Starting tomorrow: OPRAH AND TOWN!

MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2021

Explosive bombshells versus performative gossip: Yesterday morning, on CNN's Reliable Source, the Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik expressed a conventional view.

Brian Stelter had introduced his guest as "the one and only David Zurawik, the media critic for the Baltimore Sun." We've done some local radio shows with the gent. 

For the record, conventional views are sometimes perfectly reasonable! Rightly or wrongly, here's what Zurawik said, speaking with Brian Stelter:

STELTER (3/14/21): It was the interview of the year, and the fallout has only just begun from Meghan Markle's charges about the palace to Piers Morgan's departure from ITV. This conversation continues in the U.K. and beyond...

Twenty-one million viewers in the U.S., at least 60 million viewers around the world. Zurawik, your review of Oprah's questions, as well as the answers.

ZURAWIK: They were great questions. Oprah is absolutely, remains the queen of T.V. interviews. It's awesome. I've been covering her for years, and I forgot how great she is at this. 

She introduced race into this conversation. And that's what made it so profound, because she got to one of the great fault lines, one of the great points of confrontation in our society, and she created an atmosphere where they could talk about it.

Stelter called it "the interview of the year." Zurawik said it was awesome, profound.

This has become a conventional view within the mainstream press. As we noted a week ago, the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan offered this instant assessment of Oprah's performance, gushing headline included:

SULLIVAN (3/9/21): Oprah proved she is greatest celebrity interviewer of all time. All journalists can learn from her.

Gayle King used the word “perfection” to describe the royal interview heard round the world Sunday night.

Since she’s one of Oprah Winfrey’s best friends, her over-the-top praise on “CBS This Morning” may have come off as less than an objective analysis.

But she got it right.

And many of the 17 million who found themselves riveted by this royal Super Bowl, as Harry and Meghan spilled enough tea to fill up the Atlantic Ocean, would have had to agree. 

Oprah's best friend got it right. Many viewers would have to agree.

The Washington Post's media columnist spilled with praise for Oprah's performance. But so had two hard-nosed scholars:

SULLIVAN (continuing directly): With her relentless follow-up questions, compassionate demeanor and focused skill in eliciting bombshell after bombshell, Oprah proved herself the best celebrity interviewer ever. This may not have been much in dispute, after her interviews with Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama, among many others.

This, still, was clearly one of the biggest interviews of her life. Fully prepared for it, she delivered.

I was entertained by the admiring Twitter exchange Sunday night between two hard-nosed New York City journalism professors who are normally highly critical of the mainstream media.

“That was the best interview I have ever watched,” wrote New York University’s Jay Rosen.

“Great, but not quite Frost/Nixon level for me,” responded Bill Grueskin of Columbia University.

But David Frost’s televised grilling of the disgraced former president was back in 1977, so by this reckoning the royal interview might have been the best televised sit-down in the past four decades.

Thanks to her skill and her compassion, Oprah had elicited "bombshell after bombshell." She had proved herself to be "the best celebrity interviewer ever."

For herself, Sullivan had been entertained by the exchange between the two hard-nosed professors. By their lights, it may have been the best televised sit-down in the past forty-four years!

Yesterday morning, Stelter and Zurawik signed on to this general assessment. It has become a fairly standard view, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong.

For that reason, it was shocking when we read a letter the Washington Post chose to publish this past Sunday morning. The letter came from a surly fellow who said this view was all wrong. Hard-copy heading included:

A softball interview

In her March 9 Style column, “Lasting impressions from a royal exposé—Winfrey’s masterful interview of Meghan,” Margaret Sullivan discussed Oprah Winfrey’s interview and stated that journalists could learn a lesson from her. The lesson may not be what Ms. Sullivan intended. 

I watched all two hours of Ms. Winfrey’s interview of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and came away feeling as though I saw only half the interview. Ms. Winfrey did a good job of getting Meghan to convey her sincere story of her hardships as a royal and her struggles with suicidal thoughts, but I left feeling all the questions weren’t asked. 

I’ve read for nearly two years of the duchess’s disputes with staff that led to resignations and charges of bullying. No questions about this topic were asked. Meghan has worn diamonds from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder without disclosing their provenance. Harry was not asked why he didn’t prepare Meghan for the microscopic life as a royal, especially as he mentioned how damaging it was to his mother, Princess Diana. All this could have been disclosed at the end when Ms. Winfrey disclosed her close work with Harry. A journalist needs to learn to be skeptical toward an interviewee, especially when only one source is used. Ms. Winfrey needs to learn journalism, not teach it.

A journalist needs to learn to be skeptical? That's especially true when only one source is used? 

Was this meant as a form of comic relief? This writer said Oprah was pitching softballs. Where do they find these guys?

This letter writer disagreed with the standard assessment. Days earlier, if only by inference, so had a reader of the New York Times. He had written from Mappowder, England to spout his contrarian views.

Was Oprah's performance the greatest in decades? Or had she been lobbing softballs? We can't necessarily answer your question. Like hundreds of millions of other Americans, we hadn't bothered to watch.

That said, we've been fascinated by pundit reaction to the "royal / celebrity interview." As a people, we may have a lot to learn from what transpired that night and in the days which followed.

According to Sullivan, Oprah proved herself to be "the best celebrity interviewer ever" with her performance that night. An awkward bit of ambiguity may infest that designation:

After all, it isn't just Meghan and Harry! Oprah's a giant celebrity too—even a bit of an American royal! Did  Sullivan mean that Oprah's the best at interviewing such people? Or did she mean that Oprah's the best celebrity journo we have?

It has become the standard view—Oprah hit it out of the park that night. But as we've followed the subsequent commentary, we've been struck by how much information Oprah failed to elicit or clarify in the course of her marathon turn.

As for the the punditry itself, it has routinely struck us as embarrassing—as an indictment of the massively bougie, upper-end press corps culture which prevails in Our Town.. 

That culture is in love with celebrity. It's even in love with royals.

That culture's in love with performative virtue, but also with gossip. It traffics in instant (shaped) paraphrase. It doesn't care much about quotes.

We've reviewed small snippets of Orpah's work that night. We haven't found it impressive.

We thought the Post's letter made some good points. All week long, we'll examine this question:

Did Oprah elicit "bombshell after bombshell" that night—"explosive" bombshells at that?  Or did she give us what we love most—a chance for performative gossip?

Tomorrow: Just as it ever was, widespread explosive agreement 


25 comments:

  1. Somerby writes all of this as if he weren't aware that the right has now decided that Oprah is part of a conspiracy, with Obama, to influence the George Floyd trial and set up Markle to run for the presidency in 2024.

    As if the Q theories weren't bizarre enough, now conservatives are pushing the idea that Markle kept her American citizenship in order to enter politics, aided by Oprah as kingmaker, and this praise of Oprah is all part of that plot.

    Oprah being "performative" is kind of the opposite of this latest conspiracy theory, being pushed by the right. But attacking Oprah is right in step with the right's agenda.

    https://nomoremister.blogspot.com/2021/03/your-right-wing-relatives-think-meghan.html

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  2. Oprah created her empire and built her career on her interviews, which at the time were different than those of other journalists. In this one, she focuses on the emotional issues at the heart of the rift between this couple and the royal family. People respond to Oprah because she doesn't let her subjects hide behind prepared statements and empty phrases.

    Somerby pretends that Oprah is just another interviewer being overhyped by the media because that is its narrative, but Oprah made a huge financial success of herself because of her interview shows, back when there could be no narrative because no one knew who she was (or cared). She deserves every word of the hype, in my opinion, because her interviewing skill is also measured by what she has become, a huge media figure with a great deal of influence.

    I get it that Oprah is both black and female, two characteristics that are guaranteed to put someone on Somerby's shit list. I also get it that Somerby pretends to have no interest in the things that interest all other human beings on this planet -- things like relationships and emotions. However, Oprah attracted a great deal of attention by delivering interesting content, and that means she did an excellent job, no matter what Somerby thinks. Maddow does much the same and Somerby trashes her too, so this isn't actually about succeeding as a journalist, but about Somerby's intolerance for women who get ahead in life. As Markle has done too.

    Poor Somerby, shown up by black women. And he has nowhere to complain except on this shitty blog.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "We've reviewed small snippets of Orpah's work that night. We haven't found it impressive."

    Is this how Somerby thinks one should evaluate an interviewer? By watching small snippets? That explains a lot about how Somerby can get this so wrong.

    I always review movies by watching random snippets. Who cares about how the actors have built their performance, who cares about plot? If that movie cannot make an impression in small snippets, it must be shit.

    But Somerby must be a glorious media critic if he can know enough about Oprah's skill from those small snippets, enough to devote a whole column to claiming that the media is overhyping her skill. Somerby is a ridiculous clown.

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  4. Does Somerby think that Meghan was being rejected by the tabloid press in Great Britain because she wasn't a good actress? Of course this is about race. And it is about the failure of the royal family to rally around her.

    It seems to me that Somerby is blaming the messenger. He doesn't like to hear about racism, so he blames Oprah for being a bad interviewer and the media for saying she did a good job.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Gradually, our love was eroded by her public actions, such as her inappropriate dress and behavior at Wimbledon, and, during a recession, spending millions of taxpayers’ money on refurbishing a perfectly acceptable home..."

    It sounds more like the British public used actions that other royals have done without question in order to blame Markle (not Harry) and trash her in the press. Maybe these complaints sound legitimate to someone British, but they sound manufactured to me.

    Racism occurs when something that a white person would be permitted to do is attacked when a black person does it. That sounds like the situation to me.

    Somerby uses this ONE (1) letter to discredit Markle's claim of racism and Oprah's "bombshell", as if Markle could not tell what is racist after having been African American her whole life.

    https://www.hellomagazine.com/homes/2019062574592/royal-renovation-costs-compared-meghan-markle-kate-middleton/

    Harry and Meghan turned a 5-apartment building into a residence and offices for 2.4 million. In contrast, William and Kate's renovations cost 4.5 million, from the same public grant to cover royal housing. This is what royals do when they set up housekeeping. It is apparently fine when Kate and William do it, but not OK for Meghan.

    Somerby could have looked this up himself, but instead he latches onto this letter to show that the British don't like Meghan for legitimate reasons and not racism. Somerby is an ass.

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  6. That so-called digging that Somerby thinks Oprah should have done, to avoid asking "softball" questions, implies that the attacks on Meghan have been legitimate, have some basis that needs to be explored.

    If you instead accept that the attacks may have been racially motivated, then asking those same questions would have joined in on the racially motivated hostility, legitimized the complaints, and been traumatizing to Meghan.

    This is similar to Somerby's complaint last week, that no one checked to see whether Sellers' black student were always at the bottom of her class. It is like asking someone black "Are you actually stupid and lazy, like people say?"

    Because Somerby is unwilling to accept the existence of racism in these attacks on Meghan Markle, he instead seeks to show that the complaints against her are justified and he thinks Oprah should have followed that line (as the letter writer demands) and asked hard-nosed questions that prove her unfitness to have married a royal (as if there were some test beyond the couple's own choice of each other).

    This is why Somerby is coming across as a bigot. His demand for harder questions may seem reasonable, but the motive is not, nor is the effect kind on Harry & Meghan. Had Oprah asked such questions, they would certainly have become defensive and shut down and the interview would have bombed. Oprah knows that, even if Somerby does not.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Harry was not asked why he didn’t prepare Meghan for the microscopic life as a royal, especially as he mentioned how damaging it was to his mother, Princess Diana."

    Has it occurred to Somerby that Harry may not have endured the "microscopic life" because the public liked him?

    Has Harry made the connection between Markle's treatment and his mother's only now, after he has seen what she has been subjected to? If he did know, did he perhaps not realize on a personal level how difficult it was to go through that?

    Do we know whether Markle herself was told the provenance of the diamonds?

    Do we automatically assume that Markle's problems with staff resulted from her "bullying" or could it have been the reluctance of racist staff to serve a woman they considered unfit to be royal or inferior to her station? Do we automatically take the side of the dismissed, perhaps bitter staff on this, as Somerby and the letter writer both seem more than ready to do?

    Again, you have to consider these to be legitimate complaints against Markle to suppose that her behavior and not racism was to blame for her treatment. I don't buy it.

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  8. Unfortunately we have nothing to say here, dear Bob, because we don't know -- nor have we ever known -- anyone who would give a shit about Oprah and her interviews.

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    Replies
    1. Not Establishment enough, or too black for you, Mao?

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  9. Could the answer be a matter of geography?

    An initial outbreak of a similar virus less potent than the one to come. A less deadly version that conferred immunity.

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    1. A Kiwi colleague used to say that New Zealand is always Great Britain 50 years ago. So, 49 years from now they'll have it.

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    3. You should look up immigration requirements there before going. They most likely won't take you.

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