Oprah's Long History Of Sketchy "Experts" And Endorsements


With the news that Dr. Melvin Levine—who appeared on Oprah repeatedly over the course of several years as a childhood education expert—committed suicide on Friday, the same day that 40 of his former patients filed a medical malpractice and sexual abuse suit against him, it raises the question of whether O is doing enough vetting of the authors and experts to whom she chooses to lend her credibility.

The number of recent scandals that have emerged — and we’re talking about scandals that go beyond Dr. Phil not being a “real doctor,” or Rachael Ray not having any formal culinary training, or her own falling-out with Iyanla Vanzant, or even the whole James Frey debacle — is troubling. Seeing as how Oprah’s most successful “product” these days is cultivating and grooming personalities into credible and trusted sources, a great deal of responsibility comes with that task.

Charges of pedophilia first emerged against Dr. Levine, who was the Professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill, in 2008. His most recent appearance on Oprah was in 2006. Carmen Durso, the attorney representing the Levine’s former patients, had approached the show to discuss Levine, but Oprah wanted nothing to do with topic. In fact, aside from one article in 2006, her entire website has basically been scrubbed clean of Levine and his former contributions to her show. In the clip on the left, Dr. Levine is interviewed by Katie Couric on Today about his book Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, and for someone who had sat on Oprah’s stage numerous times before, he seems completely uncomfortable and shifty-eyed.

Perhaps the most egregious and devastating incident for Oprah was the physical and sexual abuse allegations at her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. Less than a year after the school opened in 2007, 27-year-old dorm matron Tiny Virginia Makopo had been arrested after seven girls came forward, alleging abuse. Oprah, who is very open about being a sexual abuse survivor, took aggressive action at the school, cleaning house of staff, starting with a headmistress. In October 2010, Makopo was found not guilty. Oprah found the verdict disappointing.

Although he only appeared on one episode of Oprah in 2003, Dr. Jan Adams was a featured expert during a show focused completely on plastic surgery. This is the same doctor who operated on Donda West, Kanye’s mom, just before her death from complications in 2007. After he became famous for that—and for storming off the set of Larry King Live—TMZ dug into his past and learned that he had multiple DUI and malpractice lawsuits (both before and after his Oprah appearance) and wasn’t even a board-certified plastic surgeon. When made aware of this, Oprah’s team removed all mention of him from her website. After another arrest in 2008 for DUI, Dr. Adams surrendered his California medical license in 2009.

Possibly most ridiculed of all of Oprah’s endorsements was her enthusiasm about The Secret in 2006. She spent so much time talking about both the film and the book—which essentially encourages people to wish for things that they want to happen—on her own show as well as others’ (like this clip from Larry King Live). While the ethos of Rhonda Byrne‘s self-help empire has been mocked by many who think its methods are not unlike those of Scientology’s, there is some serious criticism, like from Barbara Ehrenreich who points to The Secret‘s victim-blaming: Byrne once implied that the 2004 tsunami could have been avoided, like many natural disasters which strike those “on the same frequency of the event.” Given that Oprah’s design experts Nate Berkus survived that tsunami while vacationing in Sri Lanka, but his partner did not, seems to present a conflict of interest. Does Nate have bad energy? Or is Rhonda Byrne a kook?

In her long and constant battle with her weight, Oprah thought that she’d finally found the answer with her trainer Bob Greene, turning him into her fitness guru on the show. The pair authored two diet and wellness books together, and she helped him launch The Best Life diet, for which Oprah went above and beyond her normal promotional duties for her other experts. But then she went and put on 40 lbs. Instead of admitting that perhaps Bob Greene’s methods weren’t working or weren’t realistic, Oprah took the dive, blaming herself for her weight gain. Bob Greene went on to get a promotional deal with McDonald’s.

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