McCain’s decision to quit the most-watched show on daytime TV wasn’t one that came easily for her. Her four years on “The View” were marked by ratings peaks in ABC daytime, as she succeeded at the Hot Topics table where other conservatives — who weren’t Elisabeth Hasselbeck — had failed.
But it was also a devastating time in her personal life. Her father, Sen. John McCain, who had encouraged Meghan to take the job at “The View” in October 2017, died of glioblastoma in August 2018. The country was consumed by Trump. Backstage at “The View,” Meghan felt like she couldn’t say or do anything without someone on the show leaking stories about her being “cold” or “difficult” to the tabloids. It all took a toll on her, she says.
When asked for comment, an ABC spokesperson responded: “Like all of the co-hosts, Meghan was an impactful editorial voice at the show influencing booking such guests as Steve Scalise, Lindsey Graham, Madison Cawthorn and Marsha Blackburn and discussing stories including Alexei Navalny, Biden transition plans, Afghanistan and paid family leave, to name a few.”
As McCain writes in her new memoir, “Bad Republican” (available this week on Audible), she decided that she had to leave “The View” on Jan. 5, her second day back from maternity leave. McCain had given birth to her daughter, Liberty, in September 2020, and she was suffering from severe postpartum anxiety. She experienced irrational fears that someone would kidnap or hurt her daughter, and she was terrified about being on TV again.
During a political debate that day, McCain made a joke about how Joy Behar, the show’s resident liberal, must have missed her when she was gone. Behar scowled at her. “I did not miss you,” Behar said. “Zero!”
McCain said she sobbed during the commercial, and had a panic attack after the show wrapped, vomiting in her office. Overcome by her own anxieties as a new mom, she realized she couldn’t keep doing “The View,” given how toxic the job had become for her and her family. She left the show in August.
Stories about drama and backstabbing on “The View” are as old as the show itself, which launched in 1997 at the hands of creator Barbara Walters. As the author of “Ladies Who Punch,” a book about the daytime talk show, I wrote about HR complaints that fell on deaf ears for years, and firings — from Star Jones to Nicolle Wallace — that were orchestrated like something out of “Survivor.”
Full disclosure: McCain is a friend of mine. We worked together years ago at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, where I was her editor. I started reporting on my book before she joined “The View.” In a recent interview with me, McCain talked about her time on “The View,” and why she hopes the culture at the show changes. As he recalled a particularly difficult day in December 2019 at “The View” — when Whoopi Goldberg told her, “Girl, please stop talking. Please stop talking right now” — she started to cry during our conversation.
And to enhance McCain’s point about the show’s atmosphere, this past July, Barbara Fedida, one of the executives in charge of “The View,” was fired for making racially insensitive comments.
Why do you think there’s so much drama backstage at “The View”?
My take on the problems of “The View” are that it’s a show with a lot of demons that started in the beginning, and none of those demons have been exorcised. I want to share an anecdote with you. I ran into Rosie O’Donnell at the premiere of “Frozen” on Broadway. She said, “How’s the show going?” I said, “You know…” And she goes, “It’s not nearly as fun as it should be.” That always stuck with me. This is something that is supposed to be really fun and it’s not at all.
It’s a show that there is an expectation you won’t survive. When you come in as a host, you are a rotating peg on a carousel, and you’ll be in and out. It doesn’t breed an environment where you’re close. It feels siloed. There was no collaboration.
You write in your book that “The View” is “a toxic work environment.”
I feel like everybody knows that. You can watch the show and see that it’s unhinged and disorganized and rowdy. For me personally, it felt extremely isolating because of my political ideology. I was the only conservative on the show. The third year, they ended up hiring a producer for me who was also conservative.
I need to put the context in. I was working on the show as the only conservative during the Trump years. I felt like a lot of people took out their anger on the administration on me because I was the only person in the building who was a Republican. I felt like I was too many degrees of separation close to Trump, despite the fact that everyone who worked on the show saw firsthand how much President Trump and his family put me through emotionally.
I feel like I have post-traumatic stress from having to feud with the president when my dad was dying, and then having to feud with the president after he died. And I haven’t fully healed.
What are some examples of how you were treated differently on the show because you’re a Republican?
It was the way topics were addressed. Each host picks a topic. They give you a list at night. I would obviously choose the one that made Democrats look bad. It was much harder to get those on-air because all the producers are liberal, all the hosts are liberal. The excuse is more people picked that topic. Of course! I’m outnumbered. I used to say, “This is crazy-making. You’ve got to hire more Republicans on staff.”
I always thought for TV, for the viewers watching, it benefits everybody to have more balance. I didn’t feel like there was balance.
Wasn’t the point of having you on the show to present the other side?
Yeah. I think I did as much as I could.
What was it like being backstage?
People were not comfortable around me. I was there less than a month when the first article came out about me, about what a disappointment I was and my nickname backstage was “Elsa the ice princess” [from “Frozen”]. My dad was dying of glioblastoma. I got permission from the network to take every other Friday off to go home to Arizona and help him get treatment. If I was cold, with this giant show with a group of strangers, I was trying to do well. There were never bad stories leaked about anyone else, and there was certainly bad behavior that could have leaked.
Do you think all those women are peaches and cream in the morning? Are you fucking kidding me? But it was always like, “Meghan is …” I thought it was unfair.
Did you find out who was leaking to the tabloids?
I tried very hard. I had ideas. It started to have a real impact, not only on my life, but on the lives of people who loved me and would read it and get upset.
Did you complain to ABC about the leaking?
I complained to [former ABC News president] James Goldston, [former ABC News executive] Barbara Fedida, the new president Kim Godwin and [senior vice president of ABC News] Galen Gordon. I made official complaints with HR. They knew how I felt. The excuse was, “We don’t know how to control it.”
For the record, Kim almost talked me into staying. She seems like a great leader. When I was leaving, I gave her an explicit rundown of what’s wrong with the show and what should change.
When you first started out on “The View,” you and Whoopi were close, right?
Not close, but warm and friendly.
And then what happened?
I have a lot of love and affection for her. She was surprised when I left. She yields an unfathomable amount of power in television, in culture. And it felt at a certain point, she didn’t want me at the table anymore. It started with the “Girl, please stop talking!” incident. I remember when it happened almost crying on the show. I never wanted to upset her.
But I also wanted to be truthful about how I felt about politics and my perspective, and sometimes those two things couldn’t co-exist. At a certain point, I made the decision it was more important to be honest than to be liked.
How did you feel after the “please stop talking” incident?
It was horrible. To her credit, Whoopi apologized the next morning. I would apologize when I messed up. I fucked up a lot on that show. [She starts to cry.] I don’t know why I’m getting emotional talking about this. A lot of this feels like such a waste. It was humiliating for me, and I’m a serious person. I felt like I was being talked to like I was a child and a brat. And when things go viral on Twitter and people write things, it really does impact you. I felt very lonely.
I love Whoopi. I felt at a certain point she stopped respecting me, and it was hard. I don’t know why I’m crying so much. I wish things could have been different. I know she had her own dark times. When I was on the show, she almost died of pneumonia. I wish we had better leadership that could have stopped a lot of it.
When you say better leadership, who are you talking about?
Brian [Teta, the executive producer] tries, and he’s a very decent person. I feel like no one could control anything.
Did you know you were going to leave “The View” when you wrote this book?
I didn’t know I was going to leave until my second day back from maternity leave when Joy told me that “Nobody missed me — zero.” That was the day I decided.
How did you and Joy get along at first?
Fine. There were pockets of time when Joy and I had a great relationship. We have foundational things that are similar. We’re both strong. We were both unemotional. Neither of us like talking about our personal life on camera. I found a lot of synergy between us as women.
When did things turn?
COVID. I think it’s easier to solve problems in person.
How did the conversation unravel on-air that day with Joy?
I had postpartum anxiety. When I was back, I was really nervous. It was like starting TV all over again. I felt unsteady. I was trying to make a joke, “You missed me so much.” If you watch the clip, her reaction is very sharp. I can’t explain what it felt like. The people in the room with me in the D.C. bureau, there was a sound engineer and the hair and makeup artists. The sound woman looked shell-shocked at what she’d seen.
And you cried during the commercial break.
Bad — and started lactating. I did end up being able to go back on-air. I remember Dr. Sanjay Gupta was on, and he looked weirded out. He went out of his way to be nice to me. After the show, I went back to my office and I had a panic attack. I couldn’t stop crying, and I’m not always crying. I couldn’t compose myself. I threw up in the garbage can. I was so overcome. This is my narrative — “I come back from maternity leave and no one missed me.” I knew it was going to be everywhere. I was just so confused, because women when they have babies should be treated respectfully when they come back to work.
Did Joy apologize?
I asked for an apology from our executive producer and her producer. They said she wouldn’t do it. I don’t know if they asked her.
Why do you think Joy was so mad at you?
I don’t know. She might have hated me.
You thank Abby Huntsman and Sunny Hostin in your book.
I have a legitimate friendship and sisterhood with both those women outside of “The View.”
After Elisabeth Hasselbeck left, why do you think it took so long to find a Republican who worked?
Because what they want and what they need are different things. They want someone who is not a real conservative because they will be easier to get along with — you don’t fight as much. What they need is someone who’s actually representing people in Kentucky and Arizona. I was told when I left, they were looking for a real conservative. I gave them a list. None of them have tested, by the way.
Did ABC ever give you notes?
Barbara Fedida told me to smile more. Things about my hair and clothes. I should wear brighter colors. In my exit interview, the last thing I told Kim is, “You got to change the culture on the show or the culture is going to change you, ‘Ellen’ style.” They’ve got to start changing things or it will not survive.
Do you think “The View” is as bad as “Ellen”?
In a different way, yeah. I don’t think anyone should walk into a work environment where they feel like they can’t have a bad day without it being blasted over the internet, painting them out to be a psycho. I don’t think you should feel disliked or ostracized for not voting for Obama. The liberal media bubble is real. No one walks away from a giant contract like the one I had if it was good.
What are some of your happier memories at “The View”?
Interviewing presidential candidates. Having my dad on. Having friends come. Jamie Lee Curtis, who I’ve become friends with. We bonded over having famous dads. I love Mark Cuban. There are a lot of amazing people on the show. I love so many guys in the crew. I love the wardrobe people.
Would you consider going back?
No. That’s not going to happen. Someone else should get a shot at it. They should be giving conservative women opportunities to be on TV.
Do you watch the show now?
No. It would be like looking at an ex-boyfriend’s Instagram. What’s the point?
This interview has been edited and condensed.