Oprah Winfrey Racism Story Is Untrue, Says Sales Clerk at Center of Media Storm (Video)
UPDATED: Meanwhile, some pundits are questioning an account they say plays too neatly into the marketing of "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
The anonymous sales clerk accused of racism by Oprah Winfrey is fighting back by way of a newspaper interview in which she says the media tycoon is lying about an incident that occurred in a Swiss store recently, and she says as a result, she has been thrust into a media-infused "nightmare” that has left her feeling "powerless."
"I don’t know why she is making these accusations. She is so powerful, and I am just a shop girl," the sales clerk told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, according to a translation from London’s Daily Mail.
The clerk, who has not revealed her name, was responding to a story Winfrey told last month during an interview with Larry King. Winfrey said that, while in Switzerland for Tina Turner’s wedding, a sales clerk at a boutique refused to show her a $38,000 handbag, presumably because she is black so she probably couldn’t afford it. Instead, the clerk showed her a cheaper line of "Jennifer Aniston" handbags.
“I say to the woman, 'I would like to see that bag on the shelf.' And she says, 'No, that one’s too expensive. I’ll show you this one.' She did,” Winfrey says. She says in the interview it was “a really interesting incident” where she was “directly confronted” with racism. Winfrey also told the story on Entertainment Tonight. See both interviews below.
Winfrey didn’t reveal the name of the store, though journalists have since reported it was Trois Pomme in Zurich. Trudie Goetz, the head of the luxury chain, has publicly apologized to Winfrey, as has the Swiss tourism office.
But the anonymous sales clerk has decided to dispute Winfrey’s story.
"This is not true. This is absurd. I would never say something like that to a customer. Really, never. Good manners and politeness are the Alpha and the Omega in this business,” the woman told SonntagsBlick.
"It is absolutely not true that I declined to show her the bag on racist grounds. I even asked her if she wanted to look at the bag,” the woman said.
“I didn't hurt anyone. I don't know why someone as great as her must cannibalize me on TV. … If it had all taken place as she claimed, why has she not complained the next day at the wedding of Tina Turner with Trudie Goetz, my boss? She was there also at the Turner wedding as a guest. I don't understand it. ... I spoke to Oprah Winfrey in English. My English is OK but not excellent, unfortunately. ... I didn't know who she was when she came into the store. That wouldn't have made any difference if I had.”
Meanwhile, some media pundits -- mostly on the political right -- are noting that Winfrey is telling the story while promoting Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a movie largely about the black civil rights movement, and they are suspicious about the timing.
“Did the media even wonder for a moment how a potentially exaggerated, racially charged anecdote of this kind might help to sell Oprah's upcoming film?” wrote John Nolte at Breitbart.com. “Did no one in media wonder if such an anecdote mixed with the promotion of a film based on a racial theme might be a little too neat?”
In a subsequent post after the clerk disputed Winfrey's story, Nolte asked: "Why isn't Oprah outraged that a practicing racist just called her a liar in front of the whole world?"
And on his Tuesday radio show, Rush Limbaugh opined: "My guess is that 'The Oprah' didn't expect that there would be any pushback from the store. I think it was supposed to just end, and it is happening in conjunction with the promotion of the movie that, by the way, 'The Oprah' is already being touted as an Oscar winner. She's already being touted as giving an Oscar-winning performance in this movie -- no question. So you gotta put all this stuff in context, folks."
The Weinstein Co., which is distributing Lee Daniels' The Butler, declined comment. Reps for Winfrey declined a request for comment.