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Cable news really wants Oprah to run for president

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes. (Photo: NBC)

Heads-up to Oprah Winfrey: If there’s any chance you’re actually thinking about running for president in 2020, do yourself a favor and check out how cable news — and in particular Fox News and MSNBC, at opposite ends of the spectrum — covered that possibility in the wake of your stirring speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday evening. On Monday morning and throughout the day, the usual post-awards-show chatter — who won, how did host Seth Meyers do — was completely overshadowed by Winfrey. Her words in accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award, in which she connected autobiographical details to the current efforts of the Times Up and #MeToo movements, was treated as a first draft of a campaign launch speech. Or as Stephen Colbert said Monday night, “Someone give that woman an award for winning an award!”

On MSNBC, Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski pulled long faces and averred in grave tones that Winfrey was every bit as qualified as Donald Trump to be president, and the world wasn’t just ready for a female president — it’s overdue, they thought. As the day proceeded, every cable news show made sure to include a segment about the possibility. Katy Tur on her afternoon MSNBC show announced, “Oprah for president in 2020: Yes, it’s a thing.” Not so fast, countered Fox News. On Monday evening you could find Tucker Carlson commence his Winfrey segment by referring to her sneeringly as “Harvey Weinstein’s good buddy Oprah,” putting onscreen an old picture of Winfrey kissing Weinstein. Guilt by association, you know. Carlson was smart enough to make sure to say how “brilliant” and “talented” Winfrey is, providing cover for criticism. And then he let his guest Mark Steyn do the real dirty work, recasting Winfrey’s speech as something almost diabolical: “She was crafty and cunning, the way she tied her personal story to this #MeToo business.” Steyn is never shy about implying racial animus in his interpretations, as when he added here that the notion Oprah “heals us and brings us all together — I’m not sure that talking about Rosa Parks and Sidney Poitier does do that.”

Sean Hannity, never one for subtlety, led off his Fox broadcast with the headlines “Oprah Obsession” and “Media and Hollywood Fawning Over Oprah.” “They will blindly follow and worship” Winfrey, Hannity asserted, adding that “these are the same people that never vetted Obama!” Wait, what? Oh, right: Hannity proceeded to tick off all the right-wing talking points about Obama’s “radical” past (community organizer! Pals with Bill Ayers!). Silly me, I’d almost forgotten this paranoia — it seems like ages ago.

Of course, Fox hosts really want Oprah to run because (a) they think she’d lose, bigtime, and (b) they’d have such a great time ridiculing her during the campaign. MSNBC hosts want Oprah to run because (a) they think, what the hell, if Trump won, maybe another billionaire celebrity can win, and (b) they’d have such a great time extolling her virtues.

By Tuesday morning, Megyn Kelly was trying to have it both ways. She opened her show with a segment on Oprah 2020 by saying, “A source in the know says she does not intend to run,” then adding that Oprah’s boyfriend, Stedman Graham, thinks “it’s up to the people.” Kelly asked her studio audience, “Do you guys want her to run?” She listened to the claps. “About half and half,” she judged, noting, “Now I know who the Republicans are in my audience.” Whoops! Your instincts are exposed, Megyn: By that measure, you also know who the Democrats are in your audience, don’t you?

Sigh. The whole thing makes me wish we still lived in a time when people with real accomplishments were the prominent ones in our government. I’d give a lot to be writing about Shirley Chisholm’s run for the presidency rather than Donald Trump or Oprah Winfrey.

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