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Is Oprah a Sinner or a Saint? Judging a Host By the Quality of Her Guests

Oprah

Should we doubt Oprah's credibility based on a few bad seeds over the course of 25 years?

When Oprah ends her daily talk show after 25 years this spring, more than a few tears will be shed in my home, and they’ll all be mine. While I don’t watch her every day, I enjoy knowing she’s there, and more often than not I record her programs to watch when I’m curled up in bed at night and in need of a good sob or chuckle, or I just want to live vicariously through those who get lots of really good, free stuff.

No one knows better than me that not every Oprah show is a home run, and not every guest is a winner. We were reminded of that last week when it was reported that Dr. Melvin Levine committed suicide a day after 40 of his patients filed medical malpractice and sexual abuse suits against him. Dr. Levine had been an occasional childhood education expert on Oprah over the years, and now at least one publication is calling the big O’s judgment into question because of guests like him.

A few days ago, in a Jezebel post titled “Oprah’s Long History of Sketchy ‘Experts’ And Endorsements,” writer Tracy Egan Morrissey talks about a handful of Oprah’s less proud moments and some of her show’s experts who have fallen from grace.

Besides Dr. Levine, Morrissey inexplicably singles out Oprah’s falling out with Iyanla Vanzant, although I’m not sure why, since Oprah did a show recently on the incident, and the spat had nothing to do with Vanzant’s credentials but instead was due to a clash of egos and/or simple miscommunication.

She also points to Oprah Book Club author James Frey, he of A Million Little Pieces infamy. Perhaps Morrissey forgot, however, that Oprah had him back on a second time after his lies were exposed to confront him because she was so rattled after having believed and been so deeply moved by his book (along with millions of others — myself included — who read the book).

Morrissey argues that Oprah’s signature is cultivating new talent and therefore has a responsibility to vet her guests more deeply than other talk shows. I wonder how, exactly, Morrissey suggests Oprah might have learned about Frey’s lies in his book before his publisher and the rest of the world? Or about the accusations against Dr. Levine before they were even made (after the first ones went public a while back, he never appeared on her show again)?

To be fair, Morrissey points out that when Dr. Levine was interviewed on the Today show, “he seem[ed] completely uncomfortable and shifty-eyed.” Which is funny, because the same things were said about Richard Jewel when he was hailed as a hero and then falsely accused of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996. Funny how the media has a way of twisting stories in hindsight when it’s convenient. Has Morrissey examined the Today show’s track record on guests? I’m guessing they might have a few more skeletons in their closet than Oprah. Or perhaps Morrissey is suggesting that Oprah’s producers should have studied Levine’s Today appearance and played armchair shrink and given him the boot then? Now that would have made for some good TV.

Morrissey points out that Oprah also had a plastic surgeon on one episode in 2003 who four years later operated on Kanye West’s mom, Donda West. Donda later died from complications from the procedure. And while that was tragic, she isn’t the first, nor will she be the last to die from elective surgery. Morrissey writes that the doctor had DUI charges and malpractice suits as a black mark next to his name even before his Oprah appearance. I’m actually more curious to know how many doctors don’t have malpractice suits against them at some point isn’t that famously why their fees are so high? Last I heard Dr. Phil has more than a few lawsuits against him that are still outstanding, too.

Morrissey also ridicules Oprah’s enthusiasm for The Secret, a film and book encouraging people to wish for things they want to happen. So now we’re down on wishful thinking? Is that what we’re calling irresponsible behavior for a daytime talk show? Has Morrissey turned a blind eye to what else goes on during daytime TV?

And there’s Oprah’s trainer and fitness guru, Bob Greene, with whom Oprah co-authored a couple of diet and wellness books. And then yes, she still gained weight. Is that Greene’s fault, or is Oprah not the singular most famous yo-yo dieter of all time? Greene went on to sign a promotional deal with McDonalds to encourage people to exercise more and eat better. Morrissey apparently finds shame in even suggesting McDonalds could contribute to a healthy lifestyle, and believes that Oprah should be ashamed that she ever caught sight of Greene because of his eventual association with the golden arches. Me? I would find shame in being such a snob that you think an affordable restaurant can’t have lofty ambitions in terms of their customers’ well-being.

I’m not saying Oprah should be proud of every guest who’s ever walked out onto her stage. But after 25 years, thousands of guests and hundreds upon hundreds of experts, to say she’s been irresponsible in the vetting of who appears on her show seems, well, irresponsible. And that she’s “scrubbed” her website clean of her less-than-brag-worthy guests? Um, I would, too, if I were her. Is it written somewhere that she owes her followers an accounting of every breath she’s ever taken?

I’m willing to bet there are more people who would stand in line to celebrate Oprah’s achievements than to single out a few bad apples on her roster of experts over the course of 25 years. Her TV show, like all others, is for entertainment purposes, and while the experts can be fun, informative and inspiring, to say that each one has to be perfect at all times is rather unrealistic.

You can’t win ‘em all, but I’d take Oprah’s track record on successful, credible and entertaining guests over pretty much anyone else’s in a heartbeat.

Do you think Oprah has done a good job of picking experts?

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