Are we kidding here? Democrats may have 99 reasons to avoid getting on board the Oprah bandwagon, but a hostile news media ain’t one of them, despite an avalanche of warnings about skeletons in the Winfrey closet. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker warn that the surest way to stop being Beloved (SWIDT?) is to run for public office, which sends off the blood-in-the-water signal to intrepid reporters looking for dirt:
Important point just now by @AshleyRParker on @HallieJackson show: The moment Oprah runs, she’s no longer beloved Oprah but politician Oprah. Investigative reporters head to Hawaii to dig into her property records, etc.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 9, 2018
We actually did see this happen once before … but it happened to Sarah Palin. When John McCain added her to the 2008 Republican ticket, reporters from all over the United States flew to Wasilla, Alaska, to dig up dirt on the governor. That journalistic endeavor produced such memorable material as Palin’s purchase of a used tanning bed, which had deeeeeep implications for public policy a decade ago.
And yet, when a relatively unknown first-term Senator ran for the top job in that same cycle, the media could hardly be bothered to travel to Chicago, let alone dig up dirt. Barack Obama had no executive experience at the time in either the public or private sectors (Palin had been governor as long as Obama was a senator), and as Joe Scarborough pointed out today, was hardly so well-known and prepared so as to not need that kind of scrutiny:
“There are so many great things personally about Barack Obama, even though so many of his policies drive me crazy,” the former GOP congressman continued. “But Barack Obama wasn’t ready, in my opinion, to be president. He was, as I said, a glorified state senator.”
“If Barack Obama stayed in the Senate for a term and actually learned the frustrations of Washington, he would have been a much better president, in my opinion,” he added.
In another part of the same segment Rucker cites, Jackson and Parker note that other Democrats might push the media to get rough with Winfrey. After all, there are a few who have been waiting for the chance to run for the top job, and they might dig up enough to whet the media’s whistle:
Eh, maybe. But first, they’d have to convince the media to stop swooning over this part of Winfrey’s speech, in which she hailed the national news media as the bulwark against you-know-who:
I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, because we all know the press is under siege these days. But we also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this.
As Aaron Blake wrote at the time, Winfrey couldn’t have been talking about the HFPA, which covers the industry rather than “tyrants.” Blake notes, “Winfrey’s decision to include a defense of all of the press sticks out like a sore thumb here,” adding that “it’s difficult not to read it as a repudiation of Trump himself.” That’s clearly the reading Winfrey wants, and the result will almost certainly not be a rush to expose any skeletons in Oprah’s extensive and fabulous closets.
That’s not to say that some well-known public episodes won’t get attention. Also at the Post, Avi Selk offers readers an oppo-research brief that may not be comprehensive but is certainly provocative:
Since everyone’s suddenly talking about Oprah 2020, let’s talk about what her campaign might look like — or more specifically, what her opponents might do to it.
There’s no reason to think politics will become any less brutal in the next two years. And there’s every reason to expect that opposition researchers would happily dig through Oprah Winfrey’s storied history as a talk-show host, cultural icon, fake book promoter, advocate of mystical healing powers, fearer of hamburgers and apparent chum of Harvey Weinstein.
Not to mention the child sex abuse scandal.
Selk also includes a more sensational issue — Winfrey’s 2013 BBC interview promoting her film The Butler when she said that generations of racists “just have to die” to improve the country:
“There’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs…in some cases and maybe even may cases because he’s African American,” she said – she continued by explaining that generations of Americans had “marinated” in racism.
She stated, “There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.”
As Selk writes, calling on large numbers of voters to die “can’t lend itself to a positive presidential campaign.” It might among the people Winfrey needs to win the Democratic nomination, but it might be a little trickier in a general election. Selk thinks Weinstein might be a problem with her primary voters:
Oprah 2020 pic.twitter.com/6drZDIUzpm
— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) January 8, 2018
Potent stuff, but all of this is well known already. If Winfrey really does throw her hat in the ring, however, it will get instantly transformed into “old news,” and any attempt to tie her to Weinstein or guests on her show will become “sexist” for attacking her career. The only digging that will take place by media will be for the purposes of producing soft-focus features on the (fully legit) hardships Winfrey overcame to become America’s pre-eminent self-made female multi-billionaire success story. New Media outlets will dig up plenty of oppo research, but will get scolded by mainstream media for their intolerance and lack of respect for Winfrey’s struggle. And we know all of this because we saw it play out in both 2008 and 2016.
Will Winfrey actually run? Who knows? But it won’t be fear of mainstream media vetting that keeps her out of the running.