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Attack of the 50-foot Oprah

Why America’s most powerful celebrity should be more feared than loved
By MARK JURKOWITZ  |  February 9, 2006

BEWARE HER WRATH Just ask James FreyTo understand the depth, breadth, and reach of Oprah Winfrey’s power, consider an incident more telling than her recent public flogging of wayward writer James Frey, who betrayed her coveted book-club endorsement by fabricating chunks of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces.

On December 1, Oprah — who like Gandhi, Elvis, and Liberace is known simply by one name — appeared on David Letterman’s show, ending a 16-year hiatus that included her declaration that she was “completely uncomfortable” chatting with him. With Oprah deigning to end the much-hyped feud between them, Letterman — the late-night wiseass who was confident enough to seriously disrespect cable-news king Bill O’Reilly on a recent show — behaved like an awestruck schoolboy.

“It means a great deal to me, and I’m just very happy you’re here .... You have meant something to the lives of people. We’re just a TV show,” Letterman gushed before escorting Oprah to the Broadway premiere of her play, The Color Purple. Commenting on Letterman’s late-night kiss-up, Washington Post TV writer Lisa de Moraes observed that “Letterman had become that which he once mocked. An Opraholic.”

Letterman is by no means the first one to realize that the road to success — or forgiveness — entails planting a kiss somewhere on Oprah’s oft-fluctuating anatomy.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush made page one of the New York Times by going on Oprah’s show, firmly bussing her cheek and waxing confessional about his old alcohol problem. After Oprah was offended by a 2005 incident in which she arrived after closing and was denied access to the Paris Hermès store, the CEO of Hermès USA felt the need to appear on the show and make amends by trashing his own employee. On January 11, when Oprah called CNN’s Larry King to express support for Frey, King committed a major TV faux pas by letting the conversation spill over into the start of Anderson Cooper’s 10 o’clock program. When King apologized, Cooper responded with “even my mom [who happens to be Gloria Vanderbilt] ... was happy that I got cut off. Are you kidding, for Oprah?”

“Oprah, by making a single phone call, can throw the entire CNN schedule to the wind,” observes Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse’s Center for the Study of Popular Television. “That’s a powerful person.”

The 52-year-old Oprah, who Forbes estimates has a net worth of $1.4 billion, has amassed almost unfathomable power and influence through a feel-good empire of confession, redemption, and self-help magnified through the multimedia megaphone that includes everything from her talk show and magazine to her film company. By touting anything, from books to bras, she can inspire mega-mass consumption and move markets.

One of her few public doubters, author and cultural critic Chris Lehmann, recalls the 2004 show when Oprah bought 276 Pontiacs for her studio audience (without telling them that they would owe up to $7000 in taxes). “At that moment,” he says, “she could have given them an AK47 and told them to kill anyone.” He attributes her incredible success to the idea that “she’s cleared out this kind of therapist-priest space in the culture” and combined it with “a cult of personality.”

And that’s what’s ultimately so scary about Oprah. She puts the “cult” in pop culture.

The power of O
Even though much of her appeal is rooted in what’s been the highest-rated TV talk show for the past 19 years, Winfrey is more than just a television superstar. (Nielsen Media Research numbers indicate that each show averages about 9.3 million viewers, and it is currently the second-highest-rated syndicated program, behind Wheel of Fortune.)

Last year, listed her as number one atop its “Celebrity 100” power list, with Tiger Woods coming in second. The Internet portal conducted a poll of most-admired entrepreneurs and, with more than half a million votes cast, Winfrey had swamped Bill Gates, 34 percent to 20 percent, with Donald Trump third at eight percent. There is even an organized effort under way, managed by a middle-aged Maryland public-relations consultant, to get Oprah a Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet, unlike other very powerful women (see Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton) and unlike other media moguls with a message (see Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch), Oprah has executed a singularly brilliant stroke: she has rendered herself largely immune to criticism or questioning — even from those made somewhat queasy by that power.

Syracuse’s Thompson acknowledges that Oprah’s “really got a grip on this culture. It is kind of frightening.” But he also thinks it’s good news that only a half century after segregation, an African-American woman could become such an important symbol.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
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Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
whoa!! right on!! oprah uppy!! (opry..? uprah..?)
By Devil on 02/10/2006 at 8:56:06
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
right on! i believe she is a self serving fraud.
By quidnunc on 02/10/2006 at 12:28:04
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I've been heeding the warnings of the Oprah mind set for years!!! It's refreshing to see some writers in the media coming around and expressing their thoughts and ideas.David Letterman was one of my idols and a role model.And it was extremely disheartining to see the complete kiss up fest(a polite referal to what actually transpired),that transpired.Ultimately I ended up turning off Dave after 15 minutes of watching a legend collapse before my eyes!
By klacky on 02/12/2006 at 4:12:11
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
This article is so stupid! I don't understand how anyone can trash Oprah. This woman has helped millions of people, millions. I suppose Oprah haters are going to feed and clothe orphans in South Africa? I suppose Oprah haters are going to give houses to poor single mothers? I suppose Oprah haters are going to put countless kids through college? And I suppose Oprah haters are going to encourage everyone to live their potential...yeah right. You all would rather humanity stay steeped in misery and self-denial than try to improve collectively as a species and as individuals.
By Trula on 02/13/2006 at 7:32:24
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I have to agree with the article. She is a bit better then Katie Couric at interviewing, but still most of the time has to interject how it relates to her everytime. It isnt all about you Ms O. Sure she has done good things, thank you, But Dr Phil ? who is that dork!
By gidgeee on 02/15/2006 at 5:50:44
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
First of all, I understand the point he was trying to make but "planting a kiss somewhere on Oprah’s oft-fluctuating anatomy" is just plain tacky. Also the writer should check his facts a little closer. Pontiac donated the cars - Oprah did not buy them for that audience. It was the best media buy any car manufacturer every made.
By The Anti-Jurkowitz on 02/15/2006 at 5:54:26
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Oprah has the brainpower of a dead cockroach.
By Brother John on 02/15/2006 at 6:00:40
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Oversized head, oversized ego.
By Celeste Hughes on 02/15/2006 at 6:08:13
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
The social peril of pop culture and of the Oprah phenomenon is its insistence on simple and obvious answers ... even for complex issues that require careful scrutiny, compromise, or counter-intuitive solutions.
By Broad Daylight on 02/15/2006 at 6:16:19
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
the only way anyone gains their power and/or influence is by our choice; what oprah (or anyone else, for that matter) says doesn't mean it is so. i will grant oprah has good business acumen, but her self serving/sanctimonious style will be her downfall. with her ego, i wonder if she will ever realize she has human frailties as we all do
By justme on 02/15/2006 at 6:30:57
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I said to my husband:Oprah probably can only think Lolita is a trashy book about a child molester, not the literary masterpiece it is, about a troubled man.
By desierto09 on 02/15/2006 at 6:40:52
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I enjoy many of the shows on Oprah but also admit that there are many that I change the channel on as well. I think people should view the show as entertainment and also informative but also beware that there is a movement in todays world to sway opinions. Be true to yourself always and don't always believe that because someone is a celebrity they know what is best for the entire world.
By StraitUpp on 02/15/2006 at 6:43:34
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
It's just amazing to me how Americans must continually rally 'round someone, anyone, to adore, to follow, to imitate, to quote, to seek advice from, and on and on. What is going on with anyone who has "David Letterman as her idol and role model"? Personally, there's not an entertainer or "personality" that I would walk across the street to observe, much less seek advice from. In my opinion, Americans need to remove their heads from their own asses, and their lips from Oprah's behind and start paying attention to things that really impact on their lives.
By tommiejoe on 02/15/2006 at 6:44:33
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
First things first, Mark "Jurko"witz is a jerk. Further more he's out of his whits!! (LOL) How am I doing? The majority of people in America understand what this article is afraid to address. The real issue here is power and who has a right to wield it. Its real name should be" How rascism has failed to stop the redistribution of power in America. The article seeks by metonomy to undermine Oprah's character. And its undeniable goal is to maintain the status quo by engendering fear in the hearts of the simple. White men you poor endangered species, you feel the paradigm shift don't you!! America for the most part is ashamed of its' rascist roots. This article was written due to the inherent frustration which grips many Anglo people in America today, primarily the white male. Instead of them publicly owning up to such a devastating loss of power they bemoan Ms. Winfrey. Look you over sensitive sissies. The majority culture in an effort never to share power with blacks took Martin,Malcom, Fred Hampton, Stokely Carmichael and GOD knows how many others. You sprayed us with high pressure hoses, burned and or blew up our places of worship and why. To secure your grip on power. Stop being selfish, Oprah sure isn't. Her show represents all that is great about America. She is not afraid to display our wonderful diversity. I salute you Ms. Winfrey!! Kudos and you go girl!!!
By v90 on 02/15/2006 at 6:45:48
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I'm sick and tired about her but I'm happy I'm not the only one
By Tweety on 02/15/2006 at 6:48:08
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Oprah is an intelligent and respectful woman because she stands up to her beleifs, does not in anyway make her a bully or control freak I wish had cofindence to stand up in what I beleive in, more woman would be better if we carried her values in every day lives and weren't afraid to speak our minds. I feel sorry for the people that feel threatend by someone who has courage
By maureen on 02/15/2006 at 6:53:54
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Oprah is a very influential person. Yet its the eye of the beholder to recognize good and the bad. In America we tend to idolize celebrities which is ok but beware of who and what you idolize. For even they let you you down. My hero are my parents and those that have a made a positive influence in my life. Especially my LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. God BLess All!
By Mr Fee on 02/15/2006 at 7:07:15
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
No spirtually connected person will see the work of Oprah Winfrey as anything other than what is it because all spiritually connected people move in the same way. I agree with the person who said that Oprah's power is not to be exagerated because choice is the real determining factor in individual power but if you have been listening to this woman that is what she has been trying to tell the world for twenty years. If you cannot tell the difference between when someone acquires fame and money from a driven passion and calling as opposed to when someone sets out to find fame and money then all I can say is you are exactly the type of people that is not like us. We are the people who may not be religious as well as we may be. Oprah might be but I personally believe in no religion. What People like us have in common across the globe, whether we are Christians, muslim, white, African; or whether or not we have an occasional drink or curse sometimes or not is this: We have been blessed with the ability to connect to the sixth sense. The spiritual sense where all humans connect and whenever we see another one of us we know it. We have been been blessed with the ability to see the unseen and those of us also also blessed with the gift of communication can also move and change lives with this gift...and that is what Miss Winfreys blessing is. Do you know what yours is?
By tellyourtruth on 02/15/2006 at 12:16:41
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Tweety, Why would you waiste your time sweety to read and respond to someone you are sick and tired about. Why not put that energy where you are happy and can give out and feel positivity. Followers can be more easily associated with people who get up everyday and follow the patriarchal rules and laws of social construction and don't have the guts to challenge it. Everybody is a follower of something. The question is what are your following? I noticed Mark's name. He is a man in a culture that owns economic wealth. Tell him to explain to me how a woman from the pits of poverty told by a societry that she would be nothing accomplished what "O" has. Why isn't mark applying this article to many other wealthy people in the world that control a lot of other things, like oil? Bow to the Queen...she is woman and of African decent...swallow it.
By tellyourtruth on 02/15/2006 at 1:55:09
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I don't agree that Oprah should be feared, she's a wonderful savy person who has put thousands before her self. People love her for a reason and that reason is displayed everyday she is on the air. I have not found a talk show that beats hers, she's real and geniune. Stop Hatin and start loving her more.
By Jean Weathers on 02/15/2006 at 5:28:03
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
This article is a joke! How bored this guy must be to write about a woman who is so real and good? Does this guy trash all women who have earned their own power and place in society or just this one black woman? I am really curious. I happen to be a woman and I'd like to know where this kind of garbage comes from? I also happen to be a white woman and this article reads like discrimination to me. There are some seriously bad things going on in this world and this guy picks one good thing we have "Oprah" and makes a mockery of it. She has power because she has earned it....What she does is talk and ask questions and gets to the bottom of things, she exploits bad people to warn us, she helps us to protect our children, she alerts us about health issues, she and her staff work hard and continue to do great things. Given all the money she has earned she could have retired years ago but she hasn't. Thank God! I probably would have. That surely means she is truly and totally passionate about what she does. It matters not how she makes deals with companies for donations/gifts etc.., what matters is that she gets the job done!!! And we all know there is going to be taxes that must be paid no matter what! Give me a shiny new car and I'd sell it, pay the taxes off and buy another car with a few miles on it and be happy! What a win,win situation! And by the way she put James Frey up on a huge pedestal and he is the one that took himself down with his own lies.. truth always finds its way. Give us a break and leave our beautiful Oprah alone!
By matjan62 on 02/16/2006 at 12:32:55
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Business Week ranked Oprah as the most generous black in American history after she gave NINE FIGURES of her OWN MONEY to charity. The talk show genre she so brilliantly popularized and revolutionized made gays and transsexuals mainstream according to Yale sociologist Joshua Gamson. I understand that a lot of people are jealous of all her money, power, and fanatical fans but she has made the world a better place. I think she's a marketing genius, a brilliant improvisational entertainer, and a great humanitarian.
By oprahfan on 03/07/2006 at 11:24:32
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
To Matrajn62: Amen. You said it all!!
By Nancy on 04/07/2006 at 5:47:00
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
LOL you guys should see That site is hilarious, they take her DVD set and smash it to bits with crowbar and bat, lol oh man Oprah is out of control! WWW.IHATEOPRAH.COM finally!
By PMTO on 04/13/2006 at 5:00:18
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
1.) Oprah didn't buy the cars. GM gave them away. 2.) Most of what Oprah gives away comes from donations to her "Angel Network." I don't believe she personally gives much. 3.) She hasn't helped millions ! 4.) Most peiople in this country need to get their own life !
By Sally on 04/20/2006 at 2:40:55
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Haters, Haters,Haters, get over yourselves! What have you done to make a difference in this world? Sure there are a lot of wealthy people, but how many use their wealth and power to help so many? Oprah came from proverty and was abused as a child. Inside of having a pity party and staying down, thanks to a loving Father who taught her the way, she educated herself and propelled herself to super stardom. She deserves everything she has earned. On top of all that she's an African-American Woman, and makes lots of closet racists crazy. She's been blessed so that she can be a blessing to others. And she does just that!
By truthnow on 08/06/2006 at 12:36:51
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
Hmmm ... I for one think the things that this lady does are amazing ... hooooowwwever .... on the religious side ... Oprah, one who confesses she believes in Jesus Christ as "a" way to God ... ends up denying Jesus' own words that say "I am the Way the Truth and the Life NO ONE comes to the Father EXCEPT BY ME" .... so .. we have to do the math. Those who don't believe in any of this, well who cares right? But those of us that do, have to conclude that either Jesus is off his nut, or Oprah just can't cross that line of believing what Jesus said, not just that he existed. That's never been enough nor will it ever be. Lots of people believe that he existed ... dangerous ground, because in actuality, she is calling him a liar .... oh my ... stand back everyone ....
By Mark B on 04/12/2008 at 2:59:02
Attack of the 50-foot Oprah
I should just add to my last comment ... I don't want people to get me wrong ... I truly believe that a lot of people are benefitting from Oprah's generosity and I cheer her on ... I just think her doctrine is sloppy not very courageous. If you preach a "feel good" doctrine that no one is offended by ... well ... I mean .. it feels good, but is it the truth? ... When Jesus told the truth, people got so mad at him the beat the crap out of him and nailed him to a cross. Standing up for what is ACTUALLY the truth is NEVER easy folks ... and never will be until the day he returns .... be with him, not just someone who believes he 'existed' .. it's too dangerous and way too easy ... anyone can do that ...
By Mark B on 04/12/2008 at 3:03:31

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