Things got messy this week with the girlfriends on "The View."
What was supposed to be a carefully choreographed series of lies, told to save face, spare feelings and protect careers, devolved into a nasty catfight, leaving a veteran newswoman, Barbara Walters, in the position not only of having admitted lying, but of accusing her now-former co-host, Star Jones Reynolds, of lacking dignity for failing to lie about why she was leaving the show.
Jones Reynolds, for her part, had already been slammed for (allegedly) lying about how she lost more than 100 pounds. And of course, the woman who accused her of that, "The View's" new co-host, Rosie O'Donnell, lied for years about having a deep crush on Tom Cruise ... before she came out of the closet.
Everybody in TV lies, of course. To save face, to save feelings, to save careers.
But rarely do the lies come apart so publicly and -- quite frankly -- so deliciously.
And rarely is a journalist such as Walters, whose main asset is her credibility, after all, forced to admit to tangoing with the truth. "I have always told the truth on this program," Walters told the New York Daily News on Tuesday, "except in the case of Star."
Her big lie: Last May, when O'Donnell was hired to replace Meredith Vieira, Walters tried to dampen speculation that Jones Reynolds' contract would not be renewed for a 10th season. "If Star wants to continue to be there," Walters told the New York Times, "she is welcome."
As it turns out, not so much.
"This was not one of Barbara Walters' finest moments," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. "The one person who can stabilize the equation is the one person who has done more harm than good."
Walters, of course, had known for months that ABC would not renew Jones Reynolds' contract. As Walters told reporters this week, Jones Reynolds' "negatives" were going up and the public was starting to doubt her veracity. (A lot of that going around, Barbara.) "They didn't believe some of the things she said," Walters told one reporter. "There are very strong reasons why they felt she had lost the audience," she told another.
Jones Reynolds was supposed to let Walters lie for her, but her feelings of betrayal must have gotten the best of her. So she did two things: Instead of waiting till Thursday, the day she was supposed to announce that she was leaving, she jumped the gun on Tuesday and announced during the show to her surprised co-hosts Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Walters that she was not coming back in the fall. "Oh," said a completely disingenuous Walters, "how long are you going to be with us?"
And then Jones Reynolds compounded the insult by telling People magazine, "I feel like I've been fired." Which, of course, is true, but that is not what the script had called for.
On Wednesday's "The View," a solemn Walters spun the debacle for viewers, and unwittingly -- perhaps even historically -- outlined the ritualized deceptions now regularly used when any high-profile employee is fired: "This is, truthfully, a very difficult day for us," said Walters. "If you were watching the program yesterday, you would have heard Star announce that she's leaving.... We didn't expect her to make this statement yesterday. She gave us no warning and we were taken by surprise. But the truth is that Star has known for months that ABC did not want to renew her contract.... But we were never going to say this. We wanted to protect Star. And so we told her that she could say whatever she wanted about why she was leaving and that we would back her up. We worked closely with her representatives and we gave her time to look for another job and we hoped then she would announce it here on the program and leave with dignity. But Star made another choice."
Yes, the difficult, almost unheard-of other choice: telling the truth. And by doing so, Jones Reynolds simply pulled back the curtain on that messy place where girlfriends and professional obligations collide. "The View," after all, was conceived as a place where women of several generations could bond and jawbone over the day's news, drool over celebrities together and disagree but always be friends. Or at least friendly.
"For Barbara to say she felt betrayed is the height of hypocrisy," Jones Reynolds caterwauled in Thursday's New York Daily News.
"The sad thing about this," said Thompson, "is that it kind of dreadfully brings back these old stereotypes. 'The View' was supposed to be five women talking intelligently and candidly about important and silly issues ... and what is there now but a great big catfight. There's something a little 'Dynasty' about it, and that's discouraging because the heart of the show was to dispel that idea."