As an actress, Whoopi Goldberg’s track record is mixed. Yes, she starred in “The Color Purple” and won an Oscar for “Ghost” — but she also made “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
As a patron saint of lost causes on “The View,” however,” Goldberg’s record is much more consistent. Wednesday, for example, she came to the defense of embattled comedian Bill Cosby after news of his admission that he provided drugs to women he intended to have sex with.
“I say this because this is my opinion, and in America still, I know it’s a shock, but you actually were innocent until proven guilty,” Goldberg said, as The Washington Post’s Soraya Nadia McDonald reported. “He has not been proven a rapist.”
On one hand, Goldberg spoke the truth: Cosby has denied all allegations of sexual assault, and has not been charged with a crime. But, on the other: Why was she defending an alleged serial rapist whose visage is being removed from Disney theme parks and, possibly, erased from murals? Just to be a pain in Michelle Collins’s tuchus?
Maybe. Yet, Goldberg’s defenses of the indefensible transcend mere contrarianism. Sure, she relished her role as Barbara Walters’s heel. But as a professional gossiper and — why not? — public moralist, Goldberg embraces a bold philosophy that combines sometimes contradictory elements of empathy, personal responsibility and freedom of expression.
Somehow, she’s become both the Mother Teresa and the Ayn Rand of “The View.”
In such serious matters, we should take Goldberg at her word. In her public statements and writing, she’s said we don’t cut people enough slack, even as she sometimes asks people — even assault victims — to own up to the consequences of their decisions. Like the best social justice crusaders, she’s blamed transgressors’ actions on their culture. She’s offered ad hominem defenses, pleading for the nation to cut someone a break just because she knows them. And when others want a public shaming, she wants to sing “Kumbaya.”
“Is there any forgiveness?” Goldberg wrote in her 2011 book “Is It Just Me?: Or Is It Nuts out There?” “If somebody does something wrong, we now have copped this ‘off with the head’ attitude, which, I confess, feels great sometimes, but come on. Why do we paint everyone with the same brush? Why does it seem more and more we want people ruined rather than rehabilitated?”
Cosby is just the latest in a long line of public figures on whom Goldberg has shone her light of forgiveness. In 2007 — on her first day on “The View” — she defended football star Michael Vick after he pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges.
“He’s from the South, from the Deep South … This is part of his cultural upbringing,” Goldberg said. She added: “For a lot of people, dogs are sport … Instead of just saying [Vick] is a beast and he’s a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned.”
Goldberg apologized the next day — but in her apology, stood her ground.
“I don’t know how this happened — if you read the papers today I’m eating dogs, I’m swinging them by their tail — I mean, it’s ridiculous!” she said. “I have 12 horses … I have cats — I’ve adopted cats from various shelters. I love my animals. But I also believe that if there’s a problem out there that we can address by checking out where it stems from, that we need to take a look at this.”
In 2009, Goldberg defended Christian Bale after a tape surfaced of the actor giving a profane dressing-down to a crew member on the set of “Terminator: Salvation.”
“We don’t know if this [incident happened] at the end of the day, we don’t know how many hours [he had] been working,” Goldberg said. “It’s tough. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I too have gone off on people, because if you’re a professional, you know what you’re not supposed to do.” She added: “If I have to jump out of character to tell you something you should know? … You’re in a zone and it’s crazy.”
That same year, she defended filmmaker Roman Polanski, who fled the country in 1978 after pleading guilty to one count of sex with a minor.
“I know it wasn’t rape-rape,” Goldberg said. “It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and when they let him out he was like: ‘You know what? This guy’s going to give me a 100 years in jail. I’m not staying.’ So that’s why he left.'”
In 2010, she defended Mel Gibson on “The View” after tapes of a racist rant by a man said to be the actor were released by the Web site RadarOnline. The rant included use of the “N-word” and what appeared to be admissions of domestic violence, to which he ultimately pleaded no contest.
“I don’t like what he did here, but I know Mel and I know he’s not a racist,” Goldberg said. “He may be a bonehead. I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist, having spent time with him in my house with my kids.” She added: “If someone is kicking your behind and punching you while you’re holding your kid, you don’t go to the cops first? You go to RadarOnline?”
Last year, she defended Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN commentator who appeared to defend Ray Rice after the football player punched his fiancée in an elevator.
“If you make the choice as a woman who’s 4 foot 3 and you decide to hit a guy who’s 6 feet tall and you’re the last thing he wants to deal with that day and he hits you back, you cannot be surprised!” Goldberg said. Elaborating, she put herself forward as a domestic violence educator of sorts: “I know I’m going to catch a lot of hell, and I don’t care. But you have to teach women, do not live with this idea that men have this chivalry thing still with them; don’t assume that that is still in place.”
Some of these headline-making opinions may be just Goldberg bristling against censorship and political correctness. Remember: She was a stand-up comedian, and the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have also complained about such matters.
“It used to be all right to disagree,” Goldberg wrote in her 2011 book. Chapter title: “You Repect My Opinion, I’ll Respect Yours.”
“It made life interesting,” Goldberg continued. “Now it draws blood. ‘End of discussion’ can mean the end of a nice lunch. Or a friendship. It’s crazy. Can we turn that around? … Maybe. A good starting place is cutting each other some slack.”
Some of Goldberg’s outrage seems linked to what she perceives as a failed social contract.
“Somehow so many little pieces of courtesy have gone by the wayside,” she wrote. “People in your face, in your business, not caring if they are invading your space, being disrespectfully loud. Thoughtlessness is the new manners, and I’ve got to say I don’t like it.”
And Goldberg always seems ready to walk a mile — maybe, in Cosby’s case, hundreds of miles — in other people’s shoes.
“We’re talking about context,” Goldberg wrote — naming Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Bernie Madoff “true villains” for whom “there is no forgiveness.” She added: “Villains are vilified. Can you really put villainy in the same context as … Michael Vick?”
This attitude, of course, often sets Goldberg up for a fall. She’s defended moon-landing deniers, for heaven’s sake. It’s clear, however, that she won’t stop anytime soon.
“People can make judgments,” Goldberg said yesterday. “I don’t like snap judgments ’cause I’ve had snap judgments made on me, so I’m very, very careful. Save your texts, save your nasty comments. I don’t care.”