Obama’s Oprah Problem
Like viewers, voters want honesty.

The Obamas and Oprah Winfrey in 2008


Lee Habeeb

Why didn’t Team Oprah anticipate the avalanche of antipathy? I suspect they missed it not because they were incompetent but because they all thought — and Oprah herself thought — she was bulletproof.

That’s when we always get in trouble.

There were many more open threads on Oprah’s message board, like this one started by a woman who identified herself as wendykwrit:

You know, for so long I’ve felt a connection to Oprah and all that she’s done not only for women but the world in general. She was such an idol to me and I truly loved all that she stood for. Since she threw her support behind Barack Obama I felt like she let me down……. I feel like I lost a friend who I thought identified with me and now I realize she’s something she’s not, and I refuse to even watch the show anymore.

And there you had it. A healthy chunk of her audience refused to watch her show because Oprah presented herself as something she was not.

Many people actually think Oprah retired, but she was actually about to be retired — by her audience. By her own miscalculations and by her own vanity.

This wasn’t her first slipup. Long before her Obama miscalculation, Oprah had begun to forget about the very real values that united her and her audience.

Several years before, she decided to start heavily promoting the work of New Age gurus Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson.

They’re perfectly nice people, with a perfectly reasonable worldview that works for them and their adherents. But why, many in her audience wondered, was Oprah so aggressively pushing this New Age philosophy when she was a self-proclaimed Christian? Was she having doubts about her Christian beliefs?

What her audience was hoping for was some candor. They never got it.

Oprah had always presented herself as a Christian, and New Age spiritualism doesn’t square with a biblical worldview. Many women in her audience were confused about who the real Oprah really was.

Was she that Christian girl from Mississippi? Or a New Age billionaire who’d evolved beyond Jesus?

Had all that money changed her? Or had the whole Christian thing been an act? Inquiring minds wanted to know, but Oprah never came clean.

She thought she could have it both ways, that she could call herself a Christian and simultaneously promote New Age spiritualism like Tolle’s.

But even media moguls can’t have it all. Even if they have a hit show, a magazine, a production company, and a line of credit to match a small country’s.

The moral universe of her show, which was built on trust and intimacy, started to unravel right then and there. Her ratings were beginning to erode, and Oprah and her team didn’t even know why.

Her fans would have had no problem if she had talked about her loss of faith in Christ, if that was what was really happening in her life. I don’t know a Christian who hasn’t had existential doubts. Heck, even Mother Theresa had them!

And non-Christians wouldn’t have cared.

The problem is, Oprah didn’t want to offend her mostly Christian audience and thought she was smart enough to circle a square that couldn’t be circled.