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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape