the pulse

Just what's stirring in Oprah? A bit of The Hollywood Reporter

So you know how Oprah Winfrey has been traveling around campaigning with Barack Obama in his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president? This development might appear surprising in that Oprah hasn't much done the stump thing, preferring to steer clear of the fray.

But why now? Is it simply that she reveres Obama or did something/someone stir Oprah out of her political malaise?

In seeking an answer to these questions, return with me to Oct. 5, 2004. The divisive campaign pitting President Bush against Sen. John Kerry was turning into the homestretch, and nobody in a position of power was addressing the issues. It was just the usual war of words and rampant mudslinging. It occurred to me that the one person in America who could shed some focus on a campaign steeped in finger-pointing and ugliness was Oprah.

I wrote this in a column, charging Oprah with being irresponsible for standing idly by rather than attempting to elevate the polarizing discussion.

A column snippet: "Here is someone with the clout to snare both President Bush and Sen. Kerry for, say, a week of shows apiece, rendering her program a true unbiased showcase and a platform for honest discussion and exchange. Instead, she has a show about the election that features only celebrities."

Yes, I took the queen to task. Yet I naturally assumed that would be the end of it. The idea that Winfrey herself might actually read my humble words back in Chicago seemed about as likely as the WGA and AMPTP negotiating teams linking arms and walking together down Wilshire Boulevard while singing "Amazing Grace."

How wrong I was. That very afternoon, I answered my phone. The voice on the other end said, "Ray Richmond? Oprah Winfrey here." I replied, "Yeah right. Who is this really?" She assured wearily, "It's really me."

And so it was.

"Oh, um, uh, hey Oprah," I managed to stammer to a woman with whom I have never before spoken. "What can I, um, do for you?"

"I think you know why I'm calling," she said.

"You read my column?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes I did, and it was very interesting," Oprah replied. "I'm here on the phone this morning with three of my producers and we'd like to ask you what you'd suggest for my show based on what you wrote."

Here I am sitting at home in front of my computer in T-shirt and shorts when the closest thing showbiz has to God rings me up — without warning — to conduct a story meeting. My spontaneous brain fog had me convinced that I was having a stroke. But at the same time, I concluded Oprah wasn't particularly interested in my ideas.

"Do you really care what I think or is it more, 'OK, Mr. Smarty Pants, how would you do it?' "

"No, I really care," she said.

Taking Oprah at her word, I made suggestions during what was perhaps the most surreal 15 minutes of my life. And while she never did do anything more substantive on her show for that '04 election, Winfrey looks now to be making up for any past perceived indifference .

Is it actually possible that my words rang in her ears over these past few years and had a hand in rousing Oprah to action? At the risk of sounding pathetically self-aggrandizing, I'm thinking maybe. Ah yes, delusions of grandeur. My favorite delusions of all.

Anyway, Oprah, I'll be at my desk today. Feel free to ring again.