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The loser in the Kitty vs. Oprah grudge match? You, me, everyone we know

April 13, 2010

The thing to remember in this week’s media tempest — Kitty vs. Oprah — is that Kitty Kelley and Oprah Winfrey, however sincere their differences, are essentially on one side: call it Mt. Celebrity Olympus. And you, an obscure mortal scratching out a living by the sweat of your brow, are on the other.

Kitty and Oprah have more more in common with each other than they’ll ever have with you. Yes, Kitty has dug up some outrageous details Oprah would rather keep hidden (and some of them may even be true!). And no doubt Oprah is gritting her teeth in rage right now, ordering pals like Rachel Ray and Larry King and Barbara Walters to blackball Kitty, as reported in the Baltimore Sun and elsewhere.

But Kitty will sell a few hundred thousand books in hardcover (Oprah: A Biography is currently No. 3 on Amazon’s bestseller rankings–but if you must buy the thing, please go to a local bookstore), and probably a million or three in paperback later on. Oprah, however piqued and embarrassed she may be, will go on with her media empire as one of America’s richest and most popular women.

And you, dear reader, will remain unknown and poor.

Did Oprah call herself a “teen prostitute?” Does Oprah really keep her phone number secret from her own mother? Did Oprah and John Tesh really live together when both were first starting out in Nashvillle (wow, those two in bed: There’s an image I’ll be trying to forget the rest of the day)?

Why do we care? I was going to call this blog post “Leave Oprah Alone!” You know, a clever (heh-heh) reference to Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone!” viral video. But Heather Havrilesky, over at, beat me to it. Difference is, Havrilesky is defending Oprah on the basis of all the good works she’s done.

And Oprah is certainly defensible. But so is Kitty Kelley. For more than 20 years I’ve stood back in grudging admiration of Kelley, a driven and gifted investigative journalist, as she’s produced one scathing and seemingly impossible celebrity expose after another:

Jacqueline Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Reagan, the British Royal Family, the Bush family — she’s written bestselling books airing the dirtiest possible secrets of them all. But while she’s been excoriated (Nancy Sinatra once said, “I hope she gets hit by a truck”), she’s never been successfully sued. She’s still in business.

Kitty Kelley

So I have to admire her talent and persistence as an investigative reporter. But it’s also repulsive. She’s the Marilyn vos Savant of journalism. Why isn’t Vos Savant, the smartest person in the world, curing cancer instead of writing a brain-teaser column for Parade magazine?

Why isn’t Kelley digging up the next Watergate, instead of dirt on passing celebrities?

I’ve never found it necessary to read one of Kelley’s books, and I urge you not to read them, either. Play with your kids. Read a good novel or a “real” nonfiction book. Do just about anything but contribute to this pretend game of celebrity “Gotcha!” It’s not real. None of it is real.

No doubt a lot of you are muttering, “Who does this guy think he is?!” Fair enough. So let’s play: Do you plan to read Kelley’s book? Do you think it shouldn’t have been written? Do you think Oprah needs to be taken down a notch or two?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2010 12:27 pm

    No, No and No. I am boycotting . Hey can this lady be a quest on the Oprah show for her book?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 13, 2010 11:13 pm

      That would be sweet, wouldn’t? And yet I still wouldn’t watch, and I wouldn’t read the book.

  2. John Karwacki permalink
    April 13, 2010 12:28 pm

    “None of it is real.” Great truth in that short sentence. I try not to be envious, although the big O does have a gorgeous mansion on Paradise Island, Bahamas and I’m sure Kitty won’t be begging for change in downtown Lauderdale next week. The sad truth is that we live in a celebrity culture, or lack of, and I cannot turn on a television or read a newspaper without being accosted by which celbrity is screwing around and who are you wearing? Yeech. By the way, I’m wearing Cintas and glad to be employed. Peace, out – love who you are Chauncey cause you are as important as any one any where. What you do is important, so keep doing it.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 13, 2010 11:28 pm

      Aw shucks, John. I think there’s a definite reason Jesus said a) “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20) and b) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24-25). I don’t know where that leaves us middle-class people, but I think we can count on more blessedness than Oprah or Kitty. As for me, I’m wearing Levi’s and a “Taken” t-shirt given away by the Syfy Channel as a promotion.

      • Candice permalink
        April 14, 2010 8:45 am

        Haven’t they now discovered that “Eye of a Needle” was the name of an actual town or city or some type of regional area?

  3. April 13, 2010 1:15 pm

    Couldn’t care less who the big O sleeps with or how sordid her past might be. My past is pretty sordid too. We’re all one moral lapse away from it. Viewed from the distance of a Superfluous Man learning more than he wants to know about a Celebrated Icon, all I really care about is how many authors she rescues from obscurity. Can I be next? Any chance of it?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      April 13, 2010 11:53 pm

      Oprah’s done many admirable things in her celebrated life (and a few not-so-admirable ones, like pumping “The Secret,” or promoting questionable alternative medicine therapies). Her surprise support of books is among the very best, for which she should get many jewels in her crown. What I abominate is celebrity culture, which is to us something like what the gods of Olympus were to the Greeks — only our gods are actually human and not in the least divine. Today I watched part of an old movie musical from the ’50s, Give a Girl a Break, and it made me nostalgic for the days when stars, studios, PR firms and even gossip columnists conspired to make actors and athletes seem like legends….

      As for you and Oprah — write a novel (or better yet, memoir) about an alcoholic with a brutal childhood who finds sobriety through New Age spirituality and alternative medicine.

  4. Candice permalink
    April 14, 2010 8:49 am

    No, Mr. Chauncey Mabe, I shan’t read the book. But not because I despise celebrity culture. I’ve grown used to it, and have even indulged in it myself some, in office coversations and the like. Plus, at least we’re talking about somone besides Tiger Woods now.

    I will not read the book because I am not that interested in Oprah. I appreciate her good deeds, but that’s all. If the book were about someone I had a real interest in, I might would read it.

    So there. I said it.

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 14, 2010 10:10 am

    You’re soooo bad, Candice.

  6. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 14, 2010 10:20 am

    As far as I know “Eye of the Needle” has not been identified as the name of a town or village, but I don’t keep up with developments in biblical archaeology, so I could be wrong about that. Nonetheless, if you read the Gospel accounts where Jesus makes this statement, it’s clear from the context that he means it’s next to impossible for the rich to live spiritual lives — that is, “enter the Kingdom of God.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists have argued for a couple of decades that this verse refers to a gate into Jerusalem so narrow camels could enter only with difficulty, meaning that rich people need to be extra diligent, but, again, the context counters this interpretation, which is only a sop to the rich people in conservative congregations.

    Here you can find three discussions of the matter, if you wish to learn more:

  7. Candice permalink
    April 14, 2010 10:28 am

    Thanks. I’ll take your word for it. No matter the true eye of the needle, the meaning is very obvious.

  8. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    April 14, 2010 10:41 am

    Yeah, I guess so — unless you’re a conservative Christian trying to justify a health-and-wealth gospel

  9. Diana AJ permalink
    April 14, 2010 2:57 pm

    Thanks for writing this, Chauncey. Just want to say, amen. I just passed an enormous display pyramid of this book at a nearby Borders. Would like to laugh through my despair at the way Kitty Kelley portrays herself as a “victim” of Oprah’s blackballing. Simple celebrity swallowing celebrity, like the snake that swallows its own tail.

  10. April 14, 2010 3:53 pm

    Exactly. Chauncey. I want them on the show together to boycott. I will even boycott the news about it. Can you get me on her show..

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