2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Oprah and The Dangers of a Life of Race Neutrality

 

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Women turn on ‘traitor’ Oprah Winfrey for backing Barack Obama, Oprah fans leave a barrage of negative messages on her official website in response to the talk show host's support of Obama, Sunday Times, London, January 20, 2008

AMERICA’S favourite television presenter is paying a painful price for her intervention in the US presidential campaign last month. Oprah Winfrey has been dubbed a “traitor” by some of her female fans for supporting Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.

Winfrey’s website, Oprah.com, has been flooded with a barrage of abuse since the queen of daytime chat shows joined Obama on a tour of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in mid-December.

Her intervention was widely credited with broadening Obama’s national appeal - especially among women - and with helping him to an upset victory over Clinton in the first vote of the election year in Iowa.

Yet a backlash by Clinton supporters appears to have prompted a rethink by Winfrey, the African-American media titan who is routinely described as the most influential woman on television.

She did not reappear in the final days before the New Hampshire primary - which Obama lost to Clinton - and has been absent from the most recent campaigning in South Carolina, which votes next weekend.

Obama aides believe that Winfrey will return to the campaign. Her own staff noted last week that in addition to her daily broadcasts on television and satellite radio, she has also been busy negotiating a multi-million-dollar deal with the Discovery cable network to create her own television channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Yet Obama’s rivals suspect that Winfrey has been startled by the virulent reaction to her previous campaign appearance.

It started with a message on her website entitled “Oprah is a traitor” and rapidly expanded to include several discussions that attracted hundreds of comments.

In the original post, a reader called austaz68 said she “cannot believe that women all over this country are not up in arms over Oprah’s backing of Obama. For the first time in history we actually have a shot at putting a woman in the White House and Oprah backs the black MAN. She’s choosing her race over her gender.”

In a subsequent comment, 2nurselady wrote: “I don’t think Oprah is a ‘traitor’, but I do think she may be alienating a lot of her fans.”

Others have accused Winfrey of racism for siding with Obama when such a well qualified woman as Clinton was running.

Winfrey has built her career on empathising with women’s issues and offering a daily diet of redemption and hope. Her show typically focuses on women who have suffered but survived.

So hostile has the response been that some suspect dirty tricks. “All the rude and hateful messages on here can’t be from Oprah fans,” another visitor noted. “Someone’s campaign (wonder who?) is sabotaging the message boards.”

Winfrey received a rapturous reception when she campaigned with Obama last month. Yet several analysts warned that she might adversely affect his chances.

Steve Ross, a history professor at the University of Southern California, said: “The moment a star opens their mouth and endorses one candidate, they alienate half their viewership.”

 
 

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