Oprah defends her 'experts' accused of talking nonsense

Controversy rages over dubious medical advice dispensed on show watched by tens of millions

Today on the Oprah Winfrey show: balderdash, superstition and a dose of iffy medical advice from some New Age healthcare "gurus" who certainly haven't been recommended by your doctor.

The world's most influential chat show host has been thrust to the centre of a heated debate, following allegations that she has abused her legendary influence to help peddle alternative treatments that are ineffective, expensive and dangerous.

Ms Winfrey, below, whose advice on fashion, literature and pretty much everything else is treated like gospel by tens of millions of Americans, was last week forced to speak out against criticism of the doctors and health "experts" who preach from her billion-dollar sofa.

In a lengthy cover story headlined "Crazy talk: Oprah, wacky cures, and you", Newsweek dissected the credentials of Winfrey's favourite talking heads, accusing her of failing to differentiate between bona fide medical professionals and opinionated imposters who simply "gush nonsense." The 6,000 word article claimed guests have offered questionable endorsements of ineffective new plastic surgery techniques, unproven hormone therapies and dangerous cancer "cures".

Among those named was the actress Suzanne Somers, 62, who in January was allowed to sing the praises of the 60 different dietary supplements, together with various "bioidentical hormones", she takes each day to fight ageing. Most have no proven benefits. Also mentioned was Jenny McCarthy, the actress and partner of Jim Carrey, who used a recent appearance on the programme to claim that the MMR vaccine had caused her son's autism. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that there is no such link, McCarthy's comments passed "virtually unchallenged", Newsweek's article said.

Most bizarrely of all, Winfrey allowed a physician called Christiane Northrup to claim – in contradiction to almost all scientific evidence – that "in many women, thyroid dysfunction develops because of an energy blockage in the throat region [after] a lifetime of 'swallowing' words one is aching to say".

On Thursday, amid mounting controversy, Winfrey issued a statement to the TV show Entertainment Tonight. It failed to address any of Newsweek's individual concerns, but instead claimed her audience was educated enough to make their own decisions about healthcare. "For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors' medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and healthcare providers," it read. "I trust viewers, and know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them."

That line of argument is unlikely to cut much ice with scientific experts, though. Winfrey's personal "brand" relies firmly on her ability to inspire trust and tap into the hearts, minds and wallets of Middle America. "It's about time one of the big media players pointed out that she has been promoting fake therapies," said P Z Myers, a prominent scientific commentator and associate professor at the University of Minnesota. Despite Winfrey's "message of positive self-esteem for women", he described the theories some of her guests have advanced as "credulous glop".

The controversy comes at an unwelcome time for Winfrey, whose business empire has suffered during the recent financial downturn. The circulation of her magazine, O, has fallen by around 10 per cent, while her afternoon TV show is currently drawing just over six million viewers, down from more than nine million in 2004. Although her Chicago-based business, Harpo, remains highly profitable (she made an estimated $275m last year) some commentators wonder whether, at 55, Winfrey can carry on for ever.

In a further sign of the times, Forbes magazine last week announced that, for the first time in recent years, it had dethroned Winfrey from the number-one spot on its "Power List" of the world's most influential celebrities, in favour of Angelina Jolie. "Oprah is still our biggest earner, but when it comes to fame, Angelina Jolie is hands down the most famous woman on the planet," said Macey Rose, a senior editor at the title.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album