Uh, Maybe Oprah Shouldn't Run For President
By this point, practically everyone knows that Oprah Winfrey wants to run for president of the United States. The only person who doesn't know is Oprah herself, who categorically denies having any political aspirations.
Let's pretend for a minute, however, that she does want to be president. On the one hand, it'd be pretty sweet to have someone in office who didn't spend their time either golfing or gleefully making people's lives worse, and bonus, she'd probably make it so that we all woke up one morning to find a new car in our driveway. On the other hand, it's kinda hard to look past the fact that not only is she responsible for pushing pseudoscience and bizarre health conspiracy theories into millions of living rooms across the country, but she also made those ideas look good.
The ethos of The Oprah Winfrey Show , after all, was promoting wellness and feeling good. But you know what makes for boring-ass health advice? Telling people to eat vegetables, exercise, and have regular check-ups. Oprah, therefore, put a lot of focus on alternative, out-there ideas that were destined to be the "next big trend" -- the only downside to this being that "alternative" ideas don't tend to be certified by the FDA.
In 2004, for instance, Oprah promoted the "thread lift" -- a facial rejuvenation treatment wherein a dermatologist drives dissolvable hooks and thread into your face and pulls them until you look like a 30-year-old who had a terrible accident in a puppet workshop. It was perfect for Oprah -- it was fast, effective, trendy, and prone to leaving patients with infections and irreversible damage to their facial tissue (or worse). She neglected to mention this last part to her viewership, which was subsequently strung along (literally) by thread practitioners with only a one-day class of training and the gumption to charge $3,000 or $4,000 for an hour's work.
This is actually a running theme throughout her time promoting holistic gadgetry, only telling viewers the good and leaving out the bad, like a best friend who doesn't tell you that those pants make you look fat and also cause horrific burns. This happened when Oprah promoted the "Thermage," a device that promised viewers that they could be rid of their wrinkles in the time it takes to have a lunch break. All they needed to do was be blasted by radio waves that left patients in agonizing pain. Oprah's promotion of the device was so one-sided that its inventor even put her on blast for not warning people about the risks, which could give you a clue about how badly she fucked up.
This attitude might seem careless, but Oprah defends the show by pointing to how its "content only reflects research-supported emerging products and procedures." See? It's all good! It's not like anyone's ever died from- oh wait, we can't say that.
In 2006, Oprah promoted -- over the course of numerous episodes -- a radical new age retreat called "Spiritual Warrior," in which participants fasted for 36 hours in the desert and then participated in a ritual inside a sweltering sweat lodge. Its proprietor, James Arthur Ray, compared the retreat to "heat endurance," although "torture" might be a better descriptor -- but that might just be our un-spiritual eyes talking. It sounds crazy, but people were taken with it nevertheless. People like Kirby Brown, whose mother initially objected to the idea and was only swayed by Oprah's endorsement. Brown and two other participants died during the sweat lodge ritual, and 18 others were injured, after Ray failed to monitor the temperature inside the tent and ignored people having difficulties. He was later convicted of negligent homicide.
And you know we have to talk about Jenny McCarthy at some point too, right?
In 2007, McCarthy appeared on Oprah as part of a special "Moms Battle Autism" episode in order to share her own truth with the world: that vaccinations are totally bogus, you guys. Using the even-then-debunked research of Dr. Andrew Wakefield to bolster her claims, described how her son was diagnosed with autism after he received the MMR vaccine. It's at this point that we'd bring up how the increase in autism diagnoses is more likely due to a change in how the condition is diagnosed rather than a shadowy conspiracy (which is supported by the fact that one country outright banned the vaccine and autism still went up). But how can we compete with the medical wizards who helped McCarthy realize this conclusion, like, ummm ... Google?
Oprah, meanwhile, counterbalanced this avalanche of bullshit by reading out a simple statement from the CDC stating that all available evidence states that there's no link between autism and MMR -- a statement that she allowed McCarthy to shit all over by saying that her son, Evan, was "her science." Oprah didn't present any additional evidence, or even present *two* healthy kids who'd had the MMR vaccine to counteract this kid-based science, but it's hard to see how that would've helped the outcome.
This episode of the show was watched by millions of viewers, and based on this interview, McCarthy was subsequently allowed to spew her nonsense on Good Morning America and Larry King Live, thus giving her toxic conspiracies a combined audience of almost 20 million people.
We haven't even gotten to the small ecosystems of crackpots and pseudoscientists that Oprah has hanging around her, like a garbage dump that supports a community of rats. There's Rhonda Byrne, who authored The Secret (aka False Hope: Think It And It'll Happen (Except When The Odds Are Heavily Stacked Against You), Deepak Chopra, who produces bullshit at such an exponential rate that he has to carry on yoga-ing in order to stretch his body enough to be able to contain it, John of God, a modestly named miracle healer who's a definite shoo-in for the Department of Energy, and, of course, Doctors Phil and Oz -- the latter of whom is so proficient at alternative facts that he was recently called up to advise Donald Trump on health issues, of which Trump probably has quite a few.
The issue isn't that Oprah is promoting this junk to try to kill us, and the issue definitely isn't that she's too dumb to know that she's selling snake oil. It's a profit thing, pure and simple. She knows that the medical establishment makes for boring television, while novelty-driven alternative fads draw the eye (and wallet). Novelty gets attention, attention gets ratings, ratings get money, and money buys her the peace of mind which says that any side effects viewers suffer as a result of these treatments are simply caveat emptor.
We (rightly) give Alex Jones a lot of shit for being an angry, shouty asshole, but he's only that way because Oprah called dibs on selling the same type of tonics with a happy, smily personality.
Thinking about it, we're not even sure if this stuff disqualifies her from being president anymore. She's a billionaire who craves attention, doesn't care what happens to the people who support her, and sits at the center of a spider's web of hangers-on and conspiracy nuts. If anything, this is bang on trend, and we know from experience that she loves to take advantage of trends for her own ends, people be damned.
Author Daniel O'Brien would have some difficulty updating How To Fight Presidents for a President Oprah, that's for sure.
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