Should We Fear Oprah?

Kate Sheppard takes note of Oprah Winfrey's incredible abilities as an opinion-leader and wonders if her endorsement will give Barack Obama a big boost. Kay Steiger, pondering the same, has some concerns:

I'm frankly a little disturbed by the influence Oprah has over people. By having candidates "sit on her couch and chat," as Kate put it, she's actually encouraging people to evaluate candidates based on their charisma and personalities instead of thinking about what policies they support. That's a method I don't think is particularly valuable.

I agree that personality-based evaluation isn't a great idea, but I think things like appearances on Oprah's show are in some ways an improvement over the alternative. When a candidate appears on a large-audience program and voters make an appearance based on the candidate's charisma, they're at least being swayed by the candidate's actual charisma or lack thereof (I, for instance, saw Hillary Clinton on Ellen last week and found her charming) whereas the main alternative isn't careful evaluation of the issues, but instead a seemingly arbitrary media filter wherein a prickly egomaniacal recovering alcoholic becomes the kind of guy you'd like to get a beer with. Or you hear a ton about the Edwardses fancy house and nothing about how the Romneys, Giulianis, and Clintons are actually richer.