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May 22, 2009

The Problem of Power and Snake-Oil Salesmen

Winfrey Somers Last week, Catherine asked a legitimate question about Oprah Winfrey's power: "Now is it just me, or is anyone else just a little freaked out about how powerful Oprah is?" 

Like you, Catherine, I too am freaked out by Ms. Winfrey's power. When I think of it, the famous observation that Lord Acton made is always at the back of my mind: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In fact, Winfrey seems to be getting away with hosting modern-day snake-oil salesmen who use her sensationalistic show to promote their potentially deadly schemes. In a recent edition of Salon, Dr. Rahul Parikh sounded an alarm over a recent episode where actress Suzanne Somers peddled her hormone replacement therapy, which just might kill more than a few desperate and incautious women. 

Parikh reasonably points out that the Somers incident is “not the first time Winfrey's advice on health issues has raised concern. In the past, the media mogul has been criticized for promoting cosmetic therapies that were untested and later deemed dangerous.”

In a litigiously explosive society such as ours, I have to ask, where have all the lawyers gone? Is it her power, or does her use of the phrase "just might" keep her from being sued over stamping her imprimatur on dangerous therapies like the one Somers is advocating?

(Image © The Oprah Winfrey Show)

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Dan Gill

I don't think of Lord Acton's quote when I think of Oprah. Oprah really has influence rather than power. The problem is, she has ridiculous amounts of influence with absolutely no check on her. And it seems like she doesn't have a whole lot of wisdom, either.

She is perhaps the poster girl for our celebrity-status culture. We don't honor heroes, but celebrities. It's sad and scary.

jason taylor

According to one Jonah Goldberg article Acton's point was not primarily criticism of power(he was a Lord after all)but the criticism of the type of historian who praises primarily success(I.E. If an autocrat conquers a large empire he "unites" it, if he fails it is a "defense of liberty"). And thus the line was primarily about the over-respect of power rather then power itself which is of course an instrumental necessity.

Whatever Lord Acton's intent of course, both points remain valid at least to a point. Technically it is impossible to corrupt absolutely as absolute evil is nonexistence(evil is decay not a thing in itself). And anyway there are examples of people who had technically absolute power who were not completely corrupted. Of course one could argue that in such cases they did not have absolute power as anything close to that was impossible before the twentieth century because of communications problems.


I saw a video clip the other day with a very young lady telling Ameicans to stop the Oprah cult before it's too late.
It seems to me that the first commandment is severely compromised with all these celebrities and even the president being placed in our lives ahead of God.
It would be wise to turn off the TV and read your Bible or get involved in a humanitarian cause than to worship Oprah or Obama

Donna Mooney

I had become somewhat disaffected with Oprah, but the last straw for me was when she had the Dixie Chicks on her show. The hot topic was how they had traitorously criticized the President(Bush) and America while performing in another country. One of them said,"I don't respect Bush...". Oprah just sat there grinning like a fool while the audience cheered. It must've been a pre-selected audience; if I'd been there I would've stood up and booed. Whatever happened to respect for persons because of their position? Oh wait, I know. When we kicked God out of our classrooms, our hearts automatically hardened to His laws...too bad I am alive to witness the sure downfall of the once greatest nation on earth. And I've never watched Oprah again. Maranatha, Lord Jesus!

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