I blogged about all this way back in December 2014, but in light of all the Oprah for President talk, it’s worth repeating what I said back then.
It’s hard to think of a more disastrous decision for America than the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein, which cost America an incalculable amount of blood, treasure, security, and political capital, and continues to wreak havoc today, so those who had the intellect, courage, and integrity to oppose the war before it began deserve a large amount of credit, particularly if they did so publicly; and it’s hard to think of anyone who did so more publicly than Oprah, who did so repeatedly.
Of course Oprah was not publicly opposed to the Iraq war from the start. After being bombarded with hate mail for doing a 2001 show asking whether war with Afghanistan was the only answer, she was not eager to appear anti-war when it came to Iraq too. Indeed in October 2002 she did an Iraq show that was largely pro-war, and where Oprah was dismissive of an anti-war audience member.
Professor Daphne Read explained that in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, The Oprah Winfrey Show, like all mainstream media, “was very closely tied to the Bush administration’s response and the media rhetoric of America Under Attack,…however, the content of Winfrey’s forum began to diverge from the purely consensual, giving voice to a much wider range of views”
By November 2002, Oprah had jumped off the media’s pro-war bandwagon. In his book Dude where’s my country? anti-war advocate Michael Moore praised her for being the only mainstream media at the time to show footage of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam Hussein’s hand in the 1980s.
However the most significant anti-war show Oprah would do was a two-day special that aired the day after Colin Powell’s pivotal February 2003 U.N. speech making the case for war, which was credited with shifting public opinion in favor of regime change. Winfrey recruited reporters from CNN to gather clips from people from countries as diverse as Britain, France, South Africa, Iraq, and Pakistan all trying to persuade America not to go to war, along with anti-war luminaries like Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II. Here’s some brief clips from that show.
Buzzflash.com claimed there was a deliberate attempt to stop the show from airing in some markets:
Bush pre-empted Oprah for no reason other than to stop her broadcast regarding Iraq and insert his own propaganda!…In the middle of the show a “Special News Report” notice came up, then Peter Jennings announced Bush would be making a MAJOR announcement on Iraq. Then Bush and Powell came in and Bush summarized what Powell had said yesterday at the UN. He spent about 20 minutes in all…The Administration would have known the content and timing of today’s show because it is broadcast live and/or in the morning in many markets such as Oprah’s home base in Chicago. This was in such bad form I couldn’t believe it! I called Harpo Studios in Chicago to let them know and they said they had received a lot of phone calls. I said Oprah should tell her audience what happened and that I thought Bush was purposely interfering with her show. They commented they didn’t know what the reason was and in any case there was no way to prove anything
Academics for Justice made the same assertion:
Today, Oprah Winfrey started a two-part series focusing on the impending U.S. war on Iraq. About halfway through the show the broadcast was pre-empted by coverage of Pres. George Bush, with Colin Powell at his side, reading a prepared statement on Iraq. The coincidental timing of this pre-emptive press statement raised immediate questions about the motives of the White House war strategists. Students of the Civil Rights Movement will recall an incident in 1964 when activist Fannie Lou Hamer sat before a live television audience and gave a riveting account of the oppression she and other Blacks faced in the South. President Lyndon Johnson was so convinced of the power of her appeal to undermine his own political/racial agenda, that he hastily called a press conference to pull cameras away from Hamer’s impassioned revelations…The pre-emption of Winfrey’s show today should be seen in the same light. Oprah’s audience is a vast and powerful—but largely apolitical—force of middle-class white women. It is likely that most did not watch Colin Powell’s live testimony at the U.N. yesterday. In fact, it is likely that this huge audience was being oriented to the issues of the Iraq war for the first time…The first 30 minutes of the show was decidedly anti-war and highlighted not only worldwide unanimity in opposition to the war but presented many of the heretofore unheard voices of ordinary people speaking forcefully against Bush’s motives
Undeterred by the alleged attempt to stop part of her February 2003 anti-war shows from airing, Oprah made one last ditch attempt to stop the war in March 2003. Just 48 hours before the war the began, Oprah aired an anti-war show that included Michael Moore and the following shocking video:
Shortly after the show aired, Harvard Law grad Ben Shapiro condemned the show, calling Oprah a dangerously powerful political force, shaping the views of millions with her ignorant views and wacky reasoning. In fairness, Shapiro was really young at the time. However Canada’s most respected media critic, John Doyle of the Globe and Mail, praised the show as “an act of extraordinary intelligence from Oprah.”
At a time when the consensus in American television is that everybody should pull together and support the men and women in the U.S. military, what Oprah Winfrey did was outright subversion. In the last week, Clear Channel, Worldwide Inc., America’s largest radio conglomerate (and a company looking for a break from the U.S. government), has been organizing pro-Bush and pro-war rallies and then reporting on them. A Nashville TV station has been charging local advertisers to take part in an on-air, support the military campaign and gloating about the profits. That’s just the tip of it…In normal circumstances, the perspectives [Oprah] presented would not be notable, but in the contemporary context, they were amazing.
The decision to invade or not invade Iraq was arguably the most important test of the courage, integrity, and intelligence, that America’s leadership has faced in the last half century, and the fact that Oprah passed this test speaks very well of her qualifications to be President.