Being on Oprah changed my perception of what I was doing for a living forever and marked the beginning of my long love affair with social media.  The story goes like this…

By 2002 I had run my boutique PR firm for 6 years, helping musicians tell their stories, and I was very satisfied doing that work.  One fateful day my telephone rang. It was a call from a producer at the Oprah Winfrey Show.  She had read an article about my mom in a magazine, where mom had mentioned her entrepreneurial daughter.

Within a week, an Oprah film crew had descended. The show combined live studio and taped interviews with Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Faye Wattelton, Rebecca Walker (Alice Walker’s daughter) and many other guests. On the air date, Oprah opened the show by promising “A revealing look at what younger women think about older women…”

We were told that the theme of the show would be “generational differences in the workplace,” But what it ended up being was the airing of my painful family struggle in front of 40 million viewers.  It turned out the show was  really about pitting daughters from my generation against their mothers, ambitious women who were at the front lines in the battle for women’s equality. There was tremendous pain for all of the daughters featured. I’m not writing this to air dirty laundry.  I’m writing it to make a point about Traditional media.

In considering whether I wanted to write about this I started researching,  and I discovered that this particular episode has been cited and quoted in many books and papers.  My story has touched a nerve.

Here’s the thing: Women of my mother’s generation (the silent generation) struggled and women still struggle 40 years later as the most popular article that has ever run the Atlantic monthly Why Women Still Can’t Have it All attests.

The lesson I learned from Oprah (and about mass media) is:

In mass media you have NO control.

The day of the Oprah taping, I sat for hours under hot lights with pancake makeup on while the producer manipulated the story she wanted out of me. I tried my hardest to paint a rosier picture but as a non media-trained novice I was no match for the biggest daytime TV rated show in America.

The producer wanted me to reveal my pain. She actually had an exact sentence in mind that she wanted me to say. In other words she had the script before she showed up in my office.

After hours of back and forth I finally asked her please just tell me what it was she wanted me to say.  The producer fed me the EXACT Sentence (not my words) I parroted back, and as soon as I did, the cameras went off and they went away back to Chicago to the editing room.

It took 2 years to repair the damage and the pain that Oprah caused in my relationship with my mother.

Why am I telling you all this?

It’s to explain why I’m so passionate about social media.

Social media comes from you. You get to tell the story that you want to tell. There will never be producers grilling you under hot lights with cell phones ringing in their ears to get a version of a story that they want.

Have you ever heard of someone being interviewed for hours for a newspaper or TV piece and then one teeny snippet (sometimes taken out of context) is what makes it onto the 6 o clock news?

As a publicist working with traditional media I saw it EVERY DAY.

In mass media it is their truth.

In social media you have the right to defend yourself if anyone has objections or paints a picture of you that you don’t recognize as your truth.

And in social media you have the freedom to go deeper to explain if you want, openly in front of anyone who wants to see.

The best part about telling your story is:

You can build your own tribe and they can choose to come with you on your journey

I lost my faith in mass media the day that TV show aired and started my journey towards online PR. This was way before it was called “social media,” it was during the time of list servs and web rings and webzines, and years later, social media has gone mainstream.

Many still believe that with traditional media comes cache.

OK, believe it, maybe sometimes it’s true.

For me, from that day forward, every time I had to pitch a story to a traditional journalist I just felt nauseous.

Thinking that mainstream media will save you, discover you or put you on the map and make your career is a misguided conception.

Just ask 99% of all clients I have spoken to who have ever hired a traditional publicist ūüėČ

Your wonderful tribe of people will come with you after the pancake makeup comes off and the hot lights turn away.

Your fans = your tribe = your conversation and your control.

This is why I believe in social media.

14 Responses to “Why Being On Oprah Was The Worst Day of My Life”

  1. Kevin Williams

    I had a bad (radio) experience once, but it was NOTHING compared to the scale you’re talking about. That is just terrible.

  2. Finding Ohna

    I went through that once. I was on the news talking about a part of my life that dealt with drug dealers, they made it sound like “I” was some kind of major enforcer, as if I ran the streets, totally lied or twisted my words to make me sound worse, and at the end of the¬†piece¬† it sounded like I had found some kind of redemption -le ugh- I understand what you mean because that¬†piece¬†aired all over Canada and friends and family saw it I am still¬†repairing¬†the damage.¬†

  3. the human operators

    Wow, interesting. ¬†I have a friend who was molested as a child and was convinced to talk about it on GMA with a bunch of other victims, all on the premise that they were going to tell the stories of how they learned to cope and heal. ¬†Same thing, by the time they went to air it turned out that’s not really what the producer was after and it was a painful experience for all involved. ¬†Apparently your experience is the rule, not the exception.

  4. Emily Coates

    Hi Ariel,

    Interesting article, and I’m sorry your experience was so bad! I wanted
    to ask why you felt compelled to “parrot
    back‚ÄĚ what the producer wanted you to say? If it was going against what
    you truly felt, and you worried it would cause damage in your relationship
    with your Mother, did you not feel you had the option to call the whole thing

    I agree with you that mass media is all about their agenda, their truth,
    but I also feel from personal experience, that we never have any control over
    how people choose to interpret what we say, be it in a personal context, a social
    media context or any mass media context. We can speak our truth plainly, with
    the purest of intentions, yet still we leave ourselves open to being
    misinterpreted, or having our words twisted and changed into something very far
    removed from what we meant when we first spoke/wrote those words. As you say
    however, social media does provide a wonderful platform for defending ourselves
    in public situations and clarifying our truth for those who care to know.

    I believe that when we make the choice to step into the public eye and
    put ourselves out there in a world where millions of interpretations of our words
    exist, we must also accept the risk of negative feedback or damage in various
    forms. I doubt there is anyone who is a public figure, who has not experienced this. I see
    it as simply accepting the good with the bad.

    In my consideration of all of this, I have learned to focus only on what my
    truth is, and what my intentions are in the words I speak, and to take personal
    responsibility for the choices I make in the way I choose to share myself with
    the world. Mass media being the large machine it is, it is bound to do what it
    will do, (and I’m not convinced it is ALL bad) but still we as individuals, have the power and the
    choice to let it affect us or not.  

    • CyberPR

      ¬†Emily,¬† the story is actually a lot deeper and I left a lot out.¬†¬† I was young,¬† I was completely seduced by the idea of going on Oprah,¬† and I thought I could handle it.¬† I couldn’t.¬† I learned a lot and I too am convinced that not all mass media is bad.¬†¬† thanks so much for your feedback.

  5. Anonymous


  6. Anonymous

    Ariel, great article and really important stuff. 

    “Your fans = your tribe = your conversation and your control.” – awesome!¬†Thanks SO much for posting this.¬†

  7. MeccaGodZilla aka RYU BLACK

    Thank you so much for sharing this.  And. For being inspiring. And. Empowering.  Thank you Ariel!

  8. Brenda K

    GREAT story, Ariel!  Thank you very much for sharing it.  

  9. Anonymous

    Wow, quite a story and an eye-opener. Like you, my roots are in traditional media. What you described sounds like a police interrogation that lasts for hours until “authorities” can break down a suspect and get a confession.¬†

    But the best part is that your mom is still in your life and the producers are long gone. 

    Craft and communicate your own message. Thanks for helping to pave the way, Ariel.  

  10. Hudson K

    This is why I’m getting on an airplane to fly to NYC and see Amanda Palmer for NYE. I believe she has tapped into this philosophy and is living proof…and inspiration…just like you!¬†

  11. Anonymous

    Great story written in your authentic voice Ariel.¬† I can empathize with you. ¬† For the record, I really hate it when commentators/interviewers ask the interviewees a question and then fill in the answer which the interviewee then “parrots” as you say. ¬† It’s completely manufactured.


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