When Whoopi Goldberg made her highly offensive comments about the Holocaust, the only real question was whether she would be punished.
The usual playbook is an abject apology, followed by an ideological war over whether the pundit in question can hang onto the job.
But the usual script got a rewrite. While liberals rather predictably rose to “The View” co-host’s defense, many media conservatives said she should be let off the hook, part of their general opposition to cancel culture. Many on both sides even criticized ABC for imposing a two-week suspension over her “wrong and hurtful comments.”
And there was another key factor. In the New York media world especially, everyone knows Whoopi. Everyone kinda likes Whoopi. And that made it easier, as a matter of human nature, to defend the commentator and actress. I interviewed Whoopi years ago, she’s a warm person, and I get it.
Now contrast that with the vitriol that is still being spewed at Joe Rogan.
Rogan also apologized, and promised to do a better job, after Neil Young tried to pressure Spotify into firing the world’s most popular podcaster.
That was a significant retreat for Rogan, who had come under fire for his comments – and those of anti-vaxxer guests – on prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Rogan said he had made mistakes, promised to do more research, and to have more balancing voices on virus issues.
Not part of the club
But the protests only grew. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell and others joined Young in pulling their music from Spotify. The company itself said it would slap disclaimers on podcasts dealing with COVID, directing listeners to an information hub.
One difference is that Rogan is viewed, inaccurately, as a nutty right-winger. But the other is that he’s not part of the club. Many of his critics have never listened to his three-hour podcast interviewers.
As Kat Rosenfield puts it in The New Statesman, at a time when trust in media is so low, “Joe Rogan has come to represent something more: the terrifying power of normal people to like the things they like. … He’s a reminder of what journalism used to be, of what was lost in the pivot from objectivity to moral clarity, including the working-class audience who are turned off by what they see as rampant contempt and condescension from the New York Times and CNNs of the world.”
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Spotify is going through a tough evolution, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube before it. Once a profitable digital jukebox, it now has to deal with content moderation after having plunged into podcasts and politics, and seems unsure what to do. Spotify CEO Daniel Elk made sure to say “there are many things that Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive.”
Whoopi Goldberg really stepped in it by saying the Holocaust was “not about race,” but two warring groups of White people. That’s a spectacularly tragic misreading of history, since the Nazis considered themselves a master Aryan race and Jews an inferior race that must be extinguished.
In apologizing during an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show, Whoopi said: “I get it. Folks are angry. I accept that, and I did it to myself.”
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On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said “we all make terrible mistakes,” that she apologized, and “I want to know who is so frail over at ABC.”
Sean Hannity, who said he’s met Whoopi, said “I believe in second chances” and she’ll never “make that same mistake again.”
I don’t believe that the woman born Caryn Johnson, who chose the stage name Goldberg because she identifies as Jewish, is antisemitic. But if ABC had done nothing, wouldn’t the network have been condoning the remarks? ABC News President Kim Godwin did try to soften the blow by saying Whoopi could use the suspension to “take time to reflect.”
Defending their own
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There’s an even starker example of media people defending their own. When Jeff Zucker was forced out as CNN president, it was with an admission that he had failed to tell his superiors about a romantic relationship with a top deputy he had hired – and it was entangled in the investigations of Andrew and Chris Cuomo. On what planet is that not a story?
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Well, MSNBC aired nothing, not a word, in the next 24 hours. Zucker of course knows lots of people there from his days running NBC. So MSNBC, which spends a significant amount of airtime attacking Fox, simply deemed it non-news. And that, in a nutshell, is why people don’t trust the media.