I wrote once that not only is Oprah Winfrey not a doctor, she plays a really bad one on TV. From promoting Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement, to allowing Suzanne Somers a bully-pulpit for her medical woo, to pushing Prudence Hall and her high-dose hormone treatments without acknowledging their potential risks, to leading the church of the Secret as a way to avoid facing the harsh realities of cancer, Oprah did more harm than good when it comes to health.
And while the publishing industry may be hanging crepe, the medical community is breathing a sigh of relief that Oprah has left the airwaves, at least for now. After all, we “conventional” docs were repeatedly relegated to a seat in the audience by Oprah, who usually presented us as naysayers and officials in the Church of Medicine to Oprah’s self-appointed Galileos of Woo, rather than the health experts we are. Of course, it was all couched in terms of female empowerment, a tactic that Oprah long ago taught marketers can be used to sell anything and everything to women.
My axe to grind against Oprah is not just professional, it’s personal. For I saw my sister, nearing the end her life, turn to the Secret, believing that if she just believed enough in herself, she would be cured. Rather than strengthen her, the Secret drained her, turning her away from the supports around her towards an ever elusive goal that never allowed her the possibility of acceptance and preparation for her departure.
I have to admit that I was surprised when my good friend Linda wrote her own Ode to Oprah Winfrey, in which she thanked the Queen of daytime talk for 25 years of wisdom, excusing Oprah’s medical gaffes as nothing more than misplaced good intentions. Well-intentioned though Oprah may have been at some point, I believe she long ago lost the connection between good intentions and their results. In this regard, one particular lesson Linda learned from Oprah can be applied to Oprah herself, and it is this –
When people show you who they are, believe them.
Well, as far as this doctor is concerned, Oprah long ago showed me who she was, and that is nothing more than the biggest marketing Alpha Girl the media ever created, a woman who refused to use her intelligence to look beyond the marketing messages of her so called medical experts to even try to understand the science behind the issues she was promoting, and who never once considered the potential negative impact of those marketing messages on the health of her viewers. My disappointment in her has been profund, for I really did like her immensely.
Of course, we all know that Oprah isn’t really gone. With the creation of her own network, she will, like the hydra, create ever more marketing opportunities for anyone with a product to sell, relegating to her cadre of producers the authority granted her by her worshipping public.
Happily, so far, when it comes to medical topics, OWN has done pretty well. They purchased the Discovery Channel’s documentary series “Deliver Me“, about three Ob-Gyn docs in urban LA. And Laura Berman’s episode on herpes was spot on, with weblinks to ASHASTD.org, a great resource for health info on herpes and other STD’s. Hmm…maybe OWN’s producers haven’t drunk as much of the Oprah Woo-Aid as I think they may have.
Then again, Dr Oz is still out there…
More on Oprah and her Medical Woo from around the Web – feel free to add links in the comments section.
- Dr Jen rejoices Oprah’s departure
- Oprah – I am Menopausal (and so can you!) – TBTAM
- A Chink in Oprah’s Armour – Paul Oestreicher
- Science Based Medicine – How Low Can Oprah Go?
- The Oprafication of Medicine – More from Science Based Medicine
- Oprah and the Power to Persuade – Dr Joh Grohol on HuffPo
- Combatting the Oprah Effect – Respectful Insolance
- Oprah’s Ugly Secret – Salon.com
- Oprah Shills for John of God – Respectful Insolance
- Potentially Harmful and other Alternative therapies – Oprah and John of God – OMG
- Jenny McCarthy & Oprah Winfrey – Respectful Insolance
- Newsweek – Why Oprah’s Health Advice can Make you sick
- Orac– Proof that Oprah is beyond redemption