Late departures in 2022 included Brazilian soccer star Pelé, the mysteriously retired Pope Benedict XVI, and “pioneering TV journalist” Barbara Walters. She died on December 30 at the age of 93, and left a few keys by the exit door.
Like many in television, Walters was a liberal and often betrayed her bias. In Walters’ day, liberals were promoters of big government, indulgent of socialist dictatorships, and tended to make light of crime. On the other hand, liberals could engage in dialogue with conservatives like William F. Buckley, with his “Firing Line” show on PBS.
In Walters’ day, liberals were also staunch defenders of the First Amendment, on which their careers depended. Walters’ support for free speech faced a challenge when she became a target of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Original cast member Gilda Radner mocked Walters’ hairstyle and manner of speech with her Baba Wawa character. Consider the sketch “Not for First Ladies Only,” from October 30, 1976.
Baba Wawa asks Betty Ford (Jane Curtin) and Rosalynn Carter (Laraine Newman) “what has made you a gweat first wady?” Baba wants to know about “more important twaits” and poses a “fwank qwestion, the kind I’m so famous for.” Such as, “do you sweep with your husbands?” As it turns out, Jimmy Carter likes to dress up like Eleanor Roosevelt.
Baba Wawa tells Ford and Carter “neither of you qwawifies to be first wady. I mean you aren’t articuwate, you aren’t informed, you aren’t gwamorous, you aren’t me. I mean, who does qualify to be first wady. Me, Baba Wawa, the first wady of television.”
And so on.
In another sketch, Baba Wawa interviews Henry Kissinger (John Belushi) “the cweator of shuttle dipwomacy” but also “weguar guy.” Baba wants to know Kissinger’s high point as “secwetawy of state.” Kissinger cites his Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Vietnam War in 1973. And the low point? “I would say 1975, when the Vietnam war ended.” As this shows, the SNL writers actually knew something, and they spared nobody.
Walters “hated” Radner’s impression, but claimed that changed after her daughter told her to lighten up. Walters never called for an end to Radner’s sketches, demanded her removal from the show, called for the cancellation of SNL, or anything of the sort. Liberals of the time could laugh at themselves. Should that be doubted, check out “Dukakis After Dark” from 1988.
Dukakis (Jon Lovitz) knows he’s going to lose “badly,” so he throws a party sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. A drunken Ted Kennedy (Phil Hartman) hits on Kitty Dukakis (Jan Hooks). The “greatest living American,” Jimmy Carter (Dana Carvey), realizes he is “a downer, a liberal downer, a free-spending malaise-ridden liberal downer.” Dukakis confesses that “we represent unpopular and discredited views.”
A satire like that is now hard to find. The woke cannot laugh at themselves, and when others laugh at them, the default response is to call names and unleash cancel culture. Nothing like “Hillary After Dark,” appeared in 2008, 2012, or 2016. In similar style, there is no modern equivalent to Gilda Radner’s Baba Wawa. That’s a shame.
Think of the possibilities with Rachel Maddow, or other victims of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Imagine what Richard Pryor could have done with Keith Olbermann, Anderson Cooper, or Don Lemon. Imagine Pryor’s take on Rachel Levine, Sam Brinton, or Joe Biden, after his proclamation that those who fail to support him “ain’t black.”
Imagine too what Pryor, George Carlin, or Lenny Bruce would say to the notion that politically correct politicians and entertainment figures were somehow off limits. They would not have fallen in line. The woke crowd may “identify” as comics and satirists, but nobody is fooled.
A notable exception is Dave Chappelle who finds the humor in the “alphabet people,” and just about everybody else. The targets may not like it, but Chappelle doesn’t care, and that’s a requirement for the job.
Gilda Radner didn’t care if she offended Barbara Walters, whose long career suffered no damage. Known for her tough questions, the pioneer of TV journalism may find new possibilities in the great beyond.
Walters, Pelé, and Pope Benedict XVI died a few days apart. By contrast, Aldous Huxley, C. S. Lewis, and President John F. Kennedy all died on the same day, November 22, 1963. Walters could ask Benedict if he really retired or was forced out, and find out what, exactly, is going on with the Catholic Church.
Walters could ask JFK what many, including nephew Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have long wondered: “Was the CIA involved in your assassination, or the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald?” After 60 years, we still don’t know.