In recent days, there have been suggestions that Oprah Winfrey's ratings have been declining because she stuck her nose into politics. And the lesson we should take from that is …?
From the May 26 NYT, which opened by noting her ratings troubles in TV and circulation problems with her magazine:
And while Ms. Winfrey still displays a Midas touch when it comes to the endorsement of books and products, some of her latest picks have attracted criticism from longtime fans as she has strayed into new-age spiritualism and, perhaps more dangerously, politics. Her endorsement of the presidential bid of Senator Barack Obama appears to have alienated some of the middle-aged white women who make up the bulk of her television audience, many of whom support Senator Hillary Clinton.
“Not too long ago, she was like the pope,” rarely criticized by her ardent supporters, said Janice Peck, an associate professor of mass communication at the University of Colorado and the author of “The Age of Oprah,” a new book on Ms. Winfrey’s cultural influence.
Since the endorsement, however, angry criticism of her political stance became a regular feature of the message boards on Oprah.com, Ms. Peck said. “There are a lot of her fans who are not Democrats or who support Hillary Clinton who feel betrayed,” she added.
An interesting moral dilemma: Should Winfrey be guided by her conscience or solely by the cold calculus of business?
Personally, if she simply decided Obama was the better candidate and decided to publicly throw support to him knowing that it might be an unpopular move with some people, then I find her actions completely admirable.
The world can always use more principled stances — although as I've noted in other forums, principles aren't free.
Two other famous black American celebrities that came to mind as I chewed on this issue are Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.
In his prime, Jordan was a dazzling, dominant basketball player, the crown jewel of the Chicago Bulls' dynasty period in the 1990s.
He made millions in salary and millions more in endorsements. Some of those ads urged people to “Be Like Mike.”
If someone could remind me of one public stance Jordan took on one issue of consequence, I'd be most grateful, because I'm shooting blanks right now. But I suspect he didn't take one. The sponsors might not have liked it.
In comparison, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army (more here).
The authorities charged Ali with a felony, a jury convicted him, the media excoriated him and he couldn't legally box anywhere in the United States and was stripped of his heavyweight title. While he eventually won on appeal, the ordeal cost Ali three years in the prime of his career.
If you want my opinion, I'd say don't be like Mike. Be like Muhammad or Oprah.