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Chapter 1: A Woman of InfluenceEveryone Listens to Oprah
It is said that the United States has become the most influential country in the history of the world because of this nation's ability to communicate our popular culture. When Athens, Rome, and Victorian England were at their zenith, there were no televisions, videocassettes, or World Wide Webs to spread their values to every village. Yet it is neither our elected representatives nor our technological geniuses who are doing the most communicating. President Bill Clinton may have political power; Microsoft founder Bill Gates may have economic influence; but Oprah Winfrey spends more time on television both listening and talking to both ordinary and extraordinary people, and that gives her a larger audience than either the world's top political leader or its dominant industrialists.
Writer Fran Lebowitz says "Oprah is probably the greatest media influence on the adult population. She is almost a religion."
Oprah's community spills over borders:
"Every Euro-citizen can now watch Oprah Winfrey on his own national channel, dubbed or subtitled in his own language. There are no local equivalents, in spite of the limits that Europe imposed in 1991 on the import of American programs."
Oprah Winfrey persuaded people to listen to her from an early age. She began reciting and performing at church and community events at age three. She could read and write before she entered kindergarten. After a brief but boring time in kindergarten, she sent her teacher a note: "Dear Miss New: I do not think I belong here." Miss New got the message and immediately advanced Oprah to first grade.
Airline travelers once chose Oprah Winfrey as the person they'd most like to be seated with on a long flight. If they couldn't sit next to Oprah, they'd settle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ross Perot, Connie Chung, President Clinton, David Letterman, Dan Rather, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madonna, or Boris Yeltsin.
"When Ellen said 'Yep! I'm gay,'" wrote Mark Steyn in The National Review, "Oprah was by her side, guesting as (what else?) the star's therapist. She is, of course, therapist to an entire nation. If only it weren't so hard for the rest of us to get an appointment."
Before she signed the contract to continue doing her show until the year 2000, Oprah thought long and hard. She had been in the talk show business for 21 years and was weary, but it was difficult to give up such a powerful platform. She chose to go on.
"I want to use television not only to entertain, but to help people lead better lives. I realize now, more than ever, that the show is the best way to accomplish these goals."
In 1993 Jet magazine reported that the word "Oprah" had become part of the youth lexicon, meaning "to engage in persistent, intimate questioning with the intention of obtaining a confession; usually used by men of women, as in `I wasn't going to tell her, but after a few drinks, she Oprah'd it out of me."
Five short years after Jet spotted the new teen usage for Oprah's name, The Wall Street Journal and National Review magazine confirmed a new word among adults...