Oprah Is Not Responsible For Dr. Oz's Politics, But She Is Responsible For His Nonsense
Oh good, it's time once again (on Twitter, anyway), for the "Is Oprah Winfrey responsible for Dr. Oz running for office?" discourse.
In case you are not familiar, said discourse starts whenever (or in this case, a week after) someone posts something like this:
We can thank Oprah Winfrey for these two evil twats.pic.twitter.com/S7jbeeagIe— Dean Rohrer \ud83c\udde8\ud83c\udde6\ud83d\udc18\ud83d\ude37\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\udf3b (@Dean Rohrer \ud83c\udde8\ud83c\udde6\ud83d\udc18\ud83d\ude37\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\udf3b) 1647484108
And a bunch of people respond to it by saying that it's some bullshit to hold a Black woman accountable for the actions of two white men. This is a sentiment I would normally agree with. I even half-agree with it now. I don't think that Oprah is personally responsible for Dr. Oz's crap politics. Given that they seem to have developed years after she promoted him as "America's Doctor" and that (unlike Oprah) I don't believe that anyone is psychic, I sincerely doubt she saw his turn as a MAGA-rific senate candidate coming.
That being said.
She is absolutely responsible for the pseudoscience and medical quackery he promoted as someone who had her stamp of approval. She may not have known that he was going to become a far-right lunatic, but she sure as hell did know that he was promoting "Green Coffee Bean Extract" as a weight loss supplement. She knew he was promoting reiki and faith healing. She knew he was peddling nonsense and continued to promote him as an expert despite that. And that's a problem.
It would be one thing if Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil were the two lone misfires in Oprah's decades of being on television, if it were some "Well you can't win 'em all" situation. But that's not the case. She's also responsible for having given platforms to James Arthur Ray, Jenny McCarthy, Deepak Chopra, John of God, Marianne Williamson, Christiane Northrup, Suzanne Somers, John Edward, Rosemary Altea, James Van Praagh and more.
John of God is a 'psychic surgeon' accused of sexual assault by over 600 women, who is serving time for the rape of nine of them
And then there was all the Satanic Panic crap back in the '90s. She literally had Lauren Stratford, author of the fake Satanic Panic memoir "Satan's Underground," on her show at one point — though that was before Stratford became fake holocaust victim Lauren Grabowski. She also explicitly said that she would have been a "terrible juror" in the McMartin Preschool trial because she would have convicted the McMartins because "the children" said they did it and that would have been enough for her. She sure would have been a terrible juror, because many of the "the children" later admitted that they lied.
Perhaps ironically, a 2009 Newsweek exposé on Oprah's pseudoscience jones singled out Dr. Oz as one of the more reasonable people she had brought on her show to give medical advice. As one of those other people was Suzanne Somers, who was telling women that they could avoid aging by pumping themselves full of "bioidentical hormones," it's not difficult to see where they were coming from there.
Oprah refused to be interviewed for that article, but told Newsweek in a statement that "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."
That may well be her intention, but she has to be aware that she was and still is one of the most influential people on this planet. Otherwise "Oprah's Favorite Things" would not be a thing. People trust her and they trust her judgement — so when she gives someone her seal of approval by promoting them, people are more inclined to trust them. They seem far more legitimate than they might have seemed otherwise.
The "We just put things out there without any regards to whether or not they are true and then let people decide for themselves what they want to believe. We trust our audience to figure that out for themselves!" crap is, by the way, a thing those accused of spreading conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation frequently say. It's very empowering for audiences — certain kinds of audiences, anyway — who like to feel that the person they are listening to trusts their judgment and thinks they are smart and capable. Coincidentally, people who are desperate to feel that way very frequently do not have the best judgment in the world. The idea that anyone should be playing "Two Truths and a Lie" with medical advice (or other important information) is the opposite of sound judgment, so long as the option exists to just tell people the truth.
I don't think Oprah is a bad person or someone with ill-intent. She's done a lot of good and there are many reasons to admire her and the work she's done. This one thing though ... it's not good. And it's made worse for the fact that she never apologizes for promoting these people and never stops doing it. She never apologized to the survivors or families of the victims who were killed in James Arthur Ray's sweat lodge. She never apologized for promoting John of God, even after he was convicted of raping nine women and accused of sexual assault by over 600. She's never apologized for the Satanic Panic stuff either — and that sent a whole lot of innocent people to prison. She still has piles of pseudoscience nonsense on her site (for instance, encouraging people to take homeopathic nonsense pill Oscillococcinum to get over a flu quickly and publishing articles about signs that one may have psychic abilities), and she's still promoting mediums and psychics and "gut health."
As I said, there's likely no way Oprah could have known about Dr. Oz's future political predilections when she promoted him on her show. But now we know better. With the existence of sites like Natural News, which pushes both far-right conspiracies and snake oil, and movements like Pastel QAnon, it's becoming increasingly clear that there is absolutely a new age/pseudoscience bullshit to rightwing conspiracy pipeline. There's a reason for that. It's all based in believing what you want without regard to evidence or facts, all about what they don't want you to know, and all about feeling like you are in some way superior to those who believe in reality. Making people amenable to this nonsense is, in a way, prepping them to fall for other forms of nonsense that may be even more harmful.
Oprah is probably not going to apologize for Oz or for anyone else she's promoted throughout the years who has caused harm — but it sure would be nice if she could try to stop elevating people like him.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse