Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oprah's Biggest Career Failure

On tonight's premiere of CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight, Oprah is asked to describe her biggest career failure. Rather than use the opportunity to apologize for her controversial 1989 show on devil worship, parts of which are used today online by anti-Semitic hate groups, she uses her camera time to describe the depression she experienced after the flop of her movie 'Beloved', which led to a 'macaroni-and-cheese-eating tailspin'.

In 1989, Oprah had no shame in giving a platform to a Jewish woman, suffering from mental illness, who claimed her family had been involved in "human sacrifice rituals" and "worshiping the devil" in since the 1700's. "There are other Jewish families across the country, not just my own family," the woman said on broadcast television, completely unchallenged or fact-checked by the host, either during or after the interview.

When the show aired, the Anti Defamation League criticized Oprah for irresponsibly allowing a woman to broadcast the blood libel on the basis of "recovered memories."

Today, clips from the show are used on Twitter and YouTube by anti-Semitic hate groups.

Initially, the show's producer defended the show by pointing out the woman's mental illness, as recounted in sections from Kitty Kelley's Oprah: A Biography (Crown Archetype, 2010):
“We are aware that the show has struck a nerve,” said Jeff Jacobs, then COO of Harpo Productions. He pointed out to the press that Oprah had said on the air that “Rachel” was one particular person talking about her particular situation. “And she was identified at the top of the show as being mentally disturbed,” he added, not commenting on why such a person would be allowed on the show in the first place.
Dangers of a boycott surfaced, and Oprah eventually met with a select group of Jewish leaders to tame the uproar. Oprah eventually released the following statement:
“We recognize that The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 1 could have contributed to the perpetuation and historical misconceptions and canards about Jews, and we regret any harm may have been done. We are aware of community and group sensibilities and will make every effort to ensure that our program will reflect that concern.”
Nevertheless, Oprah refused to make an apology on her show or publicly comment on the program or the statements.

In the words of Phil Baum, associate director of the American Jewish Congress:
It’s an inadequate response to the harm that may have been done on that broadcast. It’s not our sensitivities she ought to be concerned about. It’s a question of the integrity of her show. This apology cannot possibly reach anything like the people [7,680,000 homes, according to the A.C. Nielsen Company] who were exposed to these statements.
Recently, during her 'Ultimate Australian Adventure', Oprah made comments referring to the larger-than-life power of her show:
"I have the biggest mouth on earth and the biggest platform, aren’t you glad I like it [referring to Australia]? When we do cooking shows and people might do something I don’t like, I just say I don’t like it."
Still, Oprah and her producers seems to think irresponsibly airing a message charged with centuries of bigotry does not deserve a formal apology.

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