Magazines have to work with a pretty big lead time, so odds are InStyle booked Oprah for its March cover a while ago, solely to promote A Wrinkle In Time. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the presses: Oprah accepted her Golden Globe with such a well-written speech that the Internet decided she should run for president. InStyle, smartly, clearly swerved and rejiggered so it could promote the new angle that might trigger Twitter all over again. That’s just good business.
The minor trouble is, the cover story opens with the acknowledgment that their sit-down interview took place three weeks before the Golden Globes, and then makes mention of what ensued after the speech. But there is no mention of them chasing her for a follow-up comment; her remarks about running — or not — 2020 come within the flow of the Q&A that, we’ve already learned, took place before Oprah 2020 was even a glint in social media’s eye. So what gives? Were there enough people buzzing about that before that it made sense for it to come up in that earlier interview? Were follow-up questions asked and then inserted into the flow of the original conversation as if they all took place at the same time?
What I think happened: The writer wisely followed up with Oprah after the Globes and got her to agree to answer one question about it, and they adapted the question and inserted it into the existing transcript where it would appear to flow. If you look at the story, the question immediately after changes the subject a bit from both Oprah’s president answer AND her answer to the question before it, making it a natural place to plonk your new stuff without looking glaring. It was artfully done.
It’s also possible that this all came up organically, that Oprah-as-president was already a thing topical to ask, or that the writer was merely psychic. I have no insider knowledge. I’m just speculating; I don’t recall her running for president having any kind of heat behind it before the Globes, and since the question didn’t seem to flow naturally from their conversation, I have to believe it was injected later. What bothers me, if that is indeed what happened, is any sense of pretending it all came from the same sit-down. When it’s a written profile, you can put in quotes from any number of different chats and you don’t have to contextualize in which conversation you got the bites unless it’s really egregious (like, a quote from 2012 used in 2017). If, say, Rooney Mara answered some questions one day over coffee and then others the next day while you did yoga, it doesn’t matter unless the bites contradict each other, or they’re related to the coffee or the yoga or otherwise vital to the timeline. But when you’re printing a chat as a transcribed sit-down, and thus certifying that this happened the way you said it did — and there is no note at the bottom that reads This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and space, or whatever — then it really tweaks my nose. It feels like more of a cheat, you know? Ultimately it’s not a massive issue. The fate of the world does not hinge on when Oprah gave this quote. Maybe it’s even a trivial thing to care about, but it does feel dishonest and at a time when media dishonesty is buzzy in a bad way.
The cover itself is an intriguing choice — the profile angle feels very artsy for InStyle, in a good way, and it’s still so unmistakably Oprah — and the styling is genius: all that red white and blue, and the cover line that hits right at the topic du jour. And the rest of the interview is fine. I liked this:
What makes me angriest is the lack of discernment. Maya [Angelou] used to say to me, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” She said, “Babe, your problem is you have to be shown 29 times.” So, I see a lot of people who have to be shown 29 times, who have a lack of discernment for things that appear to be obvious. Character is very much a defining matter in everything that you do. To be able to say because you behaved a certain way doesn’t [reflect] who you really are, that’s just wrong.
But I do want to protest this:
I have taken a step back and a couple of notches down. […] I try not to lean into the hysteria. I’ve heard a lot of Twitter chatter where people have said, “Where are you? You should be speaking up on these things!” But it makes no sense to speak when you cannot be heard. One hundred and forty characters—that is not how you want to make your mark in the world.
Maybe not, but Oprah, YOU ARE OPRAH. You can always be heard, whenever, wherever, however. And you know it.