Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Did Oprah Winfrey Lie About her Impoverished Past?

The answer to that provocative question is "yes!" according to a new biography by Kitty Kelley entitled Oprah.

As the New York Post says:
Oprah Winfrey embellished her poor upbringing and made up stories about sexual abuse to boost her ratings, her relatives say in Kitty Kelley’s new biography.

Although Winfrey claims she never had any new dresses or dolls, and had to adopt two cockroaches as pets growing up in rural Mississippi, her cousin contends she was actually relatively “spoiled” as a little girl.

“Where Oprah got that nonsense about growing up in filth and roaches I have no idea,” Katherine Carr Esters said. “I’ve confronted her and asked, ‘why do you tell such lies?’ Oprah told me ‘that’s what people want to hear. The truth is boring.’”
That "adopting two cockroaches as pets" sounds so tragic as to be almost comic-- like a parody of childhood impoverishment you might read in Joel S Muttoe. That one sounds kind of suspicious to me, but of course I don't know if the child Oprah Winfrey had pet cockroaches. If true, it's the saddest thing I've ever read.

Well, actually it's probably not the saddest thing I've ever read. I mean, childhood sexual abuse is pretty sad. Making up stories of childhood sexual abuse is despicable, a trivialization of real pain. If Ms. Winfrey did that, then she is despicable.

But of course I have no way of knowing if Ms. Winfrey actually made up stories of abuse, or if she really was abused. I have no way of knowing if she kept two cockroaches as pets. For what it's worth, we do know that one bit of surprising information in the book, that she dated former Entertainment Tonight cohost, current musician and radio host John Tesh, is actually true.
In the new book “Oprah,” author Kitty Kelley claims Tesh and Winfrey moved in together during the 1970s while both were young reporters living and working in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Oprah and I were cub reporters in Nashville nearly 40 years ago and we dated for a short time," Tesh told the paper.
Ms. Kelley's book alleges that they also lived together for a short time, although he apparently didn't confirm that part of the story.

Anyway. Ms. Kelley, the author of the biography, spoke to at least 800 people, so her claims are backed up by at least a few of those. Whether those people are lying, who knows? I certainly don't.

Oprah Winfrey, happier now that she can afford to keep real pets, and not just cockroaches.

Here's what I do know about Ms. Winfrey. She promotes pseudoscience and lies as fact on her show. For one thing, she was a big proponent of an offensive fad called "The Secret," which was a philosophy that basically said that if you get cancer, you did something to deserve it.
The main idea of "The Secret" is that people need only visualize what they want in order to get it -- and the book certainly has created instant wealth, at least for Rhonda Byrne and her partners-in-con. And the marketing idea behind it -- the enlisting of that dream team, in what is essentially a massive, cross-promotional pyramid scheme -- is brilliant. But what really makes "The Secret" more than a variation on an old theme is the involvement of Oprah Winfrey, who lends the whole enterprise more prestige, and, because of that prestige, more venality, than any previous self-help scam. Oprah hasn't just endorsed "The Secret"; she's championed it, put herself at the apex of its pyramid, and helped create a symbiotic economy of New Age quacks that almost puts OPEC to shame.

Why "venality"? Because, with survivors of Auschwitz still alive, Oprah writes this about "The Secret" on her Web site, "the energy you put into the world -- both good and bad -- is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day." "Venality," because Oprah, in the age of AIDS, is advertising a book that says, "You cannot 'catch' anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought." "Venality," because Oprah, from a studio within walking distance of Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green Projects, pitches a book that says, "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts."
She also had the author of a piece of bulls hit called The Bible Code on for a full-hour commercial.

The Bible Code supposedly shows that the Bible is full of "secret" messages imparted by god in which the future is revealed. It was pretty thoroughly debunked, even before the author appeared on Ms. Winfrey's show.
The promoters of hidden-message claims say, “How could such amazing coincidences be the product of random chance?” I think the real question should be, “How could such coincidences not be the inevitable product of a huge sequence of trials on a large, essentially random database?”

Once I learned how to navigate in puzzle-space, finding “incredible” predictions became a routine affair. I found “comet,” “Hale,” and “Bopp” linked in KJV Genesis, along with “forty” and “died,” which could be interpreted as an obvious reference to Heaven’s Gate. I found “Trinity,” “Los Alamos,” “atom,” and “bomb” encoded together in Edwards, in a section containing references to “security,” “test,” and “anti-fascist.” And I found “Hitler” linked to “Nazi” dozens of times in several books. When I set out to engineer a “hidden code” link of “code” and “bogus” in KJV Genesis, I was able to produce sixty closely linked pairs. And every single one of these pairs could fit inside a reasonably sized puzzle.

The source of the mysterious “Bible code” has been revealed — it’s homo sapiens.

Now somebody go tell Oprah.
Ms. Winfrey also recently made a deal to produce a television program starring the irritating nude model and filmmaker Jenny McCarthy, who claims to know more about autism than the scientists who have dedicated their lives to its study.
McCarthy's way, however, is one that flies in the face of all credible research on what does and does not cause autism and whether it can be treated. McCarthy claims Evan was healed through a range of experimental and unproved biomedical treatments; even more controversially, she blames the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for giving her son autism. And yet research conclusively shows that vaccines are safe for children; just last month, the U.K. scientist who had published a study linking the MMR shot to autism was found by a British medical panel to have acted unethically. McCarthy says she does not believe all vaccines are bad — though she swears she will never allow Evan to receive another — nor is she saying you shouldn't vaccinate your child. Her position is more slippery but just as heretical to prevailing medical wisdom: do everything necessary to cure your child, no matter what the doctors tell you.
Ms. McCarthy is the most famous of the anti-vaccine crusaders, whose actions have led to a direct rise in the number of preventable illnesses and death caused by parents refusing to vaccinate their children.

Suzanne Somers, mentally counting all that money she's making giving health advice on Oprah Winfrey's show.

And she also had former "Three's Company" star Suzanne Somers on her show to tell her viewers all about her amazing vitamin and bio-identical hormone diet.
"Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," she said. "But she just might be a pioneer." Oprah acknowledged that Somers's claims "have been met with relentless criticism" from doctors. Several times during the show she gave physicians an opportunity to dispute what Somers was saying. But it wasn't quite a fair fight. The doctors who raised these concerns were seated down in the audience and had to wait to be called on. Somers sat onstage next to Oprah, who defended her from attack. "Suzanne swears by bioidenticals and refuses to keep quiet. She'll take on anyone, including any doctor who questions her."

That would be a lot of doctors. Outside Oprah's world, there isn't a raging debate about replacing hormones. Somers "is simply repackaging the old, discredited idea that menopause is some kind of hormone-deficiency disease, and that restoring them will bring back youth," says Dr. Nanette Santoro, director of reproductive endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and head of the Reproductive Medicine Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center. They just don't need as much once they get past their childbearing years. Unless a woman has significant discomfort from hot flashes—and most women don't—there is little reason to prescribe them. Most women never use them. Hormone therapy can increase a woman's risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and cancer. And despite Somers's claim that her specially made, non-FDA-approved bioidenticals are "natural" and safer, they are actually synthetic, just like conventional hormones and FDA-approved bioidenticals from pharmacies—and there are no conclusive clinical studies showing they are less risky. That's why endocrinologists advise that women take the smallest dose that alleviates symptoms, and use them only as long as they're needed.

"It completely blew me away that Oprah would go to her for advice on this topic," says Cynthia Pearson, the executive director of the nonprofit National Women's Health Network and an authority on hormone therapy. "I have to say, it diminished my respect."
So maybe Ms. Winfrey did make up stories about her past sexual abuse, and about keeping cockroaches as pets. Maybe she didn't. But what we do know about some of the things she's promoted on her show is fairly damning in its own right.

Oprah Winfrey pic source.
Suzanne Somers pic source.


A.Jaye said...

Adopting 2 cockroaches as pets? Are you telling me (Suburban) America actually believed that? I laughed when I read it.

I did hear about the sexual abuse allegations though. Never believed them. Why? 'Cos they weren't verified by a single family member, friend, schoolmate, neighbour, social worker etc. Which is not conclusive evidence of non-occurance but if a billionaire can't rally the witnesses who can?

The best fraud job for me is her claim to be of Zulu descent. Either she's lying or the DNA people are lying. And she believed them. And eveyone believes her.

Pause for the common sense approach.

When Africans were abducted and transported to the Americas as slaves they were seperated from kith and kinsfolk. The white man in his paranoia (justified or no) didn't want the slaves to communicate with each other without him knowing what was said - they could be plotting the revolution. Or escape. So what he did was put people from different ethnicities into groups. Since they couldn't understand each other - and had to quickly understand the slave merchants - they had to learn English. Their respective languages died with the early generations.

What remains today is a homogenous African American community. Not even the odd Yoruba word is left in their dialect/vernacular. With that said how can a DNA test point out one ethnic group over another after 400 years or so of inter-marriage amongst African Americans? Where on earth did Oprah get her Zulu descent from?

From the movies. The Zulus are probably the only African ethnic group whites (may) have heard of. The trouble is (for Oprah) the Zulu are native to southern Africa. Most slaves were abducted from West and Central Africa. Why? Look at an atlas. It made economic sense. Furthermore you only have to look at the culture of South America and the Carrebean to compare and contrast with Yoruba culture. Oprah can't be of Zulu descent because the Zulus weren't enslaved.

But it makes for a good headline; Zulu princess becomes billionaire.

The empress is naked. She's a fantasist. But in our (Western /celebrity)culture she gets a pass. Because of the colour of her money.

Ricky Sprague said...


I really wish I had known about Oprah Winfrey's claims to Zulu ancestry before I wrote this post. Wow, that is amazing. I just looked it up and found that, you're right, her claims have been "rubbished":


And of course you're right about the billionaire being unable to rally any witnesses. It certainly casts some doubt on her claims.

The cockroaches as pets thing was also completely new to me. It sounds ridiculous-- one of many things she's probably said over the course of her life that was intended to build sympathy, and then largely forgotten now that she is a megastar.

I think that all of these questions about Oprah Winfrey's recollections of her own past are even more interesting given her treatment of the author of "A Million Little Pieces," James Frey:


She chose his book for her "Book Club," and then when it turned out parts of the "memoir" were fabricated, she famously had him on her show and tore into him. For lying.

Is Ms. Winfrey guilty of the same thing? Will we ever know for sure?

shampoo said...

i've never heard the cockroaches thing. i wonder if this was from right after she moved to chicago before she went national?

the zulu thing works like this: you attract whatever ancestory you want! or i am just assuming that is in the secret because it would fit right in... if you can control all that other stuff then you can control the past.

Ricky Sprague said...

shampoo, you have brilliantly illuminated the secret of The Secret. Why shouldn't it be retroactive?