At the late-night PBS talk show "Charlie Rose," the revolving door of hosts keeps turning. On Monday night, ABC's Barbara Walters interviewed Jane Fonda about the paperback edition of her memoir, and just past the midway point of the interview, Walters asked indignantly about conservative opposition to her. "It amazes me that I still get letters about you...what has it been since Vietnam? Forty years?...The anger. 'Traitor to her country. Honoring her would be traitorous, stupid,' and so on. It goes on and on and on." Fonda was harsh:
"Well, partly it’s organized. It’s not spontaneous. Some of it is probably spontaneous. But it’s sad, and in a way, it’s pathetic, that lo, these many years later, these people have not (pause) made sense of the war. They’re off base in terms of where the anger needs to be placed. And I’m made a lightning rod, and the right wing has been very assiduous in fanning the flame of the myth of Hanoi Jane. You know, they’ve spread lies on the Internet about things I supposedly did that aren’t true. And they’ve kept it alive because it suits their interests."
Walters: "You’ve apologized."
Fonda: "Many, many times."
Walters: "Many times, for the pictures, for your anti-war..."
Fonda, interrupting: "I never apologized for being anti-war."
Walters: "No, no, no. No, no, no. I’m saying you were anti-war, you were not pro- the enemy..."
Fonda, interrupting: "Not anti-my country."
Walters: "You’ve apologized for the photographs. You’ve said you will..."
Fonda: "I’ll go to my grave regretting that."
Walters then asked if it still hurts, and Fonda said she separates the letters between the ideologues, who she ignores, and the people with real pain, which makes her sad, but many vets and wives have written to her praising the book. Walters followed up: "Does this kind of business stop you from perhaps speaking out and giving your feelings about the war in Iraq?"
Fonda: "Um, I don’t want to give the right wing the opportunity to um, distract from what’s really happening. What’s really happening is that the majority of the American people are against the war in Iraq, and I don’t want to be a distraction from that."
Walters: "Which means what? That you do speak out or you don’t speak out?"
Fonda: "Well, I speak out, but I’m not doing what I did during the Vietnam War, in terms of marching and touring the country and speaking out against the war. Because I wanted to do that – and then I realized it would be a distraction."
Walters: "What scares you most today about U.S. politics, about what’s going on in the country?"
Fonda: "The most immediate fear is what the Bush administration is thinking about doing in Iran, the nuclear weapons in Iran. You know, from everything I’ve read, you know, most importantly, the article in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, it would be an utter catastrophe...I think that’s very frightening. I think just about everything that’s coming out of this administration is terrifying."
Walters then asked Fonda why the Democrats aren't doing better with all of Bush's problems. Fonda said she's not really concerned about building the Democrats, but building a grass-roots political movement. Walters let the curtain slip a little, with the royal we of the anti-Bush campaign: "You say we should do it from the grass roots. Like what?"
It was clear that Walters wasn't going to ask challenging questions to Fonda, underline her real activities and statements of the Vietnam era, or ask what precisely is the right wing allegedly lying about. It should have been clear from the first minute of the program, when Walters began lovingly: "Jane Fonda is with us tonight. I’m so glad. I have known Jane for 36 years, so we’re really going to dish tonight (Fonda laughs). Jane is an actress, an activist, a feminist, a philanthropist, a workout girl, and an American icon."
Barbara said "In the 1970s, though, Fonda became a controversial figure when she publicly opposed the Vietnam War." Barbara noted that Fonda already appeared with Charlie Rose for an interview when the hardcover came out. "I love this book. I really do...I am so pleased to have Jane Fonda back on this program. I love this book. You know that."
Fonda: "I know. It makes me so happy." Walters also called it a "moving, honest book," and explained how Fonda already knew: she wrote Fonda to tell her.
There was a lot of psychobabble in this interview, with Fonda talking about how she was crippled by misogyny, and the struggles of "women who aren't embodied." At one point, Walters asked the typical Baba Wawa question: "Who are you, Jane Fonda?"
Fonda replied: "I am a resilient woman with a lot of courage and I have managed to stay curious, and I think that’s a saving grace. It’s far more important to be interested than to be interesting. I’ve stayed interested, I continue to grow and learn, and I like that." (I doubt Fonda meant that as a plug for PBS, which has used "Stay curious" as a promotional slogan.)
Then, there was more fawning at interview's end.
Walters: "We have had 36 years of friendship and doing interviews. Later on this week, youre going to be doing 'The View,' so I'll have to have new questions to ask you with my ladies. But you know, when I see you myself, from that girl I first interviewed all those years back, in the shack, trying to find a way, and I look at you today, I have great pride in our friendship.
Fonda: "I love you. I'm honored to be your friend. You are a pioneer. You have been so important for women."
Walters, in whimsical New York accent: "Likewise, darling. Likewise, darling."
Fonda: "Thank you."
Walters: "I hope Charlie has the most rapid recovery, but I consider myself fortunate in having been able to replace him tonight."
Fonda: "I'm grateful to you. Thank you."
Walters: "The book is called 'Jane Fonda, My Life So Far.' It's a big, thick paperback, but gee, it's an important book."