Oprah Abdicates Responsibility
Newsweek magazine recently ran a six-page article taking Oprah Winfrey to task for providing a platform for various celebrities to promote unproven — and sometimes dangerous — health practices on her show, including:
Oprah has often been quoted talking about taking personal responsibility for one’s life. But what sense of responsibility does she feel toward her viewers and fans when she lends her imprimatur to practices and products that could harm them (and, in the case of vaccine rejection, society as a whole)?
None, apparently. According to the Newsweek article:
“[Winfrey] declined to be interviewed for this article, but in a statement she said, ‘The guests we feature often share their first-person stories in an effort to inform the audience and put a human face on topics relevant to them. I’ve been saying for years that people are responsible for their actions and their own well-being. I believe my viewers understand the medical information presented on the show is just that—information—not an endorsement or prescription. Rather, my intention is for our viewers to take the information and engage in a dialogue with their medical practitioners about what may be right for them.’” [emphasis added]
What Oprah seems not to understand (or perhaps she is being disingenuous) is that by featuring certain guests over and over, with little challenge on offer either from herself or real experts, she is implicitly endorsing those guests’ views. Moreover, as the article makes clear, the endorsement is often more than implicit, whatever token fine-print (à la reading a CDC statement on vaccines) is grudgingly included
Moreover, she seems unwilling to learn the lesson.
In 2007, Oprah viewer Kim Tinkham wrote Winfrey of her plan to use techniques from “The Secret” — a self-help philosophy (with accompanying book and video) based on “attracting the positive vibrations of the universe” — to cure her breast cancer.
Oprah has promoted “The Secret” throughout her media empire, and Ms. Tinkham apparently took this as not as an encouragement to “engage in a dialogue with [her] medical practitioners,” but as reason to ignore their advice entirely in favor of the kinder, gentler techniques offered by “The Secret.” After all, the book Winfrey has enthusiastically recommended to her fans contains a section about a woman who claimed to have used The Secret to cure her own breast cancer.
Whatever Oprah’s intent regarding viewers’ use of the information offered on her show, Tinkham clearly took her endorsement of “The Secret” to include the book’s teaching about breast cancer, given that she wrote to Oprah of her plans.
To her credit (and probably to her lawyers’ relief), Oprah immediately invited Ms. Tinkham on her show and urged her not to rely on “The Secret” alone, and to follow legitimate medical advice.
One might have hoped that in light of the Tinkham incident, Winfrey would back off the “wellness” woo, or at least invite “mainstream” medical experts to share the stage with the alternative medicine advocates, but it was not to be.
Oprah continues to provide a platform for the likes of Somers, Northrup and, most pernicious of all, Jenny McCarthy, who has just inked a deal with Oprah’s company for a talk show all her own, in addition to the blog she pens on the Oprah website.
Apparently, Winfrey’s concept of responsibility extends only to herself. While taking responsibility for one’s own life and actions is a vital component of one’s moral compass, it’s only part of the picture, as are her vaunted philanthropy and collected “good works.”
Oprah fails to understand that taking responsibility for one’s actions necessarily includes consideration of one’s effect on others, intended or not.
“Whoa. Newsweek tackles Oprah” ~ Pharyngula
“Oprah and Jenny: Why the axis of woo will fail” ~ Confutata
“Oprah and Jenny McCarthy: A woo too far” ~ Respectful Insolence
“The real reason why Oprah supports Jenny McCarthy” ~ The Skeptical OB
“On the nature of “alternative” medicine cancer cure testimonials” ~ Science-Based Medicine
[ETA] “Newsweek slams Oprah” ~ Bad Astronomy