William K. Wolfrum's picture

    Oprah Winfrey kills three, injures 21

    While I find it difficult to dislike Oprah Winfrey overall, her love of pseudoscience has often grated and seemed dangerous. And now, Oprah’s love of pseudoscience has killed three people and left nearly two dozen others needing serious medical help. And that’s a little more serious.

    Self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray had rented the Angel Valley Retreat Center for his five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event that culminated in a sweat lodge ceremony.

    Between 55 and 65 people were in the makeshift sweat lodge over a two-hour period, and authorities said participants were highly encouraged but not forced to remain inside for the entire time. An emergency call reported two people without a pulse and not breathing.

    Twenty-one people were taken to area hospitals with illnesses ranging from dehydration to kidney failure. Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died upon arrival at a hospital. No one else remains hospitalized.

    Sheriff’s investigators in Arizona’s Yavapai County are treating the deaths as homicides but have yet to determine the cause. Autopsy results for Brown and Shore were pending.

    So how is Oprah involved? Well, she has had Ray on her show before, talking about the incredibly insipid “The Secret,” of which Winfrey is a huge fan. In fact, Oprah has long been a big fan of homeopathic or alternative healings, from giving Jenny McCarthy a free platform to scream that vaccinations gave her child autism, to having Dr. Oz himself on to promote random. never-proven nonsense.

    The fact is this: Oprah Winfrey can continue to promote any pseudoscientific fantasy she wishes. But she just killed three people with it. So maybe she needs to think about giving out factual advice  to her millions of fans, rather than "secret" fantasies.


    Crossposted at William K. Wolfrum Chronicles



    Was Winfrey there? No? Was she financially invested in the nuthouse operation? No? Did she force people to join this lunacy? No?

    She's a talk show host. I don't care who she interviews or what she personally believes in; once the guests leave the studio their actions are their own.

    I don't buy into this spirit warrior bullshit personally, but just because a talk show host has invited some nut into his or her show in the past does not make them liable for lackluster health or safety precautions provided (or not provided) by the said nutcase later on in his own business endeavors.

    Granted I'm not very familiar with this site yet, but I was under the impression it was a (at least somewhat) humorous commentary site about politics, media, and current events, and not a fan site for The Onion.

    I imagine that Wolfrum will weigh in here, but you should never read his stuff too literally. Obviously, Oprah has no legal liability in the case, and of course, talk show hosts are not responsible for the behavior of their guests. But Oprah is responsible for promoting homeopathic medicine. One of the ways that she does that is to offer a platform for its practioners. It's comparable to Beck and O'Reilly inviting rabid conspiracists onto their shows; in giving them favorable platforms, they are themselves promoting the conspiracies.

    So Oprah did not "kill" those people, but insofar as she influences people to adopt quack remedies with adverse effects on their health, then she bears some responsibility for those consequences, the kind responsibility that falls under the rubric of "dangerous advice."

    PS I confirm that dagblog is not a fansite for the Onion.

    I judge it the same as I do Glenn Beck or Limbaugh after the right-wing killings a few month back. Did they commit an actual crime? No. Did hyperbolically stating "Glenn Beck kills three cops" be considered making a strong point on the subject? I believe so. Same thing here. Words have meaning. And people trust and admire Oprah and follow her advice. See her book club for proof. And I agree with Cassandra - hopefully Oprah will engage in this discussion.


    "Words have meaning"?  Actually, you've just shown that for you they don't.  I agree with you that Oprah shouldn't promote quackery, but she didn't kill anyone.

    Oprah had this author on to discuss positive thinking.  Positive thinking was not the cause of any death.  And Larry King & the Today show interviewed the same person.  The job of a talk show host is to interview people from all perspectives.

    In related news, the decapitated and dismembered corpse of WKW was found. Authorities, assisted by HARPO, Inc., have ruled his death suicide. No investigation is planned.

    On a more serious note, we'll see just how wide-read dagblog is by whether or not the triumvirate (et al.) get a cease-and-desist letter with respect to this posting… Surprised

    This is the most ridiculous article ever.  You're just as bad as the balloon boy's parents - trying to get blog hits by posting such a thing.  Grow up.

    I wholeheartedly agree. Bad Wolfrum! How dare you cast aspersions on America's greatest heroine. Who's next on your sadistic hitlist? Dr. Phil? Gandhi? I call on law enforcement officials to prosecute William K. Wolfrum (if that's really your name) to the full extent of the law for ridiculous blogging. Actually, forget the cops. Let's put the guy on Oprah and watch her and Jenny McCarthy rip him a new bloghole.

    PS I also agree with the race-guy below. There will no more criticizing of black people on this site, period! Except for Michael Steele.

    I suspect that Frank (AKA race-guy) might be trying to pull an inverse-Poe. With a difficulty level of 3.5, I hope he doesn't hurt himself in the process.

    You sound Racist.

    We cannot hold Oprah responsible for anyone's acts other than her own. While she DID endorse The Secret, she was not responsible for the sweat lodge tragedy. I would, however, like to see her participate in the discussion.

    There are different types of responsibility: criminal, civil, and ethical. Oprah is clearly not criminally responsible, and I'm fairly certain it'd be hard to show she's civilly responsible (i.e., that a civil suit against her would be successfull, even if she weren't able to hire the best lawyers out there). However, I think one could argue that she has an ethical responsibility not to promote treatments that cause harm. If we look at an extreme case (where she probably would be open to a civil suit), if she had advocated drinking anti-freeze as a cure to autism, then that would clearly be a breach of her responsibility. This would hold true even if she thought that it would cure autism, but had failed to do due diligence. A similar, but less obvious, case holds here. However, in this case it's even muddier, because there's at least a remote possibility that these treatments have helped people as well*. To look at an extreme on the other side, seatbelts can (very rarely) result in the death of a person. That does not make them a bad idea. So, I don't see it as being quite as clear as Wolfrum paints it, but neither do I think Wolfrum is completely off-base.

    *Note: As I do not expect anyone to value my medical opinions whatsoever, absolutely no diligance, due, past-due, or otherwise, has been partaken prior to me making this statement.

    Oprah had this guest on to discuss the power of positive thinking.  Positive thinking is not a treatment that causes harm, & even if it were, the job of a talk show host is to interview people from all perspectives.

    And how did she do at that job? Do you think she was sufficiently critical in her interviews? Did she bring up all sides of the issue? Did she adequately present the science, or where it was lacking, behind the theory?

    There's actually quite a bit of science supporting the power of positive thinking.  Read any peer reviewed academic journal & you'll learn that having an internal locus of control is one of the best predictors of success & that negative attitudes cause stress which damages health. 

    There have been studies supporting its benefits and studies showing no statistical significance. I suspect that in many cases it depends on the problem and to what degree other treatments are excluded. For problems that are largely psychologically related, it should be no surprise that positive thinking can help. Here's one study on the problems associated with positive thinking:

    Positive thinking? An unfair burden for cancer patients?

    Again, I won't discount it entirely, but neither should it be considered a silver bullet.

    And Oprah's been very clear that positive thinking is not the silver bullet.  She calls it one tool out of a great many tools.  But Oprah feels it was important to her because growing up an extremely poor illegitimate dark skinned black female who was sexually abused and pregnant at 14, had she not been positive she never would have had the mental strength to get ahead.  This is very difficult to grasp for those of us who were born with every opportunity yet still managed to accomplish nothing.

    Much as I can't stand Oprah's penchant for quackery, an accident in a sweat lodge doesn't really have anything to do with it.  Yes, the retreat was associated with "the Secret" and its attendant charlatans, but engaging in retreats like this is par for the course in the New Age-y Southwest.  A sweat lodge, assuming that it's not constructed by a buffoon, is not lethal in and of itself.  Neither is believing in the power of belief, though it may separate you from your cash.

    Promoting McCarthy is a whole different ball of wax.  Her anti-vaccine insanity is demonstrably false and does harm by persuading the uninformed to opt their kids out of vaccines, damaging herd immunity and putting the most vulnerable children at risk in the process.

    Firstly, sciences like Homeopathy, which had colleges all over North America before Phsycian forced monopoly on health, have nothing to do with this event, Nor does Oprah!! She is not at fault because a person got lost in their brain. And thought they are God and could control people against what in their hearts they know is the difference between right and wrong.

    Perhaps someone should call fraud on you. for writing such a pathitic article to draw readers to your Opinion of Life!!!

    If you had any self respect, you would do the opposite of Mr. Ray!!! And apologise for your ill-mindedness!!! And take this poorly written desperado of a blog post down!!

    I could not have said it better myself.

    Mr. Wolfrum, tear down this blog! (There I go again with the ridicule. Hey, does that count as two Reagan references? If so, how many conservo-points does that earn me, and where can I redeem them?)

    You won't start earning maximum points until you properly refer to him as Ronaldus Magnus.

    Pathitic, Neb.

    Even more upsetting is the fact that senators and congressmen are discussing health care bills with allowances for faith healing and pseudoscience at this very moment:


    Having an implicit approval from Oprah is irresponsible; I agree wholeheartedly. And giving Jenny McCarthy her own show is criminal, as far as I'm concerned. Now what happens if religion and pseudoscience are given a nod by the government? More deaths to come? Call your reps.

    Oprah hasn't given Jenny McCathy her own show & the very few times Jenny McCarthy has ever appeared on Oprah, her views on vaccines were hardly even discussed.  And just because someone appears on Oprah does not make it an implied endorsement.  Oprah's a talk show host, it's her job to interview all kinds of people.  No other talk show host is blamed for every single guest that ever walks on their stage.  Oprah is being attacked because she's an extremely successful black woman.

    Yes, WKW is known for his racism. *rolls eyes*

    Ummmm, she just killed 3 people? Norp. And she should start giving out "factual" advice? Urp.

    What an idiotic article. 

    The same author has also appeared on Larry King & The Today Show so why didn't you title this idiotic blog "Larry King & the Today show kill 3 & injure 21".  Oprah's not responsible for every single controversy every single guest who has ever appeared on her show has ever been involved in.  I know a lot of people resent black woman being as successful as Oprah is, but don't take it this far.  You're disgusting.

    Frank already tried the inverse-Poe, and he was far more succinct about it.

    On the off chance that you're being serious, it has nothing to do with her blackness and everything to do with her following (the majority of whom are white, I believe, if we're keeping score of that kind of thing). They respect her opinion, and often times with good reason. I think she gives often gives good advice. However, because she comes across as endorsing her guests, unless she specifically says otherwise, she has slightly more responsibility than Larry King and the Today Show to do her research. That said, Larry King and the Today Show should also do their research.

    It's very clear when Oprah is endorsing something, she does so very explicitly & with great enthusiasm.  Just because a guest appears on Oprah's shows does not mean she's endorsing them. Over the years she's interviewed everyone from skinheads to Satanic worshippers & she certainly did not endorse them. And even if she does endorse someone's views on one topic, it does not mean she's endorsing every single thing they ever do. And I would argue that Larry King & the Today Show have more responsibility because they're news shows while Oprah's an entertainer.

    I suppose I have a lower opinion of Larry King and The Today Show than you do, because I don't consider them news shows any more than I consider Fox News to be a news network.

    As for it being clear when Oprah's endorsing something, it seemed fairly clear to many here that she was endorsing these alternative treatments, so I suppose I agree with you, but I'm not sure that strengthens your statement.

    Regardless, I'm largely playing devil's advocate, as I don't feel anyways nearly as strongly about this as WKW. I did find it silly that you suggested racism was involved, however. Whether or not she bears any ethical responsibility is completely independent of her race. I hope we can agree on that.

    It was clear that she was endorsing which alternative treatment?  Do you even watch Oprah & have any idea what you're talking about?  And of course people of all races have responsibility, but Oprah is held to a higher standard because people resent seeing a black woman have so much wealth & influence for so long & look for any excuse to bash her.  In general blacks are held to a higher moral standard which is why blacks spend more time in jail for the same crimes whites do.  People can't find anything Oprah does wrong so they try the old guilt by association method by finding fault in any of the tens of thousands of people who have ever appeared on her show & linking those faults to her.  I find it very depressing & very transparent. 

    Do you really think that's what WKW is doing, or are you just projecting? Why don't you try reading some other pieces he has written before jumping to such a ludicriously absurd statement?

    As for me, I'll admit that I don't watch Oprah on a regular basis, but I have enjoyed her pieces on spirituality with Ekhart Tolle et al. None of the regulars at Dagblog (a blogsite with a significantly liberal following) have anything against Oprah's race.

    I’m not saying WKW in particular is motivated by race.  In the individual case it’s hard to know motivation, but in general, there are a lot of people who are turned off by seeing such a black looking black woman make so much money & have so much influence for such a long period of time, so they jump at any excuse to attack Oprah & portray her in the worst possible light & some of those attacks get repeated here, even by people who have no problem with blacks or women.  And it’s possible to love black people when they stay in their place, but then resent them when they become too successful simply because the stratospheric level of success Oprah enjoys is not something we as a society have yet gotten used to.  It threatens what many perceive as the natural order of things & so there are growing pains as we move towards equality. 

    Of course there's truth to what you're saying, but your method of engagement suggested that anyone who criticizes Oprah is doing so because she's black, and that hurts her as much, if not more so, than those "who are turned off by seeing such a black looking black woman make so much money & have so much influence for such a long period of time".

    Just because all men are mammals, it doesn't mean that all mammals are men.

    This is a very scary accusation to make.  Neither Oprah nor safe alternative healing methods killed those people.  We don't know what happened, but obviously it was not good.  Sounds like people were dehydrated and hungry... both are not advised by any good alternative healer.  I'm sure there are many layers to this we will find out about in time.  I'm saddened by your accusation that Oprah or the alternative healing community had something to do with this.  I hope you can find it in your heart to realize this is a rare incident and not a typical outcome of natural methods. 

    Wolfrum is right to judge Oprah for endorsing quackery.  C'mon folks, lighten up.  Of course she didn't literally kill anybody, but a person seen as an authority should not endorse ridiculous "self-help" methods that are at best a placebo-effect and at worse actually dangerous. 

    Let's be fair. It is wrong to call Oprah a murderer.

    But it's totally fair to call what she did manslaughter. So give WKW a break.

    What is the standard for manslaughter? Reckless indifference to human life. And that's all that Oprah did. She is indifferent to scientific truth, and to the dangers that ignoring scientific truth holds when it's medical science being ignored. And she lets gets come on and talk about their alternative medical fantasies without vetting the theories to see if they might be dangerous. I call that reckless. So does the dictionary.

    If you use your talk show to give quacks free time, and they use the air time to tell people that they should stop injecting their insulin, then some of your viewers will believe those quacks and some of those gullible viewers will die.

    If you let people on your talk show to say that giving kids an MMR vaccination will make them autistic, then some people who watch are going to refuse to let their kids get MMR vaccinations and some unvaccinated kids will be, very very ill: maybe fatally so.

    Don't blame Bill. He's only the messenger.

    Actually Oprah was clear to read a statement on her show saying that mainstream science rejects claims that vaccines cause autism so she was not in any way reckless.  And the people who died in the sweat lodge died for reasons totally unrelated to any self-help idea promoted on Oprah so the person being reckless is you.

    1st things 1st. Let's kill Bill. There's lots of perfectly good reasons, and I'm not sure we need to detain ourselves in sorting out which one was particularly heinous.

    That said, what a lot of talking-out-our-arses is going on here today, eh? Oprah responsible? Good God get a grip, people. There're are only about 1001 things in the world which kill people in unhappy ways. Hmmm, lemme see. Oh yeah. BOOZE. A carcinogen. Drunk drivers. Domestic abuse. Now, how many tv talk show hosts have advocated drinking? Made it seem funny, glossy, cool? But OPRAH MUST DIE? WTF has got into you people? What, she advocated dehydrating people and sending them into plastic-wrapped sweat lodges? Jesus.

    And how about fast cars? Guns? How about WARS? You know, we got any of those going? Oh wait. Not medical enough. Well, how about all those pharmaceutical ads, being sold DIRECT TO THE UNEDUCATED CONSUMER. And better yet, based on crap/cheated testing procedures. Anybody supporting that shite, talking to Big Pharma execs could just as easily be nailed for killing people.

    Look, the Oprah thing was WKW throwing a rod. He runs fast, got a top-notch engine. Won the Brazilian Grand Prix. This blog was just a bad day at the track.

    Still, and all. Let's kill him. Mercy's overrated.

    Besides. We can always say Oprah put us up to it.



    Latest Comments