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Oprah’s Record of Promoting Charlatans Should Perhaps Give Us Pause About Her Impending Presidency

Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, and Oprah Winfrey at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 2010.
Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, and Oprah Winfrey in New York City in 2010. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Oprah Winfrey gave a well-received speech about racism and sexism at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. Given the recent political success of former Apprentice star Donald Trump, this led immediately to suggestions that she should run for president—suggestions that she is apparently willing to encourage. From CNN:

Oprah Winfrey is “actively thinking” about running for president, two of her close friends told CNN Monday. The two friends, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, talked in the wake of Winfrey’s extraordinary speech at the Golden Globes Sunday night, which spurred chatter about a 2020 run.

Given this—and, like, given America—it’s safe to assume that Oprah will be in charge of the country in January 2021, if not sooner. But how will she govern? Who will be appointed to key roles in her administration? Might she, like Trump promised to do, overcome her lack of government experience and policy knowledge by selecting “the best people” to advise her?

To take the question seriously, future president Winfrey’s track record in this area is not actually reassuring. Look at the list of dubious characters whose careers she’s used her television show and media empire to promote:

• Mehmet “Dr. Oz” Oz, an actual medical doctor who is nonetheless infamous for using his fame to promote “miracle pills” and “fat busters” and other scam nonsense. (It may tell you something that Trump chose Dr. Oz’s show as the venue on which to discuss his own medical history. )

• Phil “Dr. Phil” McGraw, whose eponymous show’s treatment of guests suffering from drug addiction has been described as “callous and inexcusable exploitation” by a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Southern California. (Guests who are severely addicted and potentially in danger of dying have reportedly been left without medical supervision in Los Angeles for up to two days after being flown in for dramatic intervention-style appearances on Dr. Phil.)

• Jenny McCarthy, a key figure in the disastrous campaign to convince parents to stop vaccinating their children against infectious diseases, who Winfrey’s company actually signed as a contributor in 2009. (McCarthy, like the current president, has said that vaccinations can cause autism.)

• Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, a book and philosophy that posits that the benefits of positive thinking are literally derived from “scientific” phenomena involving “vibrations,” “fields of energy,” and magnetism. (The Secret infamously inspired one Oprah viewer to declare her intention to cure her breast cancer with her mind, which, to Winfrey’s credit, she responded to by noting on air that The Secret’s techniques are not a substitute for treatment.)

• Suzanne Somers, who Winfrey praised for bravely “refus[ing] to keep quiet” when medical experts questioned the usefulness of her personally designed anti-aging regimen, which involves taking 60 pills a day and injecting estrogen directly into the vagina.

On the other hand, the Oprah-launched career of TV chef Rachael Ray has been largely unmarred by the fraudulent promotion of exploitative miracle cures. Secretary of State, Defense, Treasury, and Not Injecting Fake Medicine Into Your Genitals Rachael Ray?

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