Oprah’s Dangerous Breach of Diligence and Responsibility

Dr. Mel Levine was found dead at his  home last week, a suicide. His once successful and nationally prominent career as a pediatrician was derailed when he was sued by a succession of former patients who alleged that he sexually molested them. He had surrendered his medical license and teaching position at the University of North Carolina, and hardly any of the obituaries mentioned that he was once one of Oprah Winfrey’s health experts.

But writer Tracie Egan Morrissey remembered, and detected a pattern that is disturbing and real. There have been other experts and authorities that Oprah introduced to her trusting and huge audience of admirers that should have been rejected after competent vetting. Dr. Phil, of course, is a fraud, having given up his license as a psychotherapist in Texas but never surrendering the misleading title of “Dr.”  In 2003, Oprah’s show  introduced America to plastic surgeon Jan Andrews, who subsequently was revealed (by others) to have had multiple DUI and malpractice lawsuits and to lack board-certification as a plastic surgeon. Not before, however, he had operated on hip-hop artist Kanye West’s mother, who died of complications from her plastic surgery. All mention of Andrews, and Levine, have been scrubbed from Oprah’s website.

Then there was Jenny McCarthy, whom Oprah promoted and provided a platform to spread her deadly and medically unsupportable misinformation about the connection between autism and vaccines.And she boosted the credibility of Rhonda Byrne, a best-selling self-help author (“The Secret,” “The Power”) who is even more transparently a charlatan the most of her breed, though Oprah made it clear that she was a believer.

Morrissey correctly diagnoses the ethical problem: “Seeing as how Oprah’s most successful “product” these days is cultivating and grooming personalities into credible and trusted sources, a great deal of responsibility comes with that task.” And she’s not meeting that responsibility. Oprah has a duty to diligently check out her “experts,” and to be as sure as possible that they are giving her audience insight and wisdom, not myths, false hopes, half-truths and snake oil. Instead, she is leading her fans to trust the untrustworthy.

9 thoughts on “Oprah’s Dangerous Breach of Diligence and Responsibility

  1. ALARM! ALARM!

    Speaking of due diligence, you need some on Dr. Phil. He is certainly no angel, and not one of my favorite people. Some folks might even call him somewhat shady.

    However, he never lost his TX state license. It was never suspended or revoked. He elected not to renew it in 2006, and not to practice in TX. As to calling himself “Dr.”, he’s entitled. He got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology, so he’s still “Dr.”.

    My daughter got her Ph.D. in conservation biology, but she does not call herself “Dr.”. But she could if she so chose. She worked hard for it and is AT LEAST as entitled as Phil McGraw.

    • He chose not to renew it like Bill Clinton chose not to keep his bar license. It was going to be taken away from him. He had already been in trouble on a couple of infractions. My statement is factually inaccurate, and I’ll fix it. thanks,but more accurately conveys the truth than yours. He is, in fact, a fraud.

      I could call myself “Dr.’ too, because I have a JD. But it’s misleading, and iI wouldn’t do it. Dr. Phil’s case, it’s meant to mislead. It’s deceitful.

  2. Our society has devolved to a point where what Oprah or her guests say matter?
    She is an ENTERTAINER, not a journalist, science correspondent or rocket scientist, with a vast following . She gets paid for her ability to attract,maintain and increase an audience that will allow her employers to charge higher fees for advertisements. She is an independent contractor who is doing the best for her.
    To assign her any more responsibility or charge that she is not performing her due diligence is not fair to her.
    I have never watched her program, nor would I.

    • Joe, she’s obviously more than an entertainer. She’s a cultural force. I was a guest at her annual expo, and it is not about entertainment at all—it is about telling/leading people about how to lead their lives.

      You need to watch the show before you can make that statement. It’s like saying that Jon Stewart or Bono are “just” entertainers. It’s just not true.

      • Jack,
        Your points are well taken. I disagree.
        Having stated that, my first line in my reply was as follows:
        “Our society has devolved to a point where what Oprah or her guests say matter?”
        Oprah, Bono and Jon Stewat have done wonderful things, more power to them. Thanks!
        While I agree that Oprah is “a cultural force”, my wife loves the show, in my view, she is still nothing more than an entertainer.
        When our society has to rely on Oprah and her guests to tell us how to lead our lives, we are in big trouble.
        Our politicians, teachers, youth coaches, Boy/Girl Scout leaders, spiritual advisers should be given far more credence, Granted, they don’t have the following that Oprah et. al. have .
        Goes to my point of a devolving society.
        Thanks for your consideration.

  3. Oprah has been considered the most powerful woman in the world pre-Michelle Obama.

    With the power she has over people, she has a due diligence to make sure the people she promotes be what they appear to be. Just imagine if Oprah promoted someone like Marilyn Manson or Ted Bundy. Extreme examples, but I believe it is necessary to get the point across.

    A position of power requires one be held to a higher standard.

  4. Dear Josh: I think you meant CHARLES Manson… but “Marilyn” isn’t too far off the mark, either!

    Dear Jack:

    Your central theme, of course, is about the responsibility that ALL public figures incur when they acquire a forum and an audience. In fact, as bloggers, we both share it to our own degrees. But Oprah attracted a huge following with her show, magazine, etc., from people who came to trust her words and attitudes. She also became very wealthy in the process. That, too, brings on additional responsibility.

    Overall, Oprah has handled this better than an number of other public personalities. But, as you point out, she’s had some glaring deficiencies in this regard as well. Some cases of misplaced trust were bound to occur over time. But the fact that Oprah has removed all mention of these from her site (and, thus, from her SIGHT) is the biggest and most worrisome deficency of them all.

    When you or I make a mistake in facts, language or analysis, we acknowledge it and apologize to our readership. This is basic ethical conduct which shows respect to those who read our words. Oprah’s failure to do so indicts that this respect is secondary to her image and status. This is where many other public figures have gone wrong. It’s all too common in an era of mass communications where the guiding principle has become “image IS reality”.

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