BOB GARFIELD This is On The Media, I'm Bob Garfield. So Meghan McCain goes after Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on "The View" and all hell breaks loose.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Yesterday "The View"'s Meghan McCain had an emotional reaction to Congresswoman Omar's very incendiary, virulent anti-Semitic statements. Take a look.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT The freshman Democrat retweeted an Al-Jazeera host who said this. 'Meghan's late father literally sang, 'Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran' and insisted on referring to his Vietnamese captors as blank. He also, lest we forget, gave the world Sarah Palin,' he wrote, 'so a little less faux outrage over a former refugee turned freshman representative, please.' [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Which got us to wondering, a daytime chat show populated with B plus lists celebrities has become a center of gravity for political discourse. How did that happen? And the answer is, gradually over 22 years with the help of a large and very devoted audience. We know this because producer Asthaa Chaturvedi and I met a lot of them this week on the sidewalk of Manhattan's West 66 street lined up to be in the studio audience of "The View."
BOB GARFIELD I think we're, I think we're fixing to meet some really excited people. [END CLIP].
BOB GARFIELD Oh, yes excited is right.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT We've been here before many times.
BOB GARFIELD Many times?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Yes, yes.
BOB GARFIELD You stand out on the sidewalk?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Yes we do.
BOB GARFIELD In the rain?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT In the rain, the cold, the snow–the whole nine yards.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT We stand here and we wait.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT We love it.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Massive fun at "The View." I absolutely love "The View." Watch it every single day. I love Whoopi Goldberg. Sister Act was their first movie I saw with a black person in it and I absolutely love Joy Behar. She's very smart, witty and funny. That's my lady.
BOB GARFIELD Wait one second here. Are you an employee of ABC?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Haha. No. I'm not. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The show they'd come to see is sort of a mythical beast made up of different parts. It's a chat show. It's a reality show. It's a politics forum. And it's, sort of, a WWE morality play with protagonists, antagonists and a lot of conflict.
BOB GARFIELD Is there any of them who you can't stand?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Oh yes.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT What do you mean? Like Meghan. Is that what you're, haha. Is that what you're getting at. Like Meghan McCain.
BOB GARFIELD I'm not specifying anybody but Meghan is one of the women on the show.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Haha.
BOB GARFIELD One quick follow up question. Why do you hate Meghan so much?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Haha, that's so funny. I do not hate Meghan. And I think she adds some excitement to this show. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD They had different faves, different politics and as a group, more Y chromosomes than you might expect. But they all grooved on the same thing.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT I love "The View." I watch it every day.
BOB GARFIELD Why?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Because it's nice to hear a bunch of strong females voice their opinions. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Which, from the day TV news icon Barbara Walters first conceived "The View" in 1996, was the plan all along.
BARBARA WALTERS I've always wanted to do a show with women of different generations, backgrounds and views. And in a perfect world, I'd get to join the group whenever I wanted. This is that show. We call it "The View". [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Ramin Setoodeh is the author of Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of ""The View" And his New York bureau chief for Variety. He says that "The View" wasn't always so politics centric but not because Barbara Walters didn't want it to be.
RAMIN SETOODEH When she initially went in she wanted to talk about very serious issues like Syria, the Middle East, things that are very highbrow and The New York Times that cover. And the daytime executives that were working with her had to convince her that the topics would have to be closer to things that you would read in The Daily Mail or The New York Post. They would need to be tabloid stories, fun stories, tawdry stories because he didn't think the daytime audience was interested in smart news. And we've come to learn, in fact, that that wasn't the case, that wasn't true. And "The View" has debated everything from George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq to Donald Trump's tax returns.
BOB GARFIELD Now in a male dominated media world, a male dominated world–full stop. "The View" was long easy to dismiss as is trivial–bon-experts talking about complex issues for stay at home moms. And the conflict was easily dismissed, and I use this word advisedly, as histrionics. But I love what Ruth Graham had to say in Slate. I'm going to quote her here. '"The View" is a show you watch if you want to see a former Survivor contestant debate a former professional wrestler on the morality of waterboarding. On the other hand,' she continues, 'it's the daytime show that debated waterboarding.'.
RAMIN SETOODEH In my book, I go back and trace sort of how "The View" was always ahead of our culture. So in some ways, you could say the show predicted the fact that we would have our first reality TV president. It was the first show that took a reality TV show contestant with Elisabeth Hasselbeck and extended her 15 minutes of fame and gave her a job that had nothing to do with reality TV. She became the conservative co-host on the show. She became a celebrity in her own right. She was campaigning with Sarah Palin and became a huge symbol in the Republican Party. And for many people in the country that lived in red states, she was a heroine for them. Before American Idol made it cool to vote for your favorite singer, Barbara Walters was trying to audition different contestants to see who would be the best co-host after they fired Debbie Matenopoulos and they settled on Lisa Ling. So I take these stance in my book that this is actually a very influential show. It's a smart show and it is a show that is important to us. It's not just pop culture. It's a show that mixed pop culture and politics before anyone else was doing that.
BOB GARFIELD And though the cast is, often, a little unnervingly chummy with the political guests and although they sometimes give oxygen to stuff they shouldn't be fiddling with like anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theories about 9/11, these non experts sometimes ask some pretty trenchant questions.
RAMIN SETOODEH You're absolutely right. When John McCain is running for president in 2008 he went on "The View" and he was grilled so hard.
JOY BEHAR There's another ad that says that Obama was interested in teaching sex education to kindergarteners now. We know that those two ads are untrue, their lies and yet you at the end of it say, 'I approve this message.' Do you really approve?
JOHN MCCAIN Actually, they're not lies and have you seen some of the ads. [END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH The New York Times had a headline the next day about how tough they were on him and you weren't seeing George Stephanopoulos doing that to John McCain. And I would even argue that Joe Biden's interview on "The View" a few days ago was actually a really hard interview even though most of the co-hosts are liberals and support him.
JOE BIDEN But I don't think anyone's ever said that I invade their space in a way that was designed to do something other than making them feel uncomfortable. But not in anything having to do with harassment or anything.
SUNNY HOSTIN They have said that. But they've also said, 'we'd like an apology.'
JOE BIDEN Well, look I, I'm--[END CLIP].
RAMIN SETOODEH It wasn't an easy thing for him to be on that couch getting rapid fire questions from five ladies who were very determined to make news.
BOB GARFIELD We discussed the evolution of the show and the nature of the debate. It was always programmed for, you know, some degree of conflict, but so many watershed moments involving Rosie O'Donnell, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, you mentioned. Joy Behar, Meghan McCain.
MEGHAN MCCAIN Please. I don't want to talk about Trump.
JOY BEHAR Excuse me for a second, I wanted to talk about.
MEGHAN MCCAIN But I'm not interested in your one issue.
JOY BEHAR I don't care what you're interested in. I'm talking.
MEGHAN MCCAIN I don't care about--.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG We'll be right. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Conflict seems to have become the fuel that runs the engine or is that an oversimplification?
RAMIN SETOODEH No, I think that's exactly why people are so interested in the show. The reason that there's so much conflict has to do with the fact that each of the co-hosts were famous in their own right. When you go behind the scenes, it's a very King Lear like story In that Barbara Walters is retiring eventually from the show. And when she does there's a real struggle for the control of the show between her daughters which are Rosie O'Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg.
BOB GARFIELD Now "The View" attracted a big audience fairly quickly but it wasn't, at least for a long time, taken very seriously, necessarily, in elite circles. But it did make a cultural footprint. This was from Saturday Night Live in 1998.
[CLIP FROM SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE]
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Some my call it a train wreck. We call it "The View."
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Now Barbara, what were you doing when Nixon resigned?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT I was in a hot tub with Henry Kissinger and Juliet Prowse. [END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH Tina Fey told me, in the book, when she wrote these skits there were male cast members on the show that thought this was a completely fictional show. They had no idea what this was and I think Tina Fey really did help put "The View" on the map.
BOB GARFIELD On the subject of Zeit Geist national conversation, you write that the Lewinsky affair had a huge impact on "The View"s evolution. How?
RAMIN SETOODEH When they were discussing what was happening in the White House Bill Clinton's affair, the stain on the dress. Nobody else was doing that on daytime television.
JOY BEHAR First of all, I would want to know what were you thinking? That he was going to leave his wife and drop the whole thing just to marry you.
BARBARA WALTERS Ok. leave wife to marry you. [END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH They were very opinionated about it. They quickly cast, you know, the good people and the bad people in the, sort of, Clinton impeachment saga.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT The star in me wants to ask, because I have to separate the lawyer, what made you think it was OK to flash the president United States your underwear? I got to know that.
BARBARA WALTERS The underwear.
JOY BEHAR How much do you hate Linda Tripp? [END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH It is really riveting and groundbreaking to see these women going on daytime television and really telling you what they think.
BOB GARFIELD Watersheds. You could argue that the spat between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump in 2006 was a full on microcosm of what we're living through today.
RAMIN SETOODEH And a preview of the 2016 election 10 years before it happened because Donald Trump's strategy against Rosie O'Donnell was exactly the same strategy he adopted against Hillary Clinton.
PRES. DONALD J. TRUMP Well, Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting. I mean, both inside and out. You take a look at her she's a slob. She's basically a disaster. [END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH He attacked her. He attacked her looks her intelligence. What she was saying and this was all as a result of a roast on "The View" where Rosie did a comedic bit on the show.
ROSIE O'DONNELL He annoys me on a multitude of levels. And he is the moral authority. Left the first wife had an affair, left the second wife had an affair. Had kids but times but he's the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America. He's going to sue me but he'll be bankrupt by that time so I won't have to worry. But--[END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH She made fun of Donald Trump's hair and his finances. The other interesting thing about that day was that back in 2006 Hillary Clinton decided on that day she was going to try to soft launch her campaign for president of the United States. She was really one of the first politicians that saw the value of "The View" and the value of speaking to stay at home moms. And, though, Rosie-Donald Trump fight completely overshadows her appearance on the show and foreshadows what happens in the 2016 election.
BOB GARFIELD Earlier I made reference to Meghan McCain's role on the show as the token conservative–before McCain there was Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Now their presence in the panel is framed as inviting a spectrum of political views, which I suppose is somewhat true. But isn't it really a contrivance to generate the conflict that we discussed?
RAMIN SETOODEH What they learned is that the show doesn't work without that Republican. When they fired Elisabeth Hasselbeck in 2013, they wanted to move away from politics. This was Obama's second term and they wanted to go into sort of the direction of pop culture. And what they found is 30 percent of the audience left with Elisabeth. And it took many years for them to find a conservative like Megan that would actually argue with the other co-hosts and debate with the other co-hosts and be Republican on the show.
MEGHAN MCCAIN How in God's name did you do this for. I'm serious, being a lone conservative on this show is, I have always had respect for you when I first came on--[END CLIP]
RAMIN SETOODEH The show doesn't work unless you actually have a Republican who comes to the table every day and pushes back against what the other co-hosts have to say.
BOB GARFIELD This whole conversation is premised on a kind of shift of attitude about what "The View" is, which parallels a shift in attitude towards women as candidates for public office. Are these phenomena related?
RAMIN SETOODEH I think so. What you could see in the DNA of the show, going back to the very first week, was this thesis that women should be empowered. And in fact, I think the show tried to forecast or predict a society in which women would run for the highest office in the land. Starting from week one, these co-hosts were talking about Hillary Clinton and we're talking about what Hillary Clinton was doing in the White House. And they followed her career very closely through the 22 years of the show's history. And these were always women that lived their lives and lived their careers on their own terms. It's a very feminist show.
BOB GARFIELD If you're a fan of "The View" or just a political junkie, you've noticed that one candidate and officeholder after another shows up on that set. It has become a must book destination for politicians. Are Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar more influential than Anderson Cooper or, I don't know, Sean Hannity?
RAMIN SETOODEH I think visiting "The View" is just as influential as visiting Iowa or New Hampshire. And the reason that the show has become so important for political candidates is that it reaches a very educated group of stay at home moms who care about the news and who are registered voters. And if you can change the minds of those women voters, it'll give you a boost in either a primary or general election.
BOB GARFIELD Ramin, thank you very much.
RAMIN SETOODEH Thank you very much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD Ramin Setoodeh is the author of Ladies Who Punch:The Explosive Inside Story of "The View.".
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Are you going to let me finish.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Well, can you let me talk?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Well, can you let me finish?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Can you let me know because it's actually your job to listen to me.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT We are not going to do this. This is "The View," we are five best friends with nothing in common.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT OK. [END CLIP]
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BOB GARFIELD That's it for this week's show. On The Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan and Asthaa Chaturvedi. We had more help from Xandra Ellin. And our show was edited this week by executive producer Katya Rogers. Our technical directors Jennifer Munson and engineers this week with Sam Baer and Josh Homme On The Media is reduction of WNYC Studios. I'm Bob Garfield.