Women Angry Over Oprah-Obama Campaign

Criticism of Obama endorsement floods Oprah's web site; Hillary backing sought

ByEmily Friedman

Jan. 22, 2008— -- A month after Oprah hit the campaign trail with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the queen of day time talk is facing heat from her largely female fans who have traditionally agreed with just about anything she has done – from the books she reads to the weight loss plans she tries.

But Oprah's endorsement of Obama is different from the typical seals of approval the host offers on her show, and as early as November 2007 commenters on her site's message boards began unleashing criticism of her endorsement for the black candidate – Obama – rather than the female one – Hillary Clinton.

"I cannot believe that women all over this country are not up in arms over Oprah's backing of Obama," wrote austaz68 on Oprah.com, in a message thread titled "Oprah is a Traitor!!!" "For the first time in history we actually have a host at putting a woman in the white house and Oprah backs the black MAN. She's choosing her race over her gender – hypocrisy [sic] at it's finest!! Oprah – you should be ashamed of yourself!!!!!"

And almost two months later, some are still fuming – sparking a heated debate among Oprah's fiercest critics and now her supporters, anxious to defend the beloved host.

On Jan. 19, wendykwrit posted, "You know, for so long I've felt a connection to Oprah and all that she's done not only for women but the world in general. She was such an idol to me and I truly loved all that she stood for. Since she threw her support behind Barack Obama I felt like she let me down."

"I feel like I lost a friend who I thought identified with me and now I realize she's something she's not," added the poster. "I refuse to even watch the show anymore."

But for every critic of Oprah there seems to be a supporter. One poster called those angry with Oprah's endorsement "ignorant."

"Oprah is a traitor, you say. A traitor to whom?" asked Susanne01 on Jan. 20. "My answer would be a traitor to ignorant women who would blindly vote for Hillary because she is a woman. Grow up and get some education."

Back in November when the first criticisms arose, Oprah issued a statement herself, defending her decision to endorse a politician for the first time.

"I thought long and hard before stepping up and out into this because it feels like I am stepping out of my pew and I know that no matter what you do, you're going to be criticized. So, I weighed it. What is the cost for me doing it? Am I going to lose viewers? I made the decision that I have the right to do it as an American citizen and I am doing this because I feel it is the right thing to do at this time," said Oprah in a statement provided to ABCNEWS.com.

A spokesperson added that the show's Web site is meant to be an "open forum" for viewers to share their opinions.

"I don't see any evidence of an Oprah effect," said Diana Owen, an associate professor of political science and the chair of the American studies department at Georgetown University. "We don't have any data [to show her endorsement has had an effect on voters]. The race is so up for grabs."

The first face-off between Obama and Clinton was in Iowa, and while he did succeed with female voters in the Iowa Caucuses – receiving 35 percent to Clinton's 30 percent – Owens adds there is no way to be sure Oprah's campaigning could take credit for the win.

Her effect is equally unclear in both New Hampshire where Clinton garnered 46 percent of the female vote to Obama's 34 and in Nevada where more than 50 percent of the females preferred Clinton, according to ABC News polls and analysis.

And as for Oprah's numbers in terms of ratings, Owens suspects that not much has changed.

"[Her endorsement] certainly doesn't seem to have diminished her popularity in terms of the show, it's still up there in the ratings," said Owens. "The backlash is probably a small percentage of her fans."

A call to Oprah's publicist for ratings information was not immediately returned.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women, told ABCNEWS.com that she was familiar with the negative feedback Oprah had received following her endorsement, and isn't convinced the harsh criticism was merited.

A candidate's race or gender should not be a factor in an election – the issues they stand for and support should be, said Gandy.

"[The postings] are not a fair characterization of Oprah," said Gandy. "There are other reasons she chose Obama than his race – we all choose candidates because they embody our hopes for the future."

NOW has endorsed Clinton for president, but Gandy told ABCNEWS.com that in the past the organization has chosen male candidates over female candidates, resulting in an outcry similar to the one Oprah is facing.

"We got a lot of grief from women saying, 'How could you did this' and 'how could you endorse a man over a woman,'" said Gandy. "But we endorse the candidate that we think will be the strongest for women."

Had Obama demonstrated greater leadership and commitment to women's issues during his career, said Gandy, NOW would have had no hesitation in endorsing him over Clinton.

With Super Tuesday just around the corner, when 22 states hold primaries on Feb. 5, how women will vote will matter to each and every presidential candidate. It's unlikely, though, that Oprah's own political agenda will have much effect on the results, said Sid Milkis, a White Burkett Miller professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

"Traditionally celebrities haven't had that much impact on campaigns," said Milkis. "Obama doesn't need help getting large crowds either, he's a celebrity in his own right and if there's been any criticism of him it's been to do with his lack of experience [not his friendship with Oprah]."

In fact, rather than hurt the way females turn out to vote for Obama, Oprah's political agenda may only hurt her own franchise, says Milkis.

"Anyone who can make a best seller out of Anna Karenina has tremendous appeal," said Milkis. "This is the first time she's taken a political position and she needs to explain why she felt compelled.

"Sometimes when you go political like this it goes sour," added Milkis.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events