The Oprah schnook club

Posted: Mar 19, 2003 12:00 AM

Oprah Winfrey is the most powerful woman in America. She decides what makes the New York Times best-seller lists. Her touchy-feely style sucks in audiences at the rate of 14 million viewers per day. But Oprah is far more than a cultural force -- she's a dangerous political force as well, a woman with unpredictable and mercurial attitudes toward the major issues of the day. Her ignorant views and wacky reasoning shape the views of millions.

Oprah's latest target: the war in Iraq. In what previews described as an eye-opening hour, Oprah used her bully pulpit on March 18 to slam the United States and George W. Bush. Her guests were anti-war Fawaz Gergez, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, and "pro-war" New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Of course, both Gergez and Friedman were anti-Bush.

Oprah also showed part of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," which lambastes American foreign policy. "It resonated with a lot of people, me included," she sweetly informed. When Friedman (remember, he's supposed to provide balance) stated that "the Bush administration is going to have to have an attitude lobotomy," Oprah laughed out loud. After showing a clip of young Muslim man ripping America, Oprah noted: "What he said sounded like what I've heard from people of color all over the world."

On Oprah's website, she sports a "What You Should Know About Iraq" page. In the "After the Show" section of the page, she mocks her viewers: "If we were to have a test right now on American foreign policy, most of you would call in sick and come back next Tuesday!" To help all of her poor, ignorant fans, Oprah put up an "Iraq 101" section on her website. One problem -- the primer is loaded with basic factual errors. For instance, the site states "The Turks of the Ottoman Empire gained control of Iraq in the 16th century and held it until after World War I, when the British took control." According to The New York Times Almanac, the British took control of Iraq in 1915, near the beginning of World War I. The website also states that the Sunni population in Iraq composes 20 percent of the total Iraqi population -- the real number is above 30 percent.

But these are merely historical errors. The most egregious mistakes are blatantly political. "Iraq 101" says that the Gulf War of 1991 began "in the skies over Baghdad," completely neglecting to mention that the reason for the war was Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to withdraw. The site also indirectly blames the deaths of 200,000 civilians from disease and starvation following the war on the war itself, not on Saddam's refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions.

The most insidious "fact" is the website's description of United Nations Resolution 1441: "In November 2002, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a new resolution demanding that Iraq allow weapons inspectors into the country. Iraq denies having any weapons of mass destruction, but the United States and Britain are demanding that Iraq disarm completely, or else face military action." Wrong. U.N. Resolution 1441 calls for Saddam's immediate voluntary disarmament, not only the return of weapons inspectors. If Saddam refused to disarm, the United Nations authorized "serious consequences." Oprah's website makes it sound as though the United States and Britain are holding Iraq to a higher standard than that put in place by the United Nations. It's an obvious attempt to paint the "coalition of the willing" as aggressors in violation of international law.

This is 180 degrees from October 2002, when Oprah appeared to push regime change in Iraq. On Oct. 9, 2002, she hosted Kenneth Pollack, the author of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," as well as Entifadh Qanbarid, the president of the Iraqi National Congress. Both of them made extremely compelling cases for invasion, Pollack from a national security angle and Qanbarid from a human rights angle. Oprah also spoke to Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner; Wiesel made an emotional plea for American intervention. After the show, AlterNet, a left-wing publication, ran an article asking if Oprah was a "warmonger."

Oprah's audience is composed mainly of busy soccer moms who simply don't have the time to research political issues. They take Oprah's word as gospel. She portrays herself as all-knowing, all-caring, all-wise -- after all, she's qualified to teach "Iraq 101." Oprah's opinions vacillate as quickly as her weight, and she plays fast and loose with the facts. When she waxes political, her audience should change the channel.