On Star Jones, Barbara Walters and the bygone days of sisterhood
Last night, I watched a re-broadcast of a documentary about Billie Jean King, the tennis great whose strength, speed and ferocity in whacking balls on the court knocked down more than a few barriers to women's participation in sports -- both as competitors, and as money-makers. In those days, women such as King were hell-bent on making sure that women were taken seriously -- even if, in the case of King's notorious 1973 match against Bobby Riggs, it meant participating in a media spectacle to prove that a female athlete at her peak could beat a male athlete past his prime.
I was reminded of Billie Jean King and the lengths she went to in her efforts to improve opportunities for women in sports as I watched Barbara Walters', clumsy face-saving effort following the messy public departure of attorney Star Jones-Reynolds as a co-host on Walters' daytime television chatfest, The View. You see, once upon a time, Walters was a pioneer for women in broadcast journalism, becoming the first female network news anchor and negotiating record-setting contracts. And now, she is embroiled in a media spectacle that only shows that women can be as cutthroat as men.
After Jones-Reynolds announced on air Tuesday that she was leaving the show, and then told People Magazine that she had been fired, Walters told the magazine that she felt "betrayed" by Jones-Reynolds' announcement. Then she went on The View the next day and confirmed that Jones-Reynolds had been fired. All of which made Walters look catty at best. In response Jones-Reynolds called Walters a hypocrite, but later insisted that she "refused to denigrate Ms. Walters," who had, she said, taught her so much about televison.
Meanwhile industry wags are speculating on what the catfight will do to the show, as well as Walters' "likability."
Now,Jones-Reynolds says she's sorry that she commercialized her 2004 wedding -- one of the actions that, according to observers, turned viewers against her -- and she's moving on to other projects.
ABC is trying to capitalize on speculation about Jones-Reynolds' replacement. If media interest is any indication, Walters and the ABC brass will have plenty of ratings points and ad dollars to soothe their shocked sensibilities, and Jones-Reynolds will attract plenty of attention to any new project she announces.
As for me, I suppose I'm getting old. I'd rather see a smart, quick-witted lawyer such as Jones-Reynolds and a high-powered journalism pioneer such as Walters drawing attention for something that mattered to someone other than themselves and their accountants. In an earlier generation, Walters helped expand opportunities for younger women to enter broadcasting, just as Billie Jean King used her clout to create a professional league for women's tennis, a foundation to promote women's sports. In addition, along with Arthur Ashe, King made tennis play and instruction available to millions of kids (like me) who would never have been allowed in the front door of a country club.
As Troy Patterson explains, Barbara Walters opened the first episodes of The View by saying that she wanted it to be a show where smart women from different generations and backgrounds could discuss the issues of the day. Not exactly a cause, but given the bubbleheaded nature of most network daytime television fare, there was the hope that the women on the show could be both substantive and entertaining.
But we're long past the days when sisterhood was powerful. The naked truth about this entire episode is that in the television industry, ambition often trumps honesty, and the vague feel-good feminism that women such as Walters and Jones-Reynolds espoused sometimes devolves into little more than a business tactic.
cross-posted at Professor Kim's News Notes