Texans refuse to beef about Oprah's slur
Sunday 01 February 1998
That, at any rate, is the view of the cattle ranchers of Texas, who claim an off-hand remark Ms Winfrey made during one of her morning shows, vastly popular among housewives, sent the value of beef crashing. Learning about Mad Cow disease, she declared, "just stopped me cold from eating another burger". The next day the price of cattle futures in Chicago fell by 10 per cent.
The ranchers, claiming the second incident was connected to the first, are suing Ms Winfrey under the terms of a Food Defamation Law recently introduced in Texas. According to this law it is possible to libel an orange, a fish, and a piece of meat.
The trial, which got under way last week, is taking place in Amarillo, a town which might be described as the cattle capital of America. One third of the beef consumed in the United States once grazed in the surrounding Texan flatlands.
The people of Amarillo don't seem to harbour any hard feelings towards Oprah. Her decision to move her show, complete with 200-plus production staff, to the dusty, sun-bleached town has been greeted by most of the God-fearing locals as, if not quite the Second Coming, certainly the next best thing.
At the first recording of the show in Amarillo 12 days ago her appearance on stage prompted an ovation from the local studio audience that lasted one and a half minutes. As she arrives in court in the mornings and leaves in the afternoons crowds line the streets, cheering her wildly. "It's really unusual," Ms Winfrey told a horde of attendant reporters. "After all, I'm on trial. And people want to party."
Ms Winfrey was being disingenuous. For the people of Amarillo to have welcomed her so effusively was no less of a surprise than the ecstatic behaviour of the people of La Crosse, Wisconsin, last Wednesday when President Bill Clinton breezed into town. The thoughtlessness of one may have done harm to a local economy; the recklessness of the other may have done harm to the entire country. But America is a place where all judgement, all reason, all prejudice, even, is suspended when a celebrity looms into view.
Racially torn as Mr Clinton proclaims America to be, the fact of Ms Winfrey's black skin has not prevented her from ascending the Mount Olympus of the television age. According to Fortune magazine, she is the highest paid entertainer in the world, with personal assets worth $414m (pounds 245m).
But she is far more than an entertainer. By addressing herself five days a week to the domestic, economic, amorous, dietary issues that affect ordinary people - especially women - she has become America's counsellor- cum-psychotherapist in chief.
As for her power, it is impossible to quantify, save to note that the books, records, physical fitness programmes she recommends on her show have a habit of recording an instant quantum leap in sales.
The logic of the Texan ranchers' law suit is that, on account of the very same herd mentality, the commodities she criticises on her show are susceptible to a no less dramatic slump.
Ms Winfrey has not testified yet. But what she has heard in court has been the ranchers' lawyers claiming that there's "not a snowball's chance in hell" of BSE catching on in the US and that, accordingly, remarks which throw doubt on the safety of America's favourite dish could be described as defamatory.
The defence is arguing that the ranchers' suit is null and void because it rests on the contention that Ms Winfrey is obliged to suspend her constitutional right to free speech. "Are you not trying to silence the most powerful voice in America?" one of Ms Winfrey's attorneys asked a witness for the ranchers.
Public opinion in Amarillo and beyond is on Ms Winfrey's side. Bumper stickers proclaiming "Amarillo loves Oprah" were doing a roaring trade last week. Another bumper sticker declared, "the Only Mad Cow in America is Oprah". But few were buying it. In part because Winfrey is so popular but also, perhaps, in part because, in the light of developments in Washington, not even the ranchers believe it any more.
Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download
Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist
Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Five reasons Salmond is secretly hoping for a 'No' vote
- 3 Isis plan to 'behead random member of the public' in Sydney thwarted by Australian police
- 4 Scottish independence: Andy Murray backs Yes campaign in eleventh hour decision
- 5 Have you heard about the film Singapore has banned its people from watching? Well, you have now
Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
Scottish independence referendum live: Latest news as Scotland decides Yes or No
Scottish independence: Final opinion polls show undecided voters could swing result either way
Scottish independence: Almost half of No voters have felt 'personally threatened' by the Yes campaign
Isis plan to 'behead random member of the public' in Sydney thwarted by Australian police
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...
£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...
£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...
£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...