Biographer's Battle With the Oprah Machine

The Queen of Daytime has friends in high places

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Everyone already knew Oprah was powerful. But who knew she wielded this kind of clout? The Queen of Daytime has reportedly had a "chilling effect" on Kitty Kelley's new Oprah biography. At the outset, publishing companies rejected Kelley's book because of Oprah's substantial sway in the industry. Now talk show hosts are refusing to bring Kelley on as a guest. In an interview with The New York Times, Kelley said Oprah was the most restrictive personality she'd ever profiled:

NYT: Was Oprah more restrictive than Frank Sinatra, a previous subject of yours?

Kelley: Absolutely.

NYT: More restrictive than Nancy Reagan, another subject of yours?

Kelley: Yes, and I’ll tell you why. In promoting this book, we have already been told by Barbara Walters’s producer, No, you cannot be on “The View,” I cannot disrupt my relationship with Oprah. Joy Behar, the same thing. Charlie Rose; Larry King said, I will not do it, it might upset Oprah. Even David Letterman.

It makes sense that Oprah wouldn't be thrilled about Kelley's book. It's loaded with salacious details. But the lengths at which others are going not to offend Oprah are intriguing. And then we have staunch Oprah defenders like Salon's Heather Havrilesky. For her, the image of Kelley speaking about getting snubbed from talk shows was too much.

When Kitty Kelley whines about Oprah's immense power, when she complains that -- boo hoo! -- she wasn't invited onto Larry King and no one will speak to her about the book because they're so afraid of Oprah, don't begrudge Oprah that power. Celebrate it. Celebrate the fact that an ambitious, tenacious black woman now has many, many influential individuals either fearing her outright or rallying to her side. This woman, who has admitted to countless mistakes, fears, moments of paralyzing self-doubt, dark nights of the soul, has offered millions of women the opportunity to reclaim their lives, just by being honest about their experiences.

For Thomas Conner at The Chicago Sun-Times, everyone's being a little overly cautious about offending Oprah:

What could these media organizations be so afraid of? Oprah's launching her own cable network. No one needs her approval, nor does she really require anyone else's at this point. If Oprah's mad at you, she ... what? Fights fire with fire and doesn't have the cast of "Desperate Housewives" on a very special episode of "Oprah"? OK, that explains ABC's decision. But what could Oprah do to "The View"? Or Letterman? Is she so powerful behind the scenes now that her personal opinion has become an actual commodity?

As for Slate's Jack Shafer, the idea that Kelley's being blackballed by the media is far-fetched:

Kelley's bellyaching might attract a little sympathy if her complaint hadn't appeared on a promotion-friend page of the Times or if, the next day, the New York Times and The New Yorker hadn't reviewed her book, the Today show hadn't treated her to a friendly segment, and USA Today hadn't published a soft-focus profile. All this publicity, and the book doesn't even come out until... (April 13).
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