform on Spotify and millions of followers. His whole shtick revolves around discussing major weighty topics that he also doesn’t appear to understand and thus often finds himself being criticized for spreading misinformation.
Rogan rose to fame through his comedy career and by getting people to eat live bugs on network television for cash prizes. Like the majority of “The View” hosts, he has no journalistic experience — and yet for millions of Americans he has become a source of news and information. Indeed, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said much of his guidance on Covid came from Rogan’s podcasts and phone conversations between the two men. (Rodgers has famously refused to get vaccinated — and subsequently tested positive for Covid.)
Spotify has been under increasing pressure to take action against Rogan, echoing the regular assaults against Facebook for its failure to crack down on people using the site to spread misinformation. Though the sins of “The View” hosts are nowhere near as severe, does ABC News feel any responsibility to its watchers and listeners to ensure the hosts on one of its most popular shows display some element of journalistic rigor — or even basic knowledge of the topics discussed?
Clearly the answer is no, because if it did care it might have more experts than entertainers on its show. And we already have one major news organization, Fox News, with a tenuous connection to facts and basic journalistic principles. We don’t need more.
News consumers need to make better choices, but news organizations have a responsibility to give them better options.
We live in an era when social media has given far more Americans a platform to spout off. Social media gives those without a pedigree in journalism an opportunity to have their voices heard — and generally speaking, a diversity of voices in the public sphere is a good thing. But that also requires established news organizations — and those aspiring to be content producers, like Spotify — to exercise greater rigor in the kind of news programs they produce. Broadcasting a show with five nonexperts talking about the issues of the day, and giving it a place of prominence among your hard news programs, is not upholding the highest journalistic standards.
This also puts a burden on news consumers. Obviously, it can be difficult to figure out which “expert” can be trusted on any given subject. But odds are better than even that a comedian podcaster is not your best source of information on infectious disease and an entertainer who, on the side, shills for anti-migraine medicines shouldn’t be your go-to for history lessons and public health information.
In the Wild West of journalism these days, news consumers need to make better choices, but news organizations have a responsibility to give them better options, as well. Entertainment masquerading as journalism is an abdication of responsibility.