Feb 3, 2022

Whoopi Goldberg's suspension.

Whoopi Goldberg's suspension.

She was accused of anti-semitism on The View.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

We're covering the Whoopi Goldberg drama. Plus, a question about Tangle subscribers leaving in protest.

Whoopi Goldberg (left) and hosts of The View discuss book banning in the U.S. Screenshot: The View YouTube
Whoopi Goldberg (left) and hosts of The View discuss book banning in the U.S. Screenshot: The View YouTube

Tomorrow.

A reader recently wrote into Tangle and suggested I include this question in a Tangle poll: "If you were hired by the Biden Administration to get his approval rating up quickly to 50%, what 3 things would you recommend he do?" I think it's a fantastic question, and so I posed it on Twitter. Then I sat down and started thinking about it myself.

In tomorrow's Friday edition, I'm going to share what I came up with. Have thoughts of your own? Feel free to write in and let me know what you think. And remember: Friday editions are for paying subscribers only. You can support our work and get those special editions by clicking here.


Quick hits.

  1. U.S. forces carried out a "large-scale" counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. First responders at the scene said 13 people died, including six children and four women. (The killing)
  2. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is suing Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani for alleged witness intimidation. Vindman was a key witness during the first impeachment trial of former President Trump. (The lawsuit)
  3. France and Denmark are lifting a wide range of pandemic restrictions. Danish officials say Covid-19 is no longer a "socially critical disease." (The decision)
  4. President Biden is traveling to New York City today for two events on crime policy with new Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer who ran on a tough-on-crime platform. (The meeting)
  5. The U.S. Army says it will discharge soldiers who refuse Covid-19 vaccines and don't have medical or religious exemptions. 3,300 soldiers are expected to be impacted. (The discharge)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

Whoopi Goldberg. On Tuesday, Goldberg was suspended for two weeks as co-host of ABC’s "The View" after comments she made about Jews and the Holocaust during a debate on book banning. During a conversation about a Tennessee school district removing the book Maus from its curriculum, Goldberg insisted that the Holocaust was “not about race ... it’s about man’s inhumanity to other man," arguing that the Holocaust was about two groups of white people doing horrible things to each other. Her co-hosts pushed back, but Goldberg dug in on her comments.

Goldberg apologized hours after her comments were made and again in a follow-up episode, but the two-week suspension rolled in after leaders of many Jewish groups and viewers of the show expressed their anger. The president of ABC News called her comments "wrong and hurtful."

“My words upset so many people, which was never my intention,” Goldberg said Tuesday morning. “I understand why now and for that I am deeply, deeply grateful because the information I got was really helpful and helped me understand some different things.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, responded to Goldberg's remarks, saying "she was reflecting a misunderstanding of Jewish identity that is both widespread and dangerous that is sometimes described as erasive antisemitism... It is the notion that Jews should be viewed only as being white, privileged oppressors. It denies Jewish identity and involves a whitewashing of Jewish history.”

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the right and left to Goldberg's comments and her suspension, then my take.


Agreed.

Occasionally, we get an issue like this that reaches a threshold of common ground to where we include it in our "agreed" section. In this case, there was widespread condemnation of Goldberg's comments, but also criticism of her suspension by ABC News. While that criticism was far more frequent on the right, it did seem to be a consensus among both left-leaning and right-leaning commentators.


What the right is saying.

  • The right criticized ABC News for the suspension.
  • They also condemned Goldberg's remarks, saying they were a result of the left's attempt to define what constitutes racism.
  • Some pointed to "cancel culture" as the reason for Goldberg's suspension.

In The Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Sugar said "we're all Whoopi Goldberg now."

"Her comment, limited by her understanding of the American black-white binary of race, was historically uninformed," Sugar said. "Hitler identified Jews as an inferior race and specifically targeted them for extermination. Nazi ideas were deeply influenced by Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (1816-82), who believed Germanic 'Aryans' were superior to all other whites and nonwhites alike.

"Adding to Ms. Goldberg’s confusion, and to the anger her words have generated, was her assertion that Jews were and are 'white.' In fact, Jews aren’t a race as the term is commonly understood today," Sugar said. "The majority of Jews in Israel are of Middle Eastern origin. Minorities are Indian, Ethiopian and Chinese as well as European. Ms. Goldberg mislabels Jews as racially homogenous, unconsciously echoing the poisonous anti-Semitic rhetoric that seeks to vilify Jews as white oppressors... Who does this? Who speaks with presumed authority and moral superiority but next to no knowledge? In our culture, that would be everyone with a Twitter account, an iPhone, a classroom full of students, an election coming up, or a TV show."

In National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke said the suspension was "illiberal" and "irrational."

"What Goldberg said was factually incorrect, yes. But so what?" Cooke asked. "Figures on political TV shows say stupid and historically illiterate things every day — including about the Nazis — and nothing much happens to them as a result. What, exactly, was different about this one? Is warmed-over critical theory prohibited now? And why does anyone care? ABC’s president explained that the suspension was a product of Goldberg’s 'hurtful comments.' But who, specifically, was 'hurt'? The View is a talk show, and a particularly stupid one to boot. Is there anyone in the world who takes it as gospel?

"I simply do not understand the mechanism by which viewers are supposed to be damaged in some way by watching an actress make mistakes on live TV," he wrote. "Bit by bit, and mob by mob, we are destroying our open culture and the organizations that we have constructed to serve it. Historians who look back on this era will presumably be shocked when they learn that, somehow, the institutions that were supposed to be the most tolerant and resilient — the media, the universities, the entertainment industry — were, in fact, the least tolerant and resilient of all. We can add ABC to this growing list of shame."

In The New York Post, John Podhoretz railed Goldberg for the 'jaw-dropping' offensiveness of her comments.

"Forget that Hitler called the Germans a 'master race' and that according to classic Nazi doctrine, Jews constituted a 'subhuman Asiatic race.' You see, Whoopi told Stephen Colbert as she tried to clean up the mess she had made early in the day, 'I think of race as being something I can see.' That’s nice that she thinks about it that way. But it’s monumentally ignorant, stupid and almost jaw-droppingly offensive," he wrote. "Six million people literally died because that wasn’t how the people who killed them thought about race... what Whoopi clearly meant was that the Jews she knows have light-colored skin, and the Jews she has seen in movies about the Holocaust have light-colored skin. Therefore they were 'white.' And since racism only involves black and white, they were also 'white' to the Nazis, and the genocide was a white-on-white genocide."


What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left accepted Goldberg's apology.
  • They chalked her remarks up to historical ignorance, and wrote about the threat of that ignorance.
  • Many condemned her comments and hope they serve as a learning experience for all.

Joan Salter, a Holocaust survivor, said Goldberg's "carelessness" brought her great sadness.

"In Nazi ideology, if you were born a Jew, you were condemned to die," she wrote. "Not for anything you had done or not done, no matter how young or old, good or bad, you were. There is evidence all around us that hostility based on identity has not gone away in the intervening decades. And at a time when the world is increasingly vulnerable to divisions and prejudices, Goldberg's remarks are a clear signal that the annual Holocaust Memorial Day reminder of the fragility of civilization -- commemorated last week --- is necessary for us all.

"This is why I and my fellow survivors are driven to share our experiences," she wrote. "We are committed to keeping the truth about the Holocaust alive and challenging the kind of racism and prejudice that energized Nazis to commit mass murder. We do so in the hope that future generations would never have to live through the horror of genocide... And while I do feel Goldberg was careless with her words, it is my hope that they are not interpreted in a way which appears to pitch the experiences of Jewish Holocaust victims against the suffering of black communities and their history of slavery. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said: 'Anyone who listens to a witness, becomes a witness.'"

In CNN, Jill Filipovic said historical ignorance brings dangers into the present.

"This insistence that terrible historical events are simply the outcome of individual bad actors -- or simply 'man's inhumanity to man,' as Goldberg put it -- is dangerous. History is not divorced from the long arc of what came before; it is not unrelated to us today," Filipovic wrote. "Believing terrible events are simply random and isolated blips consigns us to collective ignorance and leaves us well positioned for a repeat. You hear echoes of this same school of thought from the White people who insist that slavery has nothing to do with me because I didn't enslave anyone, and who in turn seek to obscure the many ways in which slavery shaped and continues to shape America's laws, its geography, and its unequal racial outcomes. Instead of grappling with our history and what it means for our lives today, a lot of people want to wash their hands of it."

Jonathan Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), wrote about why he forgives Goldberg.

"First off, her apology was immediate and unconditional. This kind of immediate public recognition and effort to right a wrong is something of a rarity these days, especially among politicians and pundits who would dig in their heels rather than recognize or admit to a mistake. Whoopi’s on-air apology to me the following morning on 'The View' was not forced, but equally heartfelt and sincere. She recognized that her comments had caused hurt, acknowledged she was wrong and showed true remorse and introspection.

"She also made clear that she had been a friend of the Jewish community all throughout her career – and to be sure, the record reflects that. At the Anti-Defamation League, we believe that when an individual – whether a celebrity, an elected leader or even a close friend – makes a mistake, they should be given a second chance. And that a mistake, no matter how hurtful, can serve as an opportunity for learning and growth. In Jewish religious tradition, there is a concept known as 'T’shuvah,' or repentance, which offers someone an opportunity to reflect on misdeeds and to repair them. That certainly applies here."


My take.

I waffled pretty seriously on whether to cover this today. In my preparation for Tangle, I try to stay two days ahead of the stories I'm thinking about covering, and I had issues on the southern border and the beginning of the Olympics queued up to run this week. But as I saw the discourse around this story break, I realized there was a lot of value in picking at it — not just because The View is a place where so many Americans get their political commentary, but also because it touches on issues like race, "cancel culture," and forgiveness in America.

Given that I spent the first half of this week defending Joe Rogan (twice), it should come as no surprise to you — even though I'm a Jew — that I find Goldberg's suspension ridiculous. I find it worse than ridiculous, actually: I think it is indicative of how poisonous, unforgiving and insular our culture can be, how fragile Americans' sensibilities are, and how weak-kneed corporate media powers like ABC have become. That the president of one of the biggest, richest, most storied news networks in America thinks Goldberg needs a two-week suspension from a show about arguing for what she said is not just silly but frightening.

What I find so fascinating about the whole thing is that the format of The View is perhaps the most "Jewish" show on television. It's a group of middle-aged moms who sit around and argue with each other, and occasionally invite on guests they can reprimand and try to smack some sense into. Of all the cultures I've experienced in my life, none encourage debate and argument the way Judaism does. In her lovely book The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell wrote, "The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds." And she's right.

Even more ironic is that Goldberg was not making an original or even abhorrent remark. Jews argue amongst themselves all the time about what we are. As Yair Rosenberg wrote, "Jewish identity doesn’t conform to Western categories, despite centuries of attempts by society to shoehorn it in. This makes sense, because Judaism predates Western categories." We are made Jewish by virtue of birth, meaning you can be Jewish even if you do not observe the faith — thus, we are not quite a religion. But you can convert to get in.  We have a homeland, but Judaism is not a nationality, and many Jews are actively antagonistic toward that homeland. Then, of course, one of the most significant events in Jews' history was led by a man who believed we weren't just a race, but an inferior one that needed to be exterminated.

All of this should be a reminder that race is a construct. It only exists because we created it, and it’s a mechanism that various cretins have used throughout history to divide us and create social hierarchies that put themselves at the top. Of course this construct has had very real and monumental impacts on society and especially life in America, where we've enslaved and oppressed subsets of Americans by declaring them non-white. This, relevantly, has included Jews. In the 1960s, my mother couldn't attend a dance at the local Yacht club ("no Blacks or Jews allowed"), so you might understand why she saw herself as something other than "white." That she could be non-white then and white in Goldberg's eyes now is evidence of how this construct works.

I have wrestled with this in my own way. I never viewed myself as "white," but as some kind of "other" or "minority." I was always a part of that tiny 2.4% of the American population (and 0.19% of the global population). I had "Jewish friends" growing up — a community of people who came from that same race or religion or birthright or club or whatever you wanted to call it. And we did share something special. A skeptical view of society, a love for the story, a premium on food and problems and complaining and "success" and pick-up basketball. Most of us were taught regularly about the numerous attempts throughout history to exterminate our people, and how all those attempts failed.

But none of this is settled or obvious or clear to everyone. Whoopi surely gets docked for her historical ignorance. Someone with her platform not knowing that the Holocaust was about racial tension is a bit difficult to swallow, and a nice reminder why ex-actor-celebrity-comedians should not be your go-to sources of World War II knowledge. But a suspension is beyond overkill. The Jews I know would be delighted to see this debate happening, especially in this format. And the country, the many millions of others who surely think as Goldberg does (see our 'Numbers' section below), can learn from it too.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is that she clearly meant no harm. She apologized (twice), conceded her own ignorance and expressed gratitude about what she learned. I was encouraged to see so many people from both sides get upset about her suspension. But that we live in a society with so little grace that a corporate power like ABC can’t allow people like Goldberg to be wrong publicly without being suspended worries me far more than anything she said this week.


Your questions, answered.

Q: I was wondering if given your transparency and communication, you'd be willing to share how many Tangle subscribers you actually lost from your Rogan-related issues. No reason other than curiosity and how many people really would be willing to burn such a valuable resource because they simply disagree.

— Mike, Boston, Massachusetts

Tangle: It's actually a pretty hard thing to measure. Every time I send a newsletter, about 20 people unsubscribe from the free mailing list. Presumably, these are just people who haven't been reading and decided that day to de-clutter their inbox. Sometimes, I'm sure, it's people who unsubscribe because they are angry about something I wrote or felt I was not being "fair" in the way they hoped Tangle would be.

This week, our free list shrank by about 100 subscribers, which is about 0.3% of our mailing list. This is very unusual. We usually grow week over week, so — given the emails I got — I'm fairly certain that was tied to my coverage of Rogan. Since we get new subscribers every day, our list shrinking by 100 means we probably lost 200-300 people. Just this morning, someone wrote in after unsubscribing and said "I want nothing to do with any supporters of the misogynist, Joe Rogan and his ilk."

We also get some people who unsubscribe from the paid mailing list every month. A week before someone's subscription renews, I send notices to give people a heads up that it's coming so they aren't caught off guard. Sometimes people use that moment to cancel, which is unfortunate, but better than the alternative. This week, about 10 people canceled their paid subscription despite a renewal not coming up. Again: Given some of the notes I got from people, I can assume it's tied to what I wrote.

This is all quite concerning. I'd certainly prefer that the people reading my work are people who can (and want to!) tolerate opinions they don't like. I especially prefer that they aren't people who view me defending Rogan as equivalent to wanting Americans to die of Covid-19. But it also worries me a great deal that so many people would abandon a project like this over a disagreement like the one Rogan’s situation created. It is precisely that kind of retreat to the comfort of your ideological bubble I am trying to fight back against.

I'm not trying to victimize myself, even if it is frustrating to lose subscribers over a stance I take. People shouldn't pay for a product they don't like and they certainly don’t have to read it. But I will use the opportunity to remind you that this is the environment I'm navigating with Tangle, and now is as good as a time as any to subscribe or spread the word if you haven't already.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Some experts believe long Covid is now contributing to America's labor shortage. Kate Bach, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute, estimates that 1.6 million workers are missing from the labor market because of long Covid-19 symptoms — representing 15% of unfilled jobs across the U.S. Studies vary widely on how many people long Covid impacts, from 5% to 60%. "Splitting the difference at 30%, more than 22 million Americans may be suffering from long COVID symptoms," Tina Reed and Emily Peck report at Axios. Researchers still don't understand what causes long Covid or how to treat it, but Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, director of the COVID Recovery Clinic at University Health in Texas, is expected to testify before Congress on it this week.


Numbers.

  • 84%. The percentage of Americans who reference "death/persecution of Jews or related topics" when asked what the Holocaust refers to.
  • 66%. The percentage of Americans who knew that the Holocaust refers to the extermination of Jews, according to a 2019 Pew poll.
  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who knew that 6 million Jews were killed.
  • 31%. The percentage of Americans who thought 2 million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust, according to a 2018 Schoen Consulting poll.
  • 41%. The percentage of millennials who thought 2 million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust, according to a 2018 Schoen Consulting poll.

Have a nice day.

Dusti Talavera was watching from inside her home as a few kids played on the ice of a frozen pond in Denver. As she looked on, the ice cracked and three children fell in. The 23-year-old rushed to rescue them, falling into the ice herself, and then treaded water and held up the head of 6-year-old Zakiyah Williams, who was not breathing when she got pulled out of the water. A cousin of the children threw Talavera and Zakiyah a rope, pulling them out of the pond, where a rescue crew arrived and performed CPR on Zakiyah. They rushed her to the hospital where she made a full recovery and was released two days later. Then, last month, Talavera and Zakiyah had a tearful reunion.


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