On January 7, one day after the January 6, 2021 insurrection, former Missouri Senator Jack Danforth spoke out about his regrets for promoting his successor, Josh Hawley. Saying that Hawley lit “the match in the middle of the forest” to create “the situation where all this occurred,” he compared his remorse to “what Dr. Frankenstein must have felt” after giving life to a monster.
In the star-making world, Danforth pales in comparison to Oprah Winfrey. Over the course of her career she has anointed and elevated individuals from all disciplines, giving them access to huge audiences, courtesy of her award-winning talk show. By 2007, she was named the most influential woman in the world. She used her power to bring others into the spotlight. Where would Gayle King be without Oprah’s support? How many authors owe their success to Oprah’s book club? Would Dr. Phil have a TV show, and be a producer for the CBS hit Bull, if not for his constant exposure on Oprah’s show?
Her ability to influence public opinion – in everything from book sales to elections – has been called “the Oprah Effect.” She has used that power to campaign for numerous candidates, most notably an Illinois senator who was running for president. Barack Obama probably would have won without her stumping for him, but there’s no doubt that her enthusiasm brought many otherwise reluctant white voters to believe in her and, ultimately, in Obama.
Oprah has never been shy about speaking out against injustice and speaking up for democracy. So we have to ask, why is she remaining silent about one of her most successful proteges, Dr. Mehmet Oz, now locked in a battle to win the Republican nomination for the open senate seat in Pennsylvania? Social media is filled with many of her fans (former fans?) asking that question. With the midterms looming, Democrats need every seat to keep the Senate from flipping to the Republicans, once again installing Mitch McConnell as majority leader. Democracy is at stake, Oprah. Something you say we need to preserve. So where are you?
In December, 2021, after Oz announced his intention to run, Oprah said this: “One of the great things about our democracy is that every citizen can decide to run for public office. Mehmet Oz has made that decision. And now it’s up to the residents of Pennsylvania to decide who will represent them.” That unleashed a barrage of comments online urging Oprah to denounce Oz. One typical comment: “I blame Oprah. She needs to speak out against this phony, dangerous, & craven poor excuse for a human being. Also, he lied about living in PA when he registered to vote & run. That would be voter fraud.”
One writer called out those demanding that Winfrey stop Oz. “Novel idea: hold men accountable for their words and actions to AT LEAST the same level that you want to blame the women associated with them. And for all of you saying that you *just* want her to comment on it, you are lying to yourselves. You want more than that-you want Oprah to stop him somehow. But, that is the job of the electorate.”
Yes, the voters will ultimately decide. But who influences those voters? Influencers with huge followings and credibility! People like Oprah! And don’t put this on women taking up the battle. Danforth spoke out against Hawley. When democracy is at stake, there’s no sexism involved. People need to get involved.
Would Oz even have won the Republican nomination if not for the endorsement of Donald Trump? No! Who is one of the few people who can take on Trump, who can appeal to those independents who may be sitting on the fence come November? Oprah. Even without her talk show, she has a huge megaphone. She can go on the CBS Morning Show and chat with her good friend Gayle about why she was wrong to promote Oz, why she was wrong to turn a blind eye to all that dangerous medical advice he gave consumers on his show. Why he will be even more dangerous as a senator, sucking up to Trump, being ready to overturn votes in Pennsylvania to ensure that Trump returns to the White House.
Winfrey is no stranger to calling people out. After she promoted James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces for her book club, she was humiliated when it was revealed that he fabricated most of what was in the book about his struggles with addiction. Oprah was angry and she retaliated. She had Frey and his publisher, Nan Talese, on her show and ripped into them. Oprah can still create news with an interview, witness the one she did with Meghan Markel and Prince Harry. That created a tsunami that reached across the pond and engulfed Buckingham Palace.
Perhaps Oprah is reluctant to speak out publicly, concerned that her own judgment might be called into question. When she first had Oz on her show, he was a respected heart surgeon in New York City. After he achieved even wider fame with his own show, he morphed into someone that, if Oprah was honest with herself, was unrecognizable from the physician she at one time trusted. He began to push questionable medical drugs and procedures. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, during a 2014 Senate hearing on consumer protection, told Oz: “the scientific community is almost monolithic against you.” In 2015, 1,300 doctors signed a letter asking Columbia University to let Oz go, even though at that time he was vice chair of the department of surgery. During the pandemic, Oz had Trump on his show, joining the then president to promote hydroxychloroquine, an antimalaria drug, that the medical community at large has discounted as a cure for Covid-19. There were many opportunities for Oprah to speak out. She missed those times, but should seize the moment now.
Oz doesn’t have the nomination – yet. He’s running neck-in-neck with Dave McCormick. (Trump has told Oz to declare victory before the count is final and before a possible recount.) But make no mistake. This isn’t Oz’s only play. If he loses, he’ll be back, once again pushed by Trump. He needs to be stopped.
Oprah can stop him. And she needs to do that – now.
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