Oprah, pontificating panderer

Oprah, pontificating panderer

: Back when I was the TV critic at TV Guide, I shocked our flack when I refused to appear on Oprah.

I had appeared on Oprah once before, to talk about the fall season, and it was an unpleasant experience. But that wasn’t why I refused this time. Instead, this episode of Oprah was supposed to be all about Oprah’s own rebirth and reformation as a responsible broadcaster. And I was supposed to be there as a TV critic to bow down before her. I refused.

Remember that Phil Donahue started this form of talk TV. But it was Oprah who trashed it, bringing on people to confess their sins and fight just so they could be on TV (such is the draw of fame that people will fight to be famous even if that only makes them famous for fighting). Then, many went lower than Oprah and when it got out of hand, Oprah suddenly decided that she would stand above it. Nevermind that she started it.

The truth is that ever since then, Oprah still tittilates and sensationalizes but she has to cloak it in a veil of pompous pontification.

The very day that Howard Stern was fined, Oprah broadcast sexual and excretory material that was even more explicit (I’ve complained and so have many others). But you can bet she won’t be fined.

But she’s still at it. Yesterday, she had another show about teen sex just so she could get sex on the air. From the transcript:

WINFREY: It’s casual.

Ms. WEINER: It’s really casual. Sex in general is casual.

WINFREY: Like–so you can do it–on the back of the school bus and everybody

knows that you’re doing that and that is not a big deal?

Ms. WEINER: Well, you want to know what? Wat–look at what they’re watching.


Ms. WEINER: We are watching people having sex on TV every single day.

WINFREY: Yeah, I say that. I say that. Hello.

Ms. WEINER: I mean, like, that’s it.


Ms. WEINER: That’s it.


Ms. WEINER: If that–if that’s what they’re looking at, that’s what they’re


WINFREY: You know what? I said this–I said to–this to some friends of mine

s–who have teen-agers who were so appalled at what was going on with their

teen-agers’ life. And I go, `We grew up with “Andy Griffith.” We grew up

with “Andy Griffith” and “Mary Tyler Moore.”‘ Just imagine you’re 13, 14

years old; from the time that you have been born, look at how sexually

provocative television and the media has been in the past 15 years, and that’s

all you’ve ever known or seen.

Hypocrite. Oprah: You can’t act as if you don’t bear considerable responsibility for this. You brought sex to afternoon TV. Now I don’t think you should be fined for that and I don’t think you should be taken off the air for that; I just don’t watch you. But you’re doing nothing different from Howard Stern — except getting away with it. So cut your holier-than-thou disapproval of sex on the rest of TV. You are the Queen of Trash.

: By the way, I haven’t yet received so much as the courtesy of an automated reply to my Oprah complaint.

  • Alvin

    Keep up the good work on blogging Stern.

  • Crid

    If (voting) people prefer their smut from Oprah and not Stern, then that’s that. They are perhaps able to see a distinction in the treatment of these materials on these shows. Stern talks about what you smell like after sex with black women; Oprah discusses this stuff with distance and minor curiousity. Jeff is wrong to pretend that listeners should hear no difference.

  • Brian

    Donahue could go overboard, but he subscribed to Joseph Pulitzer’s philosophy that the crowds will stay for the serious things if you lure them in with stunts. Phil could sink low (the episode about people who get turned on wearing baby clothes still makes me squirm) but he also had thoughtful debates on difficult issues.
    The absence of stunts is probably one reason his cable show failed.

  • JohnO

    Mr. Weiner was talking about sex? Well, I guess that’s appropriate.

  • HH

    I’d like to see Pat and Kenny read that transcript…

  • Buzz

    Both Oprah and Stern are part of a mega-media trash machine that depends upon the sexual naivete of easily titillated children to market clothes, CDs and DVDs to them. The RIAA, MPAA, ClearChannel, etc all depend upon this as their business model; and growth equals further exploitation of said children as sexual objects. I consider them all as low as child pornographers.

  • No

    Seems different completely…Oprah’s asking questions, informing parents. (yes, there’s a certain amount of sensationalism…she’s not immune to titillation or ratings.) Not close to what Stern does. At all. Jeff, prude for Oprah, shill for Stern. Case closed. Hypocrite.

  • Rootbeer

    So Oprah brings attention to the problem of explicit sexual content on television by contributing to the problem of explicit sexual content on television?
    A certain quote about the pot and the kettle comes to mind…

  • Buzz

    So Oprah brings attention to the problem of explicit sexual content on television by contributing to the problem of explicit sexual content on television?
    Exactly. Now if Oprah were limiting herself to a discussion of the topic among invited experts, I would agree with your somewhat sarcastic assessment. (I believe you were being “incredulous” above? If not, my sarcasm meter needs re-adjustment…) However, I believe it is not in the subject matter itself, but rather in the presentation where the exploitation takes place.
    Oprah’s MO is to invite real sexually active children onto the show preceded by a titillating 5-minute bio piece and soft-pedalled questioning of the child and her parent by Oprah replete with double entendres, eye rolling, and tut tutting. Parents watch and learn that maybe tut tutting and rolling one’s eyes is an appropriate response to their sexually active children. Children watching will conclude that their peers who are sexually active are cool, can get on TV, and are getting a lot of attention. Sexual predators are probably watching too. (Enough said there!) Oprah is getting ratings and the money is rolling in.
    Now I did not see the particular show where she discussed this topic, so I could be wrong. But I have seen enough other shows to be fairly confident that the above is a likely description of the show. What is always a mystery to me is how these pieces can go forward and people conclude that it is NOT exploitative of the subject matter? (Again, not because of the subject matter itself, but because of how the subject matter was presented.)