Oprah BONUS: Oprah Gets Political

Oprah BONUS: Oprah Gets Political

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

For more than 10 years after the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah deliberately avoided having politicians on her show, particularly during election seasons. 

But she slowly changed her mind. She invited George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore on the show in the final months of the 2000 election. And she eventually made the surprising decision to campaign for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008. 

In this second bonus episode of Making Oprah, host Jenn White talks to Oprah about the role politics played - and didn’t play - in the history of the Oprah Winfrey show. 

While this interview took place in late August of 2016, we did find a clip of Donald Trump as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show from way back in 1988. 

Hear more from Making Oprah

Interview Highlights

On her initial refusal to interview politicians

I didn’t want to delve into the world of politics because I felt that I’d lost control of any situation where I was seated with a skilled politician. I can’t get them to actually respond because a skilled politician knows how to give the answer they want regardless of what question you ask. That’s the skill. 

And if you’re speaking, they know how to interrupt you and just go right to what they want. And so when you’re dealing with someone who is skilled that way, it’s their game. They’re using you and you’re giving them the platform to be used.

I ended up doing it knowing that I was going to concede the power and allow it to be whatever it was going to be and we would just see what happened.

On Bush and Gore’s appearances in September 2000

George Bush was more comfortable in his own skin. In a way that he could be more of himself sitting in that seat, and that was what everyone is looking for, whether it’s television, or politics or business. 

Who you decide to align yourself with is the person who feels the most like the truth to you. Either you feel it or you don’t. And that’s what the audience is resonating with. They’re resonating with the kind of energy that’s coming from you that feels most like them. And that is what George Bush was able to do.

On her decision to publicly endorse — and campaign for — Obama in 2008

I felt compelled to do it. To be honest with you, because it came from such a pure, instinctive place, I didn’t even think about it in terms of business or viewership or what it would do to the show or how it would affect any of my businesses. 

I did not give it a thought. And because I didn’t give it a thought, I was actually surprised by the backlash I received, because … up until this point, I have never said if I was Republican or Democrat. I was surprised by some of the backlash but worth it to me. Worth it. I wouldn’t change it. 

On why she stayed out of the 2016 election

Throughout this entire election, people always say, ‘Why have you remained silent?’ 

First of all, I haven’t felt that my voice would actually make a difference. I felt that at the time in 2008, my voice made a difference. So at this particular time, I think my voice is just going to be added to the cacophony of all the other voices, and now nobody knows who to even listen to.