‘Say It Aint So, O!’
If ever there were a candidate destined to shine on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Sarah Palin would be that woman. In less than a week, the Alaska governor, former PTA member and 44-year-old mother of five — including an infant with Down syndrome — survived a vicious press assault on her family only to win over the majority of Americans with her brave and unapologetic speech at the Republican National Convention.
In a media instant, Sarah Palin went from an unknown moose hunter to a mass phenomenon on the precipice of becoming the vice president of the United States.
She is the Oprah audience personified — an unlikely feminist icon that braved the storm while deftly protecting her children. Many already are saying she has the inside track for the top slot in 2012.
Mrs. Palin is history in a dress. And her script is straight out of Hollywood — like those teen movies with the cliched ending featuring the female valedictorian delivering the speech of a lifetime projecting a bold and transformative future with an independent-minded woman in charge. That future is now. Women want to get to know Sarah Palin. And they want to meet her family.
Yet Oprah Winfrey, the high priestess of the female empowerment movement and America’s most adored television host, denies her massive and loyal audience’s most obvious wishes because of her single-minded drive to put Barack Obama in the White House.
On Sept. 5 under scrutiny for this decision Oprah Winfrey released a statement:
“At the beginning of this Presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first pub- lic 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.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can certainly relate to the Palin shutout. Oprah helped annihilate the candidacy of the first female major party presidential candidate by failing to humanize her the way only the Queen of Daytime Talk could.
Surely, Hillary will forgive and forget.
Given that in previous election cycles Miss Winfrey famously gave both sides equal time, many of her adoring throngs are drawing the conclusion that in the media titan’s mind — and in the Democratic Party’s identity politics playbook — race trumps gender.
The entrance of another historic woman into the election only reinforces this idea.
“She supports Obama because he is black, which is just as bad as NOT supporting him because he is black,” voiced an anonymous woman (perhaps Geraldine Ferraro) at Oprah.com. That sentiment — the elephant in the middle of the media spin room — is commonly repeated throughout Oprah’s highly trafficked message boards. A small band of defenders ignores the charge and blames Karl Rove for the mess.
“After more than 20 years of interviews, you do not have the capability to handle asking her questions about her life rather than her platform?” writes another angry fan. “Just be honest that you don’t want her on the show because her popularity may detract from your personal political candidate. I’m very disappointed and you have lost a lot of credibility.”
The cozy relationship between Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama predates the endorsement she gave him in May 2007. First of all, both were members of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s controversial church. Of course, that topic is off limits.
Miss Winfrey launched the firstterm senator as a national brand when she lavished praise on him during a show in 2005. During Mr. Obama’s next appearance in October 2006, Miss Winfrey stated she would support Mr. Obama if he ran for the presidency — even though Mr. Obama previously stated he wouldn’t run due to his inexperience. “I am a believer in knowing what you’re doing when you apply for a job,” he said in 2004.
But when Oprah Winfrey gives you her billion-dollar blessing and her platinum Rolodex, what’s a freshman senator to do? A study by University of Maryland economists makes the case that her endorsement alone was worth more that one million votes in the Democratic primary.
Then there was the post-Denver post-speech hoorah: “I think it’s the most powerful thing I have ever experienced,” Miss Winfrey told her fellow believers in the press corps. “I cried my eyelashes off.”
The scenario reads like the Visa campaign: “Priceless.”
Yet since Miss Winfrey endorsed Mr. Obama and his political fortunes immediately skyrocketed, Oprah has seen her exceptionally high popularity take a drastic hit.
According to a Gallup/USA Today poll in March 2007, Miss Winfrey possessed a whopping 74 percent approval rating. (Incidentally, Mrs. Palin’s approval rating in Alaska is a Mother Theresa-like 80 percent.) Miss Winfrey’s support dipped to 61 percent by August 2007, and during the primaries, her approval dropped further to 55 percent — the lowest in her career.
The Palin punt should wash away many more ardent supporters, many conservative and Republican Oprahwatching faithful among them.
People marvel that Mr. Obama was able to slay Mrs. Clinton, formerly the inevitable Democratic choice. But as they say, behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman. In Mr. Obama’s case, it’s certainly not Michelle. It’s Oprah. If Mr. Obama is elected, no one will have more power and access than Oprah Winfrey — the ultimate lobbyist.
But maybe those millions of women that she played for fools — and deprived of an election cycle filled with exceptional female electoral achievements and electrifying television moments, many among them Hillary followers and a cadre of Sarah supporters — will deny her that historic opportunity.
Hell hath no fury like an Oprah Book Club member scorned.
Andrew Breitbart is the founder of the news Web site breitbart.com and is co-author of “Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon — the Case Against Celebrity.”
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