Oprah Winfrey has been called the most powerful woman in the world, and since her syndicated talk show is broadcast in over 130 countries, it's not a ludicrous claim. It's only natural then, that someone so powerful would find herself ensnared in her fair share of controversies. Whether you think Oprah's a power-hungry witch or simply an easy target for anyone desperately seeking a quick burst of exposure, it's hard to argue that no matter who starts the feud, talk TV's queen always handles herself with grace and civility. (Well, most of the time.) And she usually wins. Here are a few of our favorites:
Oprah vs. Jonathan Franzen
Forget Harold Bloom; Oprah might be the world's most influential literary critic. When she picks a book for the Oprah's Book Club segment on her show, what publishers call "the Oprah Effect" kicks in, and sales can spike by upwards of a million copies. For most writers, that sort of enlarged audience and the accompanying royalties would be a dream.
For most writers who aren't Jonathan Franzen, that is. When Oprah chose Franzen's sweeping 2001 family drama The Corrections as a club selection, the author bristled. Franzen apparently didn't feel that his tome belonged in the company of the other selections, lamenting, "The problem in this case is some of Oprah's picks. She's picked some good books, but she's picked enough schmaltzy, one dimensional ones that I cringe, myself, even though I think she's really smart and she's really fighting the good fight." He also expressed discomfort at having the Oprah's Book Club logo on the novel's cover.
Oprah countered by revoking Franzen's invitation to appear on her show, although the novel was discussed by the book club. Although Franzen later admitted he felt awful about the whole episode, it proved that no elitist writer can win a fight with Oprah; the top result for an Amazon search for The Corrections returns the The Corrections (Oprah Edition).
Oprah vs. James Frey
If Oprah triumphed over Franzen, she absolutely dropped the hammer on James Frey, the author of the partially fabricated memoir A Million Little Pieces. Oprah selected the memoir as her book club selection for September 2005, and the paperback version immediately shot to the top of the New York Times' bestseller list for 15 straight weeks. All of the publicity wasn't great for Frey, though. After he appeared on the show to discuss the book, The Smoking Gun started digging around for his mug shot from an anecdote in the memoir in which Frey gets arrested. As it turned out, they couldn't find one because the incident never happened. Soon, the veracity of the whole book was under suspicion.
This hullabaloo obviously embarrassed Oprah since she'd brought the book into the spotlight in the first place. Frey appeared on Oprah's show again in January 2006 to explain himself and contend that the same drug addiction the memoir recounted led him to lie in his writing. Oprah would have none of his equivocating, though, and sternly chided Frey, "I feel you betrayed millions of readers."
She wasn't done, though. Oprah then had Nan Talese, Frey's publisher, defend the decision to market the book as a memoir. Under intense questioning from Oprah, Talese finally admitted that she hadn't actually fact checked the book. Talese would later viciously decry Oprah's "fiercely bad manners," but the damage was done. Winfrey had deftly humiliated both in front of her enormous TV audience.
Oprah vs. David Letterman
When Letterman hosted the 1995 Academy Awards, he made the infamously bad "Oprah, Uma; Uma, Oprah" joke in which he ostensibly introduced Winfrey to Uma Thurman. For most viewers, it was just thirty seconds of excruciatingly unfunny television. According to rumors, Oprah didn't find it funny, either, and what had previously been a cordial relationship in which Oprah had appeared on the comedian's show turned frosty.
Letterman exacerbated things by starting a running bit on his show he called the "Oprah Log," in which he kept a daily diary of whether or not he'd been invited to appear on her show. Every entry had the same answer: nope. Oprah later told Time that she was "completely uncomfortable" as the target of Letterman's jokes, and the rift widened.
In 2005, though, the pair finally patched things up, as Oprah appeared on Letterman's show before the premiere of the Broadway version of The Color Purple. Even against renowned comedians, Oprah always gets the last laugh, though. She needled Letterman with an on-air gift: a signed, framed photo of herself with Uma Thurman.
Oprah vs. Ludacris
When rapper/actor Ludacris appeared on Oprah's show in 2006 with his castmates from the film Crash, he probably expected a fairly soft interview to help garner attention for the film. Instead, Oprah singled him out and chastised him for using the words "bitches" and "ho's" in his rhymes. Ludacris was understandably perplexed by this treatment, which he said continued even after the show went off the air. He later accused Oprah of editing out his rebuttals and comments and leaving her own untouched. He told GQ, "Of course, it's her show, but we were doing a show on racial discrimination, and she gave me a hard time as a rapper when I came on there as an actor"¦It was like being at someone's house who doesn't really want you there."
Although rappers 50 Cent, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike have also publicly criticized Oprah for not supporting hip-hop, Oprah later told MTV, "I'm not opposed to rap. I'm opposed to being marginalized as a woman." It's tough to doubt her quote given its context; she gave the interview while attending the birthday party of Def Jam CEO L.A. Reid.
Oprah vs. Hermes
Oprah hasn't just had beefs with people; she's also taken on luxury designers. This story is shrouded in controversy, but a few facts seem to have emerged. In 2005, Oprah showed up at a Hermes boutique in Paris to buy a purse. Unfortunately, though, the store had already closed and denied her request to slip in to quickly buy the handbag. Oprah was supposedly livid about what she considered to be rude treatment and suspected that the denial was based on racism, and a public war of words broke out. Oprah contacted the U.S. head of Hermes to relay her side of the story. The company maintained that she'd simply run into an overly rigid employee who didn't recognize her and failed to bend the rules as was common for celebrity customers. (Whatever the employee's actual motivation was, he certainly didn't display much business sense; the Birkin handbag Oprah wanted to sneak in to purchase retailed for over $6,000.)
As rumors raged that Oprah wanted viewers to boycott Hermes, she squashed the controversy with her usual flair by inviting Hermes' U.S. chief Robert Chavez on the show. She explained to Chavez that she was just upset over the rude treatment of a single employee. Chavez offered a sincere apology, and Oprah encouraged views to buy their own Birkin bags.
Oprah vs. Angelina Jolie
Oprah's legendary philanthropy nearly matches her fame, and one of her recent projects is the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The boarding school is devoted to finding academically gifted low-income girls in South Africa and then nurturing their leadership abilities. Obviously, Oprah's pursuing a noble goal with the project, and she occasionally looks to other celebrities for help with promoting the school. Knowing that Angelina Jolie has a deep and abiding love for Africa, Oprah invited her to lend a hand in promoting the school. Jolie supposedly flatly refused. She was apparently still peeved that Oprah had sided with Jennifer Aniston in Aniston's breakup with Jolie's beau Brad Pitt. This one hasn't had any resolution yet, but you can be sure of one thing: when the dust clears, Oprah's going to come out on top.
Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.