Friday, June 5, 2009
"Crazy Talk," reads the cover of this week's Newsweek. "Oprah, Wacky Cures, and You."
Finally, someone willing to take on the cult of Oprah. The article, by Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert, opens:
"In January, Oprah Winfrey invited Suzanne Somers on her show to share her unusual secrets to staying young. Each morning, the 62-year-old actress and self-help author rubs a potent estrogen cream into the skin on her arm. ..."
Then progesterone on her other arm (two weeks a month) and a daily syringe estrogen injection into her vagina, plus 60 daily vitamins and other preparations. According to Newsweek:
"The idea is to use these unregulated 'bio-identical' hormones to restore her levels back to what they were when she was in her 30s, thus fooling her body into thinking she's a younger woman."
In case you're looking for a medical opinion:
"Several times during the show [Oprah] gave physicians an opportunity to dispute what Somers was saying. But it wasn't quite a fair fight. The doctors who raised these concerns were seated down in the audience and had to wait to be called on. Somers sat onstage next to Oprah, who defended her from attack."
Two years ago, I came to the conclusion that Oprah was an unmitigated idiot and a menace to society. "Did Bipolar Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?" ran a website promo back in August 2007 for an upcoming show. "Tune in Monday."
The show started out with a 911 call: Mother Andrea had just confessed to killing her child. In an interview from jail, Andrea was treated to a whole segment, then nearly a whole studio segment was devoted to her friends gossiping about Andrea.
Then Oprah went to the audience where Kay Jamison PhD was seated. In case you're wondering how Oprah finessed this unlikely transition, she didn't. She bluntly introduced Dr Jamison as the leading bipolar expert in the world, as if she herself were the expert at deciding who the experts were. Then she asserted in the form of a question that bipolar was the new term for manic-depression.
You could see the slight hesitation in Dr Jamison. The second edition to her definitive "Manic-Depressive Illness" (with Frederick Goodwin MD) had just come out three or four months before. The subtitle reads: "Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression."
The book goes to elaborate lengths to inform physicians that a good deal of so-called unipolar depression is also part of the manic-depressive phenomenon, with enormous treatment implications.
But Dr Jamison was smart enough not to dispute Oprah. She allowed the misconception to stand. By the time Oprah asked her first substantive question, just about all the time had ticked off the clock. Oprah broke into a commercial, and Dr Jamison was forgotten.
Then came two segments devoted to two C list TV celebs, and one final drive-by wrap-up with Dr Jamison from her seat in the audience.
So that was the world of bipolar according to Oprah. As for my part in the production:
Earlier, a producer from the show had called me, and I was very happy to brief her. But soon it became obvious that all she wanted to know from me was my mad scene. Nearly all of us diagnosed with bipolar I can rattle off juicy mad scenes, but I happen to lead a spectacularly boring life and my mad scene was pathetically lame.
Still, there was enough in my life (and the lives of the rest of us with bipolar) to educate and inspire viewers.
How was I to know Oprah was really looking for a baby-killer?
What the show drove home loud and clear was the power of Oprah. Kay Jamison may or may not be the leading authority on bipolar disorder, but she is certainly by far the best known and the most in demand. Yet Oprah could literally summon Dr Jamison from her crowded schedule in Baltimore to play the role of spear carrier in her sham production.
Not only that, Oprah could get away with not according Dr Jamison the time and respect - much less a place on stage - she gave to her non-expert guests.
As to how Oprah can get away with this: My own book had come out some 10 months earlier. Trust me, I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that I would have skipped my daughter's wedding for 10 seconds on Oprah.
I detailed a lot of this in a blog I did for HealthCentral's BipolarConnect, and looking back I wish I had been far more disapproving. In a later blog that was critical of the way "60 Minutes" covered the tragic death of Rebecca Riley, I did say that Katie Couric was as dumb as Oprah, and I feel good about that.
The Newsweek story devotes six pages to how Oprah gets away with highlighting non-expert guests who promote various quack cures and too-good-to-be-true beauty treatments, not to mention vaccination fear-mongers, while keeping expert dissenters in their place. Unfortunately, the Oprah phenomenon is growing, if such a thing is possible - her own new cable channel is in the offing, which will include Oprah-approved programming on health and living well.
But in the end, the joke may be on Oprah. As the article notes, Oprah became enthralled to some old positive thinking repackaged as "The Secret," to which she devoted three shows. Amongst other things, The Secret advises that "you cannot 'catch' anything unless you think you can." But here she was, reported Newsweek, in the months that followed, "worrying over her thyroid, ingesting bioidentical hormones and putting on pounds."
"What if Oprah had managed to solve all of her problems, to end her search for meaning and fulfillment and spiritual calm and a flatter, firmer stomach by summoning the very power of the universe itself? It might have been hard for her to take Suzanne Somers seriously after that."