Opinion | ‘The View’ Has Narrowed

The ladies of “The View” were in high spirits. A piece of news they’d been hankering for had broken at last: President Biden, a revered figure around their talk show table, had kicked off his re-election campaign.

The show’s hosts — known in “View” parlance as “the ladies” — had been hyping this moment for months. They’d lavished praise on President Biden for leading the country out of the pandemic and overseeing what they described as a thriving U.S. economy. They’d downplayed scandals and investigations involving Mr. Biden and his family members. They’d also taken extraordinary pains to disqualify as “ageist” questions of whether he is simply too old to run again. Mr. Biden would be 86 by the end of a second term, but when the Democratic strategist David Axelrod expressed mild concern, the comedian Joy Behar snapped that he “should keep his mouth shut.”

“I’d rather have Joe Biden, drooling, than any Republican,” Ms. Behar said another day.

Now the ladies agreed that Mr. Biden’s campaign announcement made them feel hopeful. They were tired of what Sunny Hostin called Republican “fearmongering,” which, in a startlingly casual aside, she noted had “led to the demise of our democracy.” If any of the ladies was perturbed by the irony of decrying scare tactics while calling U.S. democracy dead, she kept it to herself.

“You get behind him,” the actress Whoopi Goldberg said of Mr. Biden, seemingly instructing the Democrats at large, “and we won’t have a problem.”

This kind of unabashed cheerleading is reserved for Mr. Biden. The panel of “View” hosts has been annoyed and dismissive of other Democrats who might vie for the nomination. (“You start making inroads — maybe this person, maybe this person — we’re done for,” Ms. Goldberg said.) When compelled to discuss the Twitter-hosted presidential campaign announcement of Gov. Ron DeSantis of the Florida — a man they’d decried as “fascist,” “bigot” and “Death Santis” — the ladies used the occasion to mock the platform and its new owner, Elon Musk, for the tech failures that disrupted the event. As for Mr. Trump, forget about it: Ms. Goldberg won’t even utter his name, referring to him instead as “you know who.”

The day after Mr. Biden’s announcement, the co-host Alyssa Farah Griffin, a Republican political operative who’d already been silenced by Ms. Goldberg, giggled from her end of the table. Ms. Farah Griffin has said she’d write in another candidate before voting for either Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump, but her counterpoints tend to get interrupted or dismissed by the rest of the panel.

Mr. Biden “needs another four years to finish the job,” Ms. Behar said. “You can’t fight fascism in four years only. You need eight years for that.”

“He has had a lot of accomplishments,” Ms. Hostin agreed.

“He brought us back from the precipice,” Ms. Goldberg said. “Maybe it’s not a perfect country, but it’s better than where we were.”

With that, the music came up and the audience applauded. The discussion was done.

I’ve been a regular Viewer for years, starting when I was a foreign correspondent salving late-night homesickness via satellite TV. Along the way I’ve amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of the hosts’ marriages and hobbies, and a habit of analyzing the “Hot Topics” discussions as a bellwether of centrist America’s political and cultural trends. I’m hardly alone — “The View” has long inspired pieces of serious analysis that bob along like flotsam on a choppy sea of dressing room gossip, leaks and hate tweets. For me, though, it’s a solitary fixation, for none of my friends or family members have ever shared my interest in “The View.”

“Ugh, I can’t watch that show,” they grimace. Or — this most of all — “Aren’t they always arguing?”

Which is funny because, if you ask me, the co-hosts don’t argue nearly enough. At least, not substantively. Not anymore. The freewheeling discussions that once evoked a spectrum of American opinion on everything from reproductive rights to foreign policy — those have mostly fallen silent. “The View” has become a chorus of conformity. The title of this show I’ve loved for years used to suggest messy and fearless debate. Lately, it seems like a command.

The hosts include centrist Democrats (Ms. Hostin and Ms. Behar), centrist Republicans (Ms. Farah Griffin and Ana Navarro) and one centrist independent (the TV journalist Sara Haines). But, anyway, they agree. They agree (or at least pretend to agree) that Mr. Biden is basically a good president. Even on topics notorious for splitting American opinion — the need for “common-sense gun reform,” protecting L.G.B.T.Q. rights and funding the war in Ukraine — they don’t find much to debate one another about. Even those who privately consider abortion a sin agree that access should be preserved in some cases.

We, the people, are split. Our many divisions obstruct coherent governance. But “The View” continues to project a brightly lit illusion of accord.

And there is no article of agreement more important — lending the show an intoxicating but oddly irreal flavor — as the ladies’ absolute disdain for Mr. Trump and, increasingly, anyone who belongs to his party.

Current events haven’t always anchored “The View.” Since the program’s 1997 debut, celebrity interviews, gossip and relationship advice vied for time against news and politics. In its current iteration, though, “The View” carries itself like an earnest journalistic platform — a must-do interview for establishment politicians and a reliable midmorning destination for nuggets of news analysis. In 2019, The New York Times Magazine dubbed it “the most important political TV show in America.”

Which has made its erasure of the country’s most dynamic and least understood political strains all the more frustrating.

As the current season got underway last September, Ms. Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, came out with a sweeping justification for shunning Republicans — all Republicans, she specified, not just MAGA loyalists — because polls showed that the majority of Republicans regard Mr. Trump as their figurehead.

“So if you are saying that he is a fascist, what are they? If you are saying that he is a white supremacist, what are they?” Ms. Hostin continued. “If you follow someone that has hate in their heart, and I believe that he does, then you are complicit in that, and you don’t have a pass.”

I gathered that Ms. Hostin was enshrining the new ground rules of “The View,” updated to reflect our ever more divided age. She has become the show’s dominant voice, although I can’t tell if that’s by design or whether it’s the inevitable result of her indomitable delivery and the clear, unambiguous opinions she’s polished into repeatable bites.

Either way, the idea that Republicans could be written off en masse signaled a radical departure in “View” philosophy. The panelists have traditionally taken pains to distinguish between bad politicians and the regular people who vote for them. Barbara Walters, who created the show and presided over it for years, urged the ladies to appeal to an imaginary viewer in Wyoming, according to interviews with current and former panelists for the podcast “The View: Behind the Table.” When Ms. Goldberg and Ms. Behar stormed off the set mid-interview in 2010 to protest anti-Muslim rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly (“Muslims killed us on 9/11”), Ms. Walters was outraged.

“You have just seen what should not happen,” Ms. Walters told the audience that day. “We should be able to have discussions without washing our hands” of one another “and screaming and walking offstage,” she said.

But that was a different age. Ms. Hostin’s wholesale dismissal of Republicans comes across as a bleak but frank acknowledgment that the show had adopted the coping mechanisms of our time: Ban thoughts we don’t like and carry on as if all the reasonable people agree. It’s been particularly chilling to watch this attitude finally take hold at a mainstream women’s program that has long postured as a nonthreatening place to air whatever opinions were working their way through the land, a make-believe living room where you could disagree about politics but then bond over bratty bridal behavior and unrealistic beauty standards.

There is an argument, familiar by now, that denying Mr. Trump and his supporters a platform is the only moral approach to a movement many regard as a historic evil. But trying to smother any serious consideration of his politics has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that we are afraid of letting Americans hear these ideas because — why? They might like them too much?

To be fair, the animosity between “The View” and Republicans is mutual, and finding the origin point is something of a chicken-versus-egg conundrum. For example, “The View” invited Mr. DeSantis to appear this season — a fact we only know because his spokesman tweeted out the invitation, along with the governor’s refusal, which cited various slurs and insults the ladies had used to refer to Mr. DeSantis.

Even beyond “The View,” many conservatives, especially those in the thrall of Mr. Trump, now avoid mainstream journalists they decry as purveyors of “fake news.”

Whatever the reason, one fact is undeniable: “The View” brazened all the way through Mr. Trump’s first campaign and presidency without deigning to hire a Trump supporter.

The closest the show came was Meghan McCain, who spent so much time name-checking her father and bickering peevishly that she often drowned out her own points — which amounted to tortured efforts to reconcile her disgust for Mr. Trump with a desire to speak up for his voters.

This may not be a popular take on Ms. McCain (who eventually left the show amid mockery of her entitled attitude and embarrassing lapses in decorum), but she had moments of clarity. She raised valid but then-taboo questions about America’s pandemic response and, to the acute annoyance of her co-hosts, analyzed failures and weaknesses of the Democratic Party.

In 2020, when the other ladies nitpicked Bernie Sanders (saying, among other things, that he was ineffective, a fake Democrat and backed by Russians), Ms. McCain calmly laid out her repugnance for the Vermont senator’s leftist policies while acknowledging that his runaway popularity could land him the nomination. It was Ms. McCain who frankly discussed the populist sentiment fueling the rise of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders.

Ms. McCain’s seat was filled this season by the more cordial — or perhaps more easily cowed — Ms. Farah Griffin, a former spokeswoman for the Trump administration. Ms. Farah Griffin quit her job amid Mr. Trump’s election lies and went on to testify before the House select committee investigating the insurrection of Jan. 6 — insufficient atonement, according to her new colleagues. Her early weeks on the show were full of struggle sessions in which her co-hosts (most notably Ms. Hostin and Ms. Navarro) snubbed and needled her until she coughed up, yet again, a denunciation of Mr. Trump.

“I do question you … ’cause you’re a very smart woman,” Ms. Hostin said to her in a typical early exchange. “When you looked at his history … did it give you pause? As a woman who considers herself a brown woman, ‘My God, I’m working for a racist’?”

Ms. Farah Griffin repeated the familiar explanation: She believed public service was a higher calling and didn’t think it was acceptable to cede the White House to “the crazies.”

“I could spend the rest of my life debating if that was the right choice and, honestly, I spend a lot of time thinking about it,” she said, sounding weary. “But what I worry about is that this man could be president again.”

When I first started watching “The View,” I was immersed in the violence and upheaval that followed Sept. 11, 2001. Peering westward through the window of the TV, I’d marvel at how unaffected the ladies seemed, how coifed and manicured, chatting about cheating husbands while the wars ground along. Sometimes I had the sense of watching anesthesia dripping into the veins of the American public.

But then, like clouds parting, the ladies would say real things. Looking back now, I’m struck by how layered and blunt those conversations were — especially compared to those of today.

In a 2007 episode, for example, the ladies clashed over torture, morality and America’s reputation abroad. Elisabeth Hasselbeck sneered that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed deserved to be tortured for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks. “Why don’t we give him milk and cookies at the same time,” Ms. Hasselbeck said. “And a lawyer, and let him watch ‘American Idol’?”

Rosie O’Donnell countered by asking if labeling someone a terrorist nullified that person’s humanity. “They have been treating them like animals, Elisabeth, not like human beings,” she said.

The U.S. government was “sanctioning torture,” Ms. O’Donnell went on, “from the president all the way down,” leading to anti-American protests around the world.

Ms. Hasselbeck was unmoved. “I’d rather be safe than liked,” she said.

Ms. Behar, a compulsive mood lightener with a habit of cracking jokes and steering the discussion back to daily practicalities, sided with Ms. O’Donnell, saying that she wanted to be greeted warmly on vacation in Italy.

“I want them to say, ‘Hey, Americana, come,’” Ms. Behar said. “I don’t want them to not like me.”

I still loathe what Ms. Hasselbeck said — suggesting torture as a punishment, mocking the right to a lawyer, prizing safety above all else. But it didn’t shock me. Those values had dominated the U.S. government since 2001, and I’d been watching them play out disastrously in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. If anything, it was cathartic to hear the arguments trotted onto TV, to see them falter and collapse under challenge.

What strikes me now, though, was how that debate ended. “I think you’re wrong,” Ms. O’Donnell told Ms. Hasselbeck. “I still love you, but I think you’re wrong.”

I love you, but you’re wrong. “The View” isn’t like that anymore. I think Americans are, or could be, or want to be — but we certainly don’t see it done on TV.

The ladies often seem on the brink of having an honest and textured discussion — somebody will say something intriguing — but the most compelling comments tend to go untouched.

I envision behind them the suited figures of the ABC network and the Walt Disney Company, which owns the network, and the companies that buy ads to sell things in the breaks, all of which benefit from predictable centrist leadership and regard eruptions of popular sentiment as an undesirable expense.

Ms. Goldberg, seemingly keen to avoid any steep ideological edges, frequently shuts down conversation with a sweeping and vague speech on the uncertainty of politics or the unreliability of polls or some such.

One recent morning, Ms. Haines fretted about the insurrection of Jan. 6 and the erosion of public trust.

“The media is at its lowest. The Supreme Court is at its lowest,” she said, ticking off on her fingers. “People don’t trust anyone these days, so to completely ——”

Ms. Behar interrupted: “They trust us,” she snapped.

“Yes!” Ms. Hostin said emphatically, hands folded around her coffee mug, like a teacher’s pet who’s just called the right answer. As the audience exploded in applause, Ms. Haines stammered to regain her thought.

Ms. Behar shrugged, and interrupted again. “Sure,” she said curtly.

And that was that.

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Megan K. Stack is a contributing Opinion writer and author. She has been a correspondent in China, Russia, Egypt, Israel, Afghanistan and the U.S.-Mexico border area. Her first book, a narrative account of the post-Sept. 11 wars, was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. @Megankstack

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