Talk show pioneer. Best selling author. Incredibly successful business woman. Actress. Philanthropist. Billionaire. "Most influential woman in the world." Oprah Winfrey, the King Midas of her day, is ending her 25-year, multi-award-winning talk show this May, signaling the end of a staple in 21st century television.
But amid all the fawning retrospectives and misty tributes, it's important to remember just who Oprah is, the biased viewpoint she represents and the damage she's done to popular culture.
Before Rosanne Barr called Oprah "the African Mother Goddess of us all," a prominent cultural researcher called her the "Queen of Trash" for the sleazy, exploitative nature of her early show. Since then, the more "uplifting" "Oprah Winfrey Show" has been a more insipid influence, steadily eroding the culture with a combination of weepy emotionalism, New Age spirituality and an embrace of alternative sexualities and gender roles.
She's called a "pregnant man" "normal." She was involved in comedienne Ellen DeGeneres' coming out as a lesbian in the late 90s and has celebrated DeGeneres' "marriage" to another woman. She's said that Michael Moore's anti-Americanism "resonates" with her, pushed for gun control and gushed over Denmark's socialist welfare state. She's attacked not only Sarah Palin, but Palin's daughter Bristol, while raising millions and campaigning for the man she called "The One," Barack Obama.
Now that the "Oprah Winfrey Show" is finished, Oprah has started her OWN network. Sure enough, along with peddling the self-help flavor-of-the-week and more New Age schlock, the network features a documentary series on a sex-change and a planned talk show for far-left 9-11 "Truther" Rosie O'Donnell. Rather than just a show, Oprah now has an entire network to push a liberal agenda.
While the public takes for granted the liberal views of most celebrities, and come to expect bias in their information or entertainment products, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has always been up-front in its bias. With the show, Oprah has had the ability - and inclination - to push garden-variety liberal views to a massive audience.
And not just on her show.
Oprah co-founded the Oxygen cable television network in 2000. Shortly after its debut, the network was a proud sponsor of the Million Mom March, an anti-gun, anti-NRA rally held on Mother's Day 2000. The march's founder claimed "All Americans have the right to be safe from gun violence in their homes, neighborhoods, schools, and places of work and worship."
In cozying up to Michael Moore, Oprah came for the gun control, and stayed for the anti-Americanism. In 2003, Winfrey featured the far-left filmmaker as a guest and showed a clip of "Bowling for Columbine," his anti-gun and deeply anti-American film screed. Winfrey admitted that the presentation, "resonated with a lot of people, me included." Moore responded by seriously suggesting in 2005 that Oprah should run for president.
If she did, it's clear what President Winfrey's vision for the nation would be: Denmark. In 2009, Winfrey did a series of shows from the Scandinavian nation whose residents, according to a then-recent survey, were the happiest people in the world.
And who wouldn't be happy in a socialist paradise like this? "Copenhagen is one of the world's most environmentally conscious cities. A third of the population rides bikes, many with groceries and kids in tow," Oprah enthused. "Homelessness and poverty are extremely low here. If you lose your job, the government continues to pay up to 90 percent of your salary for four years. You're never going to be homeless on the street."
Back home, Oprah must content herself with steadily eroding the culture with a combination of weepy emotionalism, New Age spirituality and an embrace of alternative sexualities and gender roles.
Although self-identified gays and lesbians make up just three percent of American adults, they seem to be everywhere in Oprah's world. She relentlessly draws attention to and celebrates them, as when she glowingly interviewed celebrities Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi. Two women marrying is not normal, but when it's endorsed and promoted by powerful celebrities like Oprah, the cultural line is pushed and the "controversial" suddenly seems normal.
Oprah's pro-gay propaganda isn't limited to her TV show. She uses her magazine as well. A six-page, one-sided narrative about the wonderful world of lesbian love was featured in the March 2009 issue of "O" magazine in a piece titled, "Why Women are Leaving Men for Other Women."
Oprah sought out to redefine 'normal' in a highly anticipated and controversial show in 2008 involving a pregnant "man."
In April 2008, Oprah interviewed Thomas Beatie, a pregnant transgender "man" who clearly still possessed the reproductive parts of a woman, a truth continually ignored by Oprah throughout the exclusive interview. Beatie and her wife Nancy sought to show the world that they comprised a "normal" couple and Oprah was all too willing to accept and promote the lie that a pregnant "man" and "his wife" are "normal."
"Yeah," Winfrey said, "and a new definition of what diversity means for everybody, and redefining normal. And I really applaud you for having the courage to do it."
But Winfrey had another progressive agenda card up her sleeve when interviewing the controversial pregnant couple. At the time, the Beaties just happened to be reading a book called "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle, a 2008 Oprah Book Club favorite in which a self-centered new "enlightened mindset" is the underlying theme of the "spiritual" text. Oprah mentioned that the Beaties and their neighbors were reading the text and it was "helping them to wrap their brains around [the pregnancy]." She then slipped nicely into an advertisement for the online class Oprah was taking with Tolle, which she told viewers "they can download anytime."
During that webinar class, Oprah made some statements that drew criticism from traditional Christians. Though calling herself a Christian, Winfrey denied that Jesus was the only way to God. Oprah the theologian also weighed in on the validity of different religious experiences. "God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience … then that's not truly God."
According to the Christian Post, Pastor Steven W. Cornell responded that "She holds the trendy idea that religions are essentially the same and that there are many paths that lead to God. She irrationally romanticizes the notion that God can be whatever you want him/her/it to be."
But that's OK with celebrity friends like Rosanne Barr, who bizarrely called Winfrey "the African Mother Goddess of us all," and with an audience eager for spirituality without responsibility.
In 2008, Oprah's liberalism ventured into presidential politics when the talk show queen openly campaigned for presidential candidate and then senator Barack Obama, famously calling him "The One." Though she had long been personally political (donating $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 1996, for example), this was the first time Winfrey had openly endorsed a candidate and it packed a punch.
She held a fundraising dinner for him in September of 2007 and it raised $3 million, followed by a December campaign stop in Iowa, attended by nearly 18,000 people. Oprah, well aware of her power, told Larry King, "I think that my value to him, my support of him, is probably worth more than any check." Still, she gave Obama $2,300 in that campaign.
And even after an economic stagnation, skyrocketing oil prices and high unemployment two years into his presidency, as late as December 2010, Oprah still praised the president, crediting him with rescuing the American economy.
In an interview with Parade magazine, Oprah reaffirmed her support for President Obama telling former ABC correspondent Lynn Sherr, "I think that no one understands until you've been in that seat the enormous pressure to please and satisfy everybody," she said. "And I think instead of being grateful for where we are and what he has done, we've forgotten that we were on the brink of a depression when he took over this office. And as everybody celebrates the holiday season and sits around with their families, regardless of your circumstance, we could've had breadlines. How soon we forget that."
Oprah's partisanship isn't limited to supporting candidates she likes, but also calling out those she doesn't.
Winfrey didn't hide her disdain for 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin when she said that electing Palin would be unwise. In that same December issue of Parade, Sherr asked Oprah if Palin running for office scared her and she replied, "It does not scare me because I believe in the intelligence of the American public."
But Winfrey didn't limit her Palin hit job to only the mama grizzly. In an "In-Touch Weekly" interview on Jan 22, Winfrey mocked Bristol Palin, the teen daughter of the former Alaska governor after she pledged to remain abstinent until marriage. "I kind of bristled," Oprah said. " ... I'm just wondering if that is a realistic goal. I think teaching responsibility, teaching, ya know, a sense of judgment about it, but is that a realistic position?"
Oprah further proved her liberal bona fides by offering a massive gift to lefty progressives at Comedy Central: free flights and hotels in DC for Stewart-Colbert Rally. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, popular liberal hosts at Comedy Central, hosted a "Rally to Restore Sanity" in D.C. in October in 2010, an answer to Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally. Oprah appeared on Stewarts' show via satellite and announced, "You're going to the rally! Now get out there and restore some sanity!"
From Trash to …
It's easy to forget that the Oprah brand wasn't always about touch-feely New Age charlatanism. But her show started out peddling a more recognizable form of garbage.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was one of many exploitive talk shows with their parades of freaks, miscreants and hapless victims. The host would stir the pot, sewing arguments and exposing unseemly intimate details for her voyeuristic audience. Victims of incest, pedophilia and rape have been featured and even fans have thought that this freak-show mantra has gone "too far" and "exploit[s] human suffering."
"I ask this question not to pry in your business but to educate parents in our audience," Oprah once said "trying to get graphic details from a female guest who claims to have been sodomized by her father," according to an article by Penn State Professor Vicki Abt in a critical 1994 article.
That year also brought a perfect example of how "TV talk show hosts never miss a chance to exploit human suffering," as Walt Belcher of the Tampa Tribune wrote at the time. He noted in November 1994 "Maury Povich, Oprah and Sally Jessy Raphael all rushed to Union, S.C. in recent days to soak up the grief surrounding the slayings of little Alexander and Michael Smith." Sadly, taking advantage of tragedies like the lurid story of Susan Smith drowning her own children is what popularized "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
According to the Media Research Center archives, during the week of February 16-19 1988, the daytime talk show topics ran the gamut of sleaze from interbreeding families to people addicted to sex. Here's a list of what daytime talk show viewers were subject to that week:
Sally Jesse Raphael: People addicted to sex.
Geraldo: People with X-rated pasts.
Donahue: Techniques, attitudes and secrets of being a good lover.
Oprah Winfrey: Rekindling passion in a marriage.
Oprah Winfrey: Satanic worship.
Home: A priest who moonlights as a professional wrestler.
Geraldo: What women really want from men in bed.
Oprah Winfrey: Families who interbreed.
There doesn't appear to be much difference between the media queen and her competition.
A Huffington Post article, "Oprah's Final Season: The 25 Most-Watched Episodes," provides a few more gems:
#14: The Other Side of the Betty Broderick Story (November 3, 1992) "Seven months after her interview with Betty Broderick, the woman convicted of murdering her husband and his second wife, Oprah revisited the story and gave a voice to the youngest victims: Kim and Dan, the Broderick children."
#11: When the Wife Meets the Other Woman (February 20, 1989) "This episode featuring a classic daytime TV topic aired on the Monday after one of Oprah's all-time most-memorable shows: Alaskan bachelors who were looking for brides."
#7: Why I Love Older Women (February 15, 1993) "Think the term 'cougars' was invented for Ashton and Demi? Oprah tackled the topic of older women who date younger men back in 1993. In the show - which included a phone call with Cher - a guest named Vinnie had the quote of the day: "It's the difference between riding in a Volkswagen and a Cadillac," he said. "If you want to ride in a Volkswagen, go ahead. If you want the Cadillac, go for an older woman."
#4: I Killed My Ex and His Wife: Betty Broderick (March 2, 1992) "In her first interview after being convicted in the murder her ex-husband and his second wife, Betty Broderick opened up to Oprah about why she did it. In 1992, Betty's story was later turned into a two-part made-for-TV movie starring Meredith Baxter."
Then, in 1994, after being called out by Apt (who subsequently was a guest on the show), Oprah famously shifted her focus, claiming she wanted her show to be "uplifting."
Apt wrote with Leonard Mustazza in their 1997 book, "Coming After Oprah":
"After eight seasons of being the 'Queen of Trash,' Oprah Winfrey herself joined the rising tide against the genre she that she created, recently lamenting the explosion in copycat talk shows that encourage people to brag about their irresponsible behaviors. Of course, this public change of heart after the damage has been done is really quite in keeping with talk-show formats and the electronic 'confessional' in general."
In operation, the new tone meant including more of the aforementioned New Age talk, the regular appearance of therapists like Dr. Phil, and the freaks, miscreants and hapless victims would from then on be former freaks, miscreants and hapless victims. "Overcoming," became a constant theme. The Wall Street Journal coined the word Oprahfication to describe "public confession as a form of therapy."
But even if you accept that the new show was an improvement, she hasn't been above reverting to sleaze when convenient, like in sweeps months.
Trisha Stewart Shiu, a Yahoo! contributing writer, said the following in a piece titled "The Top 5 Worst Topics on Oprah:"
"Oprah has been and remains an advocate for victims around the world. And although these topics were all explored in the name of education and enlightenment - due to the disturbing nature or just plain boredom - viewers have been forced to turn off their beloved program or not watch at all … Oprah's has changed the face of daytime television. Her support and kindness toward victims of every type makes her a beloved icon. Sometimes, though, she goes too far."
One of the topics that made Shiu's list was "Twin Incest Victims."
Too far with the choice of guests and the sympathy, and too far with careless words. April of 1996 found Oprah in hot water after she allegedly caused cattle futures to crash following a controversial episode about mad cow disease dubbed "Oprah's Beef with Beef." After hosting her mad cow segment declared it 'stopped [her] cold from eating another burger.' Within 24 hours of the show airing, cattle futures crashed and Winfrey was eventually sued by a group of Texas cattle farmers for $12 million. Oprah won.
And if "The Oprah Winfrey Show" mostly managed to raise its tone, some other Oprah offerings have remained firmly in the gutter.
In 2009, Oprah's film and television studio HARPO, teamed up with HBO to release a raunchy television pilot about a California woman who leaves her husband and children to pursue her "secret fantasies and desires" in the "underbelly of L.A." Winfrey was slated to be an executive producer of the sexually charged series, but it appears the series was eventually canned as there is no trace of a series of that nature ever making it to production.
On Her OWN
The pomp and circumstance surrounding her last show hasn't gone unnoticed as outlets like the Huffington Post have wondered aloud how she will conclude "a show that engineered a media empire."
More interesting is how Oprah's begun a network that takes all the elements of her show and runs with them 24 hours a day. OWN includes shows in which average people try to overcome their addiction to food, in which celebrities (Shania Twain, Sarah Ferguson) shamelessly wallow in their personal troubles, and something called "Master Class," in which Oprah and other celebrities tell the audience how they should live.
Then, of course, there's "Becoming Chaz," a documentary following the progress of Sonny & Cher's daughter Chastity in becoming a man ("Chaz"). OWN invites viewers to "Follow Chaz on his deeply inspirational and personal journey."
In fall 2011, Chaz will be joined by Rosie. Rosie O'Donnell, the actress and talk show host will begin hosting a new talk show on OWN, taping at Oprah's Harpo Studios in Chicago. O'Donnell is an outspoken left-winger and lesbian activist who feted disgraced anti-Semitic reporter Helen Thomas, compared Wisc. Governor Scott Warner to Egyptian dictator Hasni Mubarak and called Sarah Palin ignorant. And in 2007 on ABC's "The View," O'Donnell proved herself well-versed in 9-11"truther" theories, if not metallurgy, declaring 9-11 to be the "first time in history that fire melted steel."