It seems almost inevitable that Oprah Winfrey will make a play for the Oval Office. Sources close to the star say Winfrey is thinking about a bid and the tens of millions of Americans who invited her into their living rooms certainly couldn’t say no if Winfrey ran for president in 2020.
Breaking journalistic norms, but accurately summing up the mood after Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes last night, NBC News tweeted “nothing but respect for OUR future president.”
But if Winfrey makes the jump from daytime television to primetime politics, she better be prepared. Operatives will comb through each episode of every season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." They will turn her favorite things upside down to discover the political liabilities of the broadcast legend. And by the time it’s all over, the electorate might have their own "aha" moment.
She'd better look underneath her seat for the opposition research. Here’s a small sample:
Oppo Claim: Winfrey killed a woman
When Winfrey swallowed new age philosophy hook, line, and sinker, so did many in her audience — occasionally with fatal results. In early 2007, she brought self-help guru Rhonda Byrne onto her show for back-to-back episodes to share her book and philosophy called The Secret.
Introducing the idea, Winfrey literally called it “the secret to creating the life you truly want.” In sum, Byrne taught that consciousness literally shapes reality. "You are the most powerful magnet in the universe,” the author explained to Winfrey’s audience, “so as you think a thought, you are also attracting like thoughts to you."
Want a better job? Think positive thought. Want a better relationship? Think positive thoughts. Want a better body? You guessed it, think positive thoughts. Some took it to an unhealthy extreme though, like one woman named Kim Tinkham.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, Tinkham skipped chemotherapy and tried to save herself through the power of positive thinking after learning about the technique on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Horrified, Winfrey tried to talk the woman out of it on national television, telling her that the so-called secret “is not the answer to everything. It is not the answer to atrocities or every tragedy.”
But Tinkham didn’t listen. She died three years later. That didn't hurt book sales. The Secret sold more than 1.3 million copies.
Oppo Claim: Winfrey spread the ‘anti-vaxxer’ epidemic
Before the Internet, one word from Winfrey was enough to make a movement go mainstream. That’s what happened when she invited Jenny McCarthy onto her show in 2007 to discuss her son’s autism. "So what do you think triggered the autism?" Oprah asked. "I know you have a theory."
And the former Playboy playmate unloaded. She explained how her son went to the doctor healthy. She shared how she pled with the physicians not to vaccinate her newborn. She told the audience how the nurse administered the shot anyway. “And not soon thereafter," McCarthy said with tears in her eyes, “boom, soul gone from his eyes.”
Granted Winfrey isn’t a physician and Winfrey isn’t an anti-vaxxer herself. But her malpractice isn’t limited to just one interview with McCarthy. She made superstars out of Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. The latter quack prioritizes his ratings over the health of his patients and the latter pedals baseless junk science. Both are political liabilities.
Oppo Claim: Winfrey corrupted the youth
Taboos that others couldn’t explore, Winfrey exploded on national television. She broadcast one mother giving “the talk” to her ten-year-old daughter in one cringe-worthy segment during a 2009 episode. Then in the next, Winfrey hosted Dr. Laura Berman, who literally recommended buying vibrators for teenagers.
During another episode, Winfrey talked about “tossing salads” and hosting “rainbow parties,” prompting outrage from shock jock Howard Stern who was fined by the FEC for using similar language.
Don’t misunderstand. None of this suggests that Winfrey is any less qualified than the current White House tenant. A good argument can, and has been made, to the contrary. And if she enters politics, she will be a force like none other and have excellent chances of winning the Democratic nomination. But by the end of the general election, voters will realize Winfrey isn’t just catchy self-help slogans and free Pontiacs.