"The Tonight Show" has never been a wellspring of sensitivity, but a recent show (Oct. 24) reached new depths.
The subject was the humpback whale who was then still stranded in the Sacramento River, his life hanging on the attempts of volunteer rescuers to herd him back out to sea.
Carson began by describing with mock solemnity the plight of the whale, then offered his "plan" to save the creature's life: He played a recording of whale mating cries--which, in any other context, would have been haunting and wondrous--then invited the studio audience to imitate those cries "to chase the whale out to sea."
The audience, probably in town from Iowa and eager to join in the big-city fun, responded with an astonishing display of callous buffoonery, howling and clapping. Meanwhile, Ed McMahon, ever the shameless fool, punctuated this vulgar merriment by nearly choking on his own mindless sniggering. Even by "The Tonight Show" standards, this was all an outstanding disgrace.