Michael Kinsley's definitive, witty takedown of Newsweek's relaunch is a must-read, but the magazine comes out swinging this week with a lengthy, entertaining takedown of Oprah Winfrey. Somehow I do not think the old Newsweek would have published this piece, let alone put it on the cover. Those of us who pretend not to do not watch Opah have long had the unfounded speculation that the cult surrounding her is vaguely sinister. Weston Kosova's and Pat Wingert's piece does much to further this impression. The article is full of stories about Oprah's willingness--indeed desire--to fill up airtime with inane spirituality and, more worryingly, unscientific and potentially harmful "medical" advice. Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy are not, as it turns out, professional doctors. Here is the article's description of what happened after Somers peddled some quackery:
That was apparently good enough for Oprah. "Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," she said. "But she just might be a pioneer." Oprah acknowledged that Somers's claims "have been met with relentless criticism" from doctors. Several times during the show she gave physicians an opportunity to dispute what Somers was saying. But it wasn't quite a fair fight. The doctors who raised these concerns were seated down in the audience and had to wait to be called on. Somers sat onstage next to Oprah, who defended her from attack. "Suzanne swears by bioidenticals and refuses to keep quiet. She'll take on anyone, including any doctor who questions her." That would be a lot of doctors. [Italics Mine]
The piece is worth reading in full, but one other anecdote is worth quoting:
This perpetual search for The Answer reached its apex a couple of years ago, when Oprah led the frenzy over The Secret. The video and accompanying book were a rehash of one of the oldest of self-help truisms—"think positive"—refreshed with a dusting of "science."...
She said that once, while she was hosting an episode about a man who could blow really big soap bubbles, she was thinking to herself, "Gee, that looks fun. I would like to blow some bubbles." When she returned to her office after the show, there, on her desk, was a silver Tiffany bubble blower. "So I call my assistant," Oprah told the audience. "I say, 'Did you just run out and get me some bubbles? 'Cause I got bubbles by my desk.' And she says, 'No, the bubbles were always there. I bought you bubbles for your birthday and you didn't notice them until today'."
There are many lessons that might be drawn from this anecdote. One is that if you give Oprah a thoughtful gift, she may not bother to notice it or thank you for it. This is not the lesson Oprah took away from her story. Because the way she sees it, her assistant hadn't really given her the gift at all. She gave it to herself. Using the power of The Secret, she said, "I had called in some bubbles."
This leads to the following:
The book that Oprah urges everyone to live by teaches that all diseases can be cured with the power of thought alone...The message got through. In March 2007, the month after the first two shows on The Secret, Oprah invited a woman named Kim Tinkham on the program. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her doctors were urging surgery and chemotherapy. But Tinkham wrote Oprah to say that she had decided to forgo this treatment and instead use The Secret to cure herself. On the show, Oprah seemed genuinely alarmed that Tinkham had taken her endorsement of The Secret so seriously.
Barbara Ehrenreich's excellent NYT op-ed (from last September) touches on some other problems with Oprah's philosophy.