Did ABC miss a learning opportunity by suspending Whoopi?
ABC’s decision to suspend Whoopi Goldberg from “The View” for two weeks for her remarks about the Holocaust has opened the network up to criticism that its response derailed a teachable moment for the nation about a sensitive topic often misunderstood and seldom discussed on air.
Goldberg set off a cancel-culture media circus Monday when she said on the show that the Nazis’ genocide of 6 million Jews during World War II wasn’t about race, but rather, “man’s inhumanity to man” and that the conflict was between “two white groups of people.” The Nazis were white supremacists who wanted to eradicate what they considered an inferior race.
Her suspension came after she apologized that night on Twitter and the next day on the show, which featured the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League at her invitation. The network’s action spurred strong emotions and split allegiances about whether the politically liberal actress should be canceled or counseled.
Isaac de Castro, editor of Jewcy, an online platform for young Jews, said on Twitter that Goldberg’s offensive comments reflected the inability of many Americans to understand race and racism outside their prism. But he also said in a tweet that “putting a grown woman in a time-out” does little to advance a reckoning with Jewish identity.
“Now we’re talking about whether Whoopi should be suspended or not, instead of talking about the issue at hand … and having a larger conversation about antisemitism and racism and the complexity of Jewish history,” said de Castro, who is based in New York City and from Panama City, Panama.
As many Democrats turned on Goldberg, some prominent Republicans condemned her while others rushed to her defense.
“DON’T CANCEL Whoopi,” tweeted Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has long accused the media of trying to silence the right.
Some viewers threatened to boycott the show for what she said and others for what they saw as a lopsided response by the network against a Black woman for remarks that were not malicious.
“Whoopi made a comment that was misinformed, but then people jumped down her throat in ways that they haven’t for non-Black celebrities,” said Malana Krongelb, a librarian in Boston who is Black and Jewish. “‘The View’ has a platform that it could really use to popularly educate people. But instead it’s almost used as clickbait.”
Others echoed the sentiment that discussion was better than punishment.
“If what you want is to change someone’s mind, I have to think education is more effective than public shaming and punishment. Particularly when that person shows a sincere willingness to learn and apologize,” tweeted Sharon Brous, a rabbi in Los Angeles.
“The View” is an American daytime talk show in which women discuss hot topics of the day. They’re encouraged to be somewhat edgy or provocative, and declining to have an opinion kind of defeats the purpose of the show, said Tom Jones, senior media writer at Poynter Institute.
“It would be nice if these things never happened, but if anything good can come out of it, it is education and it is people trying to find out more about what it was she said, why is it offensive?” he said.
Goldberg’s defenders point to one of her former co-hosts, Meghan McCain, who apologized last year for previously condoning then-President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric toward Asians.
In a Daily Mail column published Tuesday, McCain said that she’s not calling for Goldberg to be fired, largely because she doesn’t think the show would ever do that to its star. It was unclear if McCain had written the column knowing of the suspension, but she called her apology evidence of a double standard – and urged this be used as a “teachable” moment.
“Instead of half-assed apologies and bringing in experts in the antisemitism space, maybe dedicate an entire ‘Hot Topics’ segment to discussing why what was said was so deeply offensive and dangerous,” McCain wrote.
Goldberg explained to talk show host Stephen Colbert that aired Monday night that her perception of race is based on skin color but that she was wrong.
She apologized again on Tuesday’s morning episode and invited Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, on to that day’s episode to talk about the Holocaust. He said in a tweet he deeply appreciated her invitation and that “her apology is very much welcome.”
But ABC News President Kim Godwin announced her suspension later on Tuesday. On Wednesday, former GOP communications director Tara Setmayer sat in as guest co-host and nobody said anything about Jews or the Holocaust.
In announcing the suspension, ABC said it was asking Goldberg “to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.” The network didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about the public reaction to the suspension.
What people are forgetting in the rush to condemn or support Goldberg, said author Frederick Joseph, is that she made her remarks during a segment about a Tennessee school board’s banning of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Nazi death camps during World War II.
Conservative officials across the country are trying to ban access to books such as “Maus” and the “The 1619 Project,” which puts Black slavery and Black Americans at the center of U.S. history. His own book, “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person,” is being protested by some parents, he said, because they say it’s indoctrination.
Joseph said Goldberg was seeing the issue of race through the lens of a Black woman in America and the lens lacked historical knowledge of what the Holocaust was actually about.
“But also, to be quite frank, as a Black American, I wasn’t taught much myself about the Holocaust in school,” said Joseph. “I do hope that Whoopi learns, I hope that Whoopi grows, but how can she if we don’t give her the opportunity?”
Marginalized groups have long complained that children and teens do not get a robust education in the histories of Jewish, Black and other cultures. It would have been amazing if “The View” had devoted the length of the two-week suspension to serious discussions of the uglier parts of history, they said.
Krongelb, the librarian, says antisemitism and anti-Black racism have much in common, with both groups suffering from dehumanizing stereotypes and shared history of exclusion in the U.S. She wishes they could talk through these difficult issues instead of being manipulated by talking heads who want to sow discord.
“If we just canceled people for saying something problematic or for doing something that we don’t agree with, then those cycles of harm just continue,” she said.
The Anti-Defamation League said Greenblatt could not comment on the suspension, and pointed to an op-ed he wrote that published Thursday in USA Today. He said her remarks were especially hurtful at a time when Holocaust denial is on the rise globally and politicians falsely compared mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccines to Nazi actions, further trivializing the Holocaust.
His remarks seemed to acknowledge the audience power she has.
“She has a tremendous opportunity to use her platform not only to educate herself, but to share what she learns with her audience and the entire country,” he said.
AP staff Gary Hamilton and David Bauder in New York and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.