Smearing Oprah: The Creation of a Wedge Issue

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Masterminding a Political Dividing Wedge
For decades liberal leaders have screamed about the "vast right wing conspiracy" (VRWC). These claims have fallen on the unsympathetic ears of many voters as they consider the back and forth bickering to be part of the American political process.

We accept that there should be few limitations in the "marketplace of ideas" and believe an educated electorate can filter the nonsensical from the important substantive comments in political discourse. As our Founders believed, the key to a successful democracy lies in the voter being educated. Yet we are unsure whether this prerequisite exists in 21st century America.

This past week, following both the Democratic and Republican political conventions, we had a rare opportunity to witness the creation of a wedge issue for the purpose of dividing American voters. The events of this masterminded plot fit the profile of the VRWC as described by progressive and liberal politicians. In this summary we detail how Oprah Winfrey has been used to advance the conservative agenda.

It is rare to meet a woman willing to express a negative view about Oprah. While Oprah's audience is primarily women, many American men cherish her values and positive efforts as well. Oprah's inherent goodness is reminiscient of Sister Teresa and her honesty with viewers has always been part of her charm. While her fame puts her on a thrown near God, she struggles as do most women; yet she continually highlights the joy and happiness found in the small events and activities that fill most of our essentially mundane lives.

We all recognize that a month ago, relatively few people in America knew Sarah Palin's name. This changed dramatically during the first week of September. The day after the Democratic convention ended, Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain, announced that Sarah Palin would be his running mate. There has been an explosion of interest surrounding this vice presidential pick. Sarah Palin has gone from a virtually unknown and obscure politician to quite possibly the deciding factor in the 2008 election.

To some experts, the selection of Palin was a brilliant stroke. They have argued that she poses a threat to the Democratic ticket by attracking a significant number of the over "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" who supported Hillary Clinton. These pundits believe (wrongly) that a conservative woman might appeal to liberal, possibly disenchanted, Hillary supporters who are primarily women. Anyone who believes this might do best to buy a bridge to nowhere in Alaska.

Liberal American women will never cross political lines to vote for a woman on the Republican ticket who is adamantly anti-choice. This is a red line for progressive female voters. And, in fact, this strategy may have actually backfired by angering millions of liberal women who perceived Palin's selection was an affront to their intelligence. American liberal women do not vote for a candidate simply because of gender!

An important question to ask is whether the McCain strategists are truly this stupid? Could they have so badly miscalculated on this important social issue? We don't believe so. We believe Sarah Palin was selected by the Republicans, not to capture disenchanted Hillary followers, but to shore up support from the conservative Christian coalition. And, from this point of view, Ms. Palin's selection was brilliant.

Yet the successful addition of Palin to the conservative ticket returns us where we were in Election 2000 and 2004 -- about a 50/50 split in the electorate. This is not good news for John McCain and the Republicans. George W. Bush's abysmal economic policies, with unemployment spiking to records highs, and still bogged down in an unpopular war in Iraq, means McCain's chances aren't looking good. Change is the prevailing wind across the nation.

To overcome this incumbent disadvantage, the McCain camp needs a spark. They need a political wedge to divide a major group in this election. They need to further divide women!

The O Factor
Oprah, Barack and Michelle ObamaOprah... Oprah... This champion of women and their interests made an unprecedented decision in this election. Oprah took a side. She came out strongly in support of Barack Obama. Historically Oprah has remained non-partisan and stayed on the sidelines during political campaigns.

For Hillary supporters, this was a critical blow. Oprah's decision to support Obama was likely the turning point in this closely divided primary.

We believe historians will conclude that the South Carolina democratic contest and Oprah's role in that event shifted political momentum in Barack's favor. The VRWC needed to create a wedge. They put Oprah in play politically by creating a divisive issue around her.

Matt Drudge: A Partisan Hack and the Birth of the Wedge
On Friday, September 5th, the day after McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Matt Drudge served the VRWC well. He posted a lie on his weblog, The Drudge Report. This is CIA, spy-type disinformation. His post to millions of right wing, primarily male, readers said, "Oprah's staff is sharply divided on the merits of booking Sarah Palin ... One executive close to Winfrey is warning any Palin ban could ignite a dramatic backlash!"

The fact that Oprah and her staff had never discussed having Sarah Palin on the show was not important to Matt Drudge and the right wing. Oprah did not have Hillary on her show; she did not interview Barack or Michelle on her show, although Oprah did host Barack years ago after the release of his book, The Audacity of Hope. Yet Drudge's accusation forced Oprah to respond. Near the end of that first business day, she answered:
"The item in today's Drudge Report is categorically untrue. There has been absolutely no discussion about having Sarah Palin on my show."

"At the beginning of this presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates. I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over." [1]
Drudge and the VRWC are smart political strategists. Nobody had been interested in interviewing Sarah Palin a month ago. Even days before the Republican convention she was an unknown in American politics. More importantly, the McCain camp has restricted press access to the governor and is protecting her from the media. Newsweek's Andrew Roman asks, "When Will Palin Meet the Press?" Readers responding to his blog wrote:
Posted By: ALLEAS (September 6, 2008 at 5:36 PM)

Posted By: heidicat (September 6, 2008 at 5:28 PM)
If Palin is supposed to be a pitbull she should be able to meet the press. The R's won't let her speak and McCain rarely does to the media. More of the same. Just like Bush. [2]
Yet truth is not in play here. It is not important that Matt Drudge manufactured this alleged controvery; it is not important that the McCain camp is restricting the media's access to Palin. The VRWC's strategy is simply to create a negative buzz about Oprah and force her into a difficult situation.

We have seen two instances of this already. In her response, she told the world, "I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates." This is a huge victory for the VRWC. This suggests Oprah will be unable to have Barack and Michelle Obama on her show as election day approaches in November. Such an interview could be the final, deciding factor for millions of voters.

Second, the backlash against Oprah has started. Although Drudge's announcement was false; although McCain does not want Palin fielding interviews as she is currently learning to recite his policy papers, Republican women are targeting Oprah:
The Florida Federation of Republican Women made the decision to boycott the Oprah Winfrey Show Saturday, after the media mogul refused to have Gov. Sarah Palin as a guest on her show until after the election wraps up.

"Women in Florida helped build Oprah into the icon she is today," Linda Ivell, President of the FFRW said in a statement. "We are deeply disappointed in Ms. Winfrey's decision to sit out the greatest political moment in the history of women since suffrage."

The Florida Federation of Republican Women, the "largest political organization in Florida," celebrating the groups 58 year anniversary is also encouraging members to cancel subscriptions to O Magazine, Ivell said. [3]
How is this playing out? Prior to Drudge's false report, it would have been hard to find polarized attitudes about Oprah. Yet in only 48 hours, we see a landslide of negative posting being aired. In the third posting (below), we read a typical right wing attack on character, as "boomboom" refers to Oprah as "Orca."
Gail Pensacola September 05, 2008 at 11:04 AM
I think Oprah needs to get off her high horse and realize she is nothing special. She just doesnt want Palin on her show because she knows that it would help the Republican party, which would not be good for her bff Obama

srrrjr September 05, 2008 at 12:55 PM
Oprah certainly does not surprise me now since I realized that she is not a women fan like she has always claimed. I am done with Oprah.

boomboom September 06, 2008 at 06:00 AM
Oprah is scared like Hillary that Sarah will upstage her. This is good because if Sarah wasn't al thet, she would have her on the show to show the world the lack there of, but apparently she must be all that!
Go Sarah! Boo Orca, I mean Oprah!

BROOKLYN September 6th, 2008 8:06 pm ET
She should have NEVER divided her viewers... Huge mistake that will come back to haunt her!!!

Rob September 6th, 2008 8:16 pm ET
Please go away Oprah. Nobody cares about your onesided opinions anyway.

Sal September 6th, 2008 8:18 pm ET
It just demonstrates, that Oprah and the Democratic party, cannot accept any person or comment that disagrees or threatens their control agenda.

Jason September 6th, 2008 8:18 pm ET
Thank you!!!!! I love Oprah and have enjoyed her for many years. But, with her endorsement of Obama and clear favoritism she is abandoning the very principles I once thought she had. I would love to see other boycotts. Her statement and excuses on this matter were utterly offensive and seemed extremely false.

susie September 6th, 2008 8:02 pm ET
My friends and I, in Michigan, decided we would boycott Oprah too, She promoted Obama on her show, yet, she pretends she is for women rights. What a hyprocrit

dutchgirl September 6th, 2008 8:20 pm ET
While I'm not a Fla. republican, I challenge all NC republican women to join the boycott.

Wisdom September 6th, 2008 8:20 pm ET
We are with you Susie. By the way, we never watch her show anyway….

Jane September 6th, 2008 8:00 pm ET
I never watch her anyway. It was always all about Oprah.

Joe the Troll September 6th, 2008 8:03 pm ET
"We are deeply disappointed in Ms. Winfrey's decision to sit out the greatest political moment in the history of women since suffrage."

Retired LE September 6th, 2008 8:05 pm ET
Who cares what Oprah thinks. She has gotten way too big for her britches and now she thinks she has influence or something. NOT!!!
It's fascinating how many negative opinions were expressed by male writers -- who dominate the Republican party. Like the soldiers in the VRWC that they are, Drudge summoned them to action and they have faithfully answered the call. The VRWC lives and this is a clear example how they create the wedge to divide Americans. On a final note, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John McCain appeared on the Sunday news shows (9.7.08). The McCain camp refused to allow Ms. Palin to meet with the press. Clearly she is not ready for prime time, which further demonstrates that Drudge's motives were politically inspired. Please stay tuned to this issue and further developments.
[updated 9.7.09]

[1] Winfrey: Report about Palin 'categorically untrue', CNN Online
[2] When Will Palin Meet the Press?, Newsweek Online
[3] Florida Republican group to boycott Oprah, CNN Online