by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(May 27, 2008) For the third straight year, the average audience for talk-show maven Oprah Winfrey has shrunk, fueling concerns that her controversial promotion of New Age spirituality and the political backing she lent to Senator Barack Obama may finally be catching up to her.
According to Nielsen Media Research, ratings for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” have fallen nearly seven percent this year.
“Not too long ago, she was like the pope,” said Janice Peck, an associate professor of mass communication at the University fo Colorado, to The New York Times.
Peck, the author of “The Age of Oprah,” a new book on Winfrey’s cultural influence, cited both her political and New Age spiritualism endorsements as potential problems.
“She is endorsing a kind of spirituality that can be offensive to traditional Christians,” Peck said.
Winfrey’s recent endorsement of A New Earth by New Age guru Eckhart Tolle caused the book to outsell any of the previous 60 selections of “Oprah’s Book Club,” but it also attracted a storm of criticism from fans who say the book’s spiritual teachings go against Christian doctrine.
The Message Board for Tolle’s book on the club’s website is peppered with fans quoting Scripture in defense of Christianity, many of them obviously disturbed by the book’s content.
“It does not seem God centered to me,” wrote one fan. “Certainly not the God of the Holy Bible . . .”
“I do not understand how Tolle can quote scripture and that scripture is held up as true,” another fan argued about Tolle’s “cherry picking” of the Bible. “Why are the rest of the scriptures thrown out as untrue?”
Oprah also alienated fans when she endorsed Senator Barack Obama, particularly middle-aged white women who make up the bulk of her television audience, most of whom support Hillary Clinton.
“There are a lot of her fans who are not Democrats or who support Hillary Clinton who feel betrayed,” Peck said.
A Gallup poll conducted in October, shortly after Ms. Winfrey announced her support of Mr. Obama, found that her “favorable” rating fell eight percentage points to 66 percent from 74 percent in January 2007. At the same time, her “unfavorable” mark nearly doubled from 17 to 26 percent.
Tim Bennett, the president of Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, told the Times that all aspects of her business are thriving. He said the audience for her daytime talk show remains roughly one-third larger than the next most popular competitor, “Dr. Phil.”
Any drop in her television ratings can be traced to general weakness in the overall television audience, he said.
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The New Age movement has been making inroads into our culture, particularly through the media, education and even medicine. In “The New Age Movement: A Christian Reflection” experts Clare McGrath Merkle and Fr. Edmund Sylvia, CSC discuss these practices from a Christian perspective.