Enough about Oprah 2020
The media's coverage of Oprah's possible presidential run is troubling, writes Nicole Hemmer in US News & World Report
[Read the full article in US News & World Report]
If you spent any time reading political coverage yesterday, you almost certainly read about Oprah Winfrey. No, not in-depth analysis of her impassioned call to arms at the Golden Globes, but crystal-ball gazing over her possible presidential ambitions. CNN Politics hosted "Oprah 2020: Live Updates," a four-hour live blog of speculation. Politico commissioned 14 political operatives to weigh in. Countless news outlets whipped up analyses of her presidential bid, whether it might work and what it might mean, then reported on the amount of speculation as its own news item.
From one political writer to scads of others: Please stop. I'm begging you. For the love of all that is holy, please, please stop.
So much of what's wrong with contemporary political analysis can be found in the media creation and coverage of the Oprah boomlet, from the obsessive focus on elections and the presidency to a frustrating habit of missing the actual point. These qualities contribute to an impoverished understanding of politics and change, one of the major drivers of our current political crises.
First, missing the point. All this Oprah-for-President chatter erupted following a powerful, confronting speech she gave at the Golden Globes, an event that, this year, was full of powerful, confronting speeches. (From the women who spoke, anyway. The men seemed to have decided they didn't have much to say about sexual harassment.) Yet the next day, the collective brainpower of the country's political media was trained on whether she would run for president, not the content of her speech.
Winfrey did critically important work in that speech, focusing attention on black women and the working poor, widening the lens from Hollywood to other work, reminding the storytellers in the room of their power and the women watching at home of theirs. She spoke about justice denied and justice delayed. She reminded everyone of the role that both impossibly brave women and dogged journalists played in making the #MeToo moment possible. Those are the things we should be talking about, not fanfic of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey teaming up in 2020.
Breaking out the Oprah 2020 chyrons also reflects the political press' limited view of how political change is achieved. Oprah can be – has been – an important political figure without ever running for office. Regularly named one of the most powerful women in America, she has profoundly shaped culture and politics in the United States. Her show mainstreamed a confessional style of culture that Bill Clinton helped ride into office; her endorsement of Barack Obama helped lift him over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries.