At the Golden Globes this week Oprah Winfrey gave a passionate, moving speech and now speculation is rampant that it was in reality a stump speech. Outlets like The Hill and Politico, to name just two, agreed: It sure sounds like Oprah will throw her hat in the ring and run, most likely as a Democrat, for president.
Whatever one’s feelings are about her beloved show, and as a long-time viewer mine are mixed, a look into public remarks and activities are problematic, to say the least. Like the reality show host we have in the White House now, Winfrey has never held office so we don’t have voting records to help determine if she’d make a good president.
One major area of concern about her, among many, is her obsession with what she and other advocates for privatizing public schools call “education reform.” In a September 2010 episode, she featured the backers of a film by director David Guggenheim, “Waiting For Superman,” which featured Bill Gates, a major funder of the education “reform” movement. “’Today you’re going to learn things that you had no idea were going on in this country in our schools,’ were Oprah’s ominous opening words, and so was the beginning of what turned out to be a two-hour infomercial for the Obama administration’s education reform agenda,” said this piece in Colorlines.
Meanwhile, Winfrey has donated millions to charter school groups through one of her foundations. The Walton family, of Wal-Mart fame, is another big donor to the movement for charter schools — over $1 billion to expand “school choice” it its case — which is a major priority of Republicans and centrist Democrats.
Hey, remember, we’re supposed to be “resisting” Betsy DeVos.
Winfrey produced a six-part series on her own network called, “Blackboard Wars,” which purports to show the “rescue” of John McDonough High, a charter in New Orleans. As Diane Ravitch, a professor at NYU and critic of charters, has written, just a year after the series ran, John McDonough was dissolved and staff members were canned.
See this Washington Post review of “Blackboard Wars” to get an idea of its honesty. “It is appalling to witness grown-ups exploit some of our nation’s most vulnerable young people for ratings and national school reform cred,” the review said. “John Mac supporters in New Orleans recently sent an open letter protesting the series’ caustic and stereotypical portrayals. The noted New Orleans educator, Loyola University’s Andre Perry questioned the show’s impact on the psyche of students and suggested a scholarship might be a better use of Oprah’s resources.”
And if you’re still not sure about “education reformers,” check out Natalie Hopkinson’s 2010 story in The Atlantic, “Why Michelle Rhee’s Education ‘Brand’ Failed in D.C.; A corporate approach to schools clashes with D.C.’s black middle class.”
So now, as we wait to see if Oprah does indeed roll the dice — and let’s face it, she could easily fund her own campaign — we have to face the truth of her past. Bill Kristol tweeting “Oprah, #ImWithHer,” immediately sets off the alarm bells. When it comes to education, let’s not go back to the days of Obama when even liberal Democrats barely challenged his policies that undermined public education or his allegiance to the charter school industry.