Friday, January 19, 2007

Why Oh Why Oh Why, Indeed...

I’m not a fan of Oprah, but tonight, channel surfing, I ended up watching “An all-new Oprah Show exclusive! The miracle in Missouri!”, her pre-taped interview with Craig and Pam Akers and their son, Shawn Hornbeck, the 15-year-old Missouri boy who was found last week after having disappeared more than four years ago, and with Doris and Don Ownby, parents of Ben Ownby, the 13-year-old Missouri boy who was found with Shawn.

Maybe it’s because a few short years ago, my own twin sons were skinny, shy, 15-year-olds, or maybe it’s because I worked in child psychiatry for 5 years, and I’ve done way too many interviews of parents and kids myself, or maybe it’s because Oprah is not my "leading source for information about love, life, self, relationships, food, home, spirit and health", the phrase Google pulls up to link to her website if you type in “Oprah” and then click “Search”...and while we’re at it, not only is Oprah not my leading source for information about any of those topics, and perhaps in this, as in so many other things, I’m hopelessly out of whack, but Oprah’s not a source for me on any of those topics, or on anything at all. Simone de Beauvoir might be a source for me, and the internet in general, but Oprah? Not by a long shot.

Anyway, I don’t know if it’s because of any of those things, but the interview was painful to watch. I don’t know why the Akers agreed to do it. Maybe they thought it was their best option, or maybe Andy Warhol had it right, and we all want our 15 minutes of fame, but to allow Shawn to be interviewed on television...what were they thinking when they agreed to that? Ben Ownby’s parents were interviewed too, but they did not allow Ben to be interviewed, and I think they made a wise decision.

I found myself cringing when Oprah asked, for herself and her millions of viewers, (“who want to know”), “Do you think he was sexually abused?” and the Akers admitted that yes, they believe he was. But if that question made me cringe, Oprah’s overall ham-handed interviewing techniques, including her insistence on repeatedly asking why - why didn’t Shawn escape? call his parents? ask for help? left me alternating between wanting to smack her and wondering if she has any ability to empathize at all.


A couple of light years ago, when I was learning interview techniques, I was told to ask Who, What, When and How, but to avoid asking Why. If I remember correctly, the reasoning was that “What” questions (e.g., “What happened?”) elicit facts and information; “How” questions (“How did you get to the park?”) are associated with sequence and processing; “When and Where” questions elicit information regarding time and place; and “Who” questions elicit information regarding people; but “Why” questions are generally perceived as accusatory, and elicit reasons and intellectualizing, e.g., all those experts expounding “Well, maybe he didn’t call anyone because he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome...”

Would someone please tell Oprah?

7 comments:

Alex said...

I've been complaining about this very thing regarding Oprah for the last year. I hardly ever watch her, but I occasionally get sucked in by similar stories, and my reaction is generally the same. She just seems so insensitive to people's current emotions; her goal is always to keep eliciting new and more painful feelings, to keep the fickle audience at home interested, I guess.

odie said...

It kind of reminds me of 'news' reporters who stick a microphone in the face of someone whose house just burned down and ask them 'How do you feel?'

There are just some things that the world doesn't need to know.

Tammy said...

I was appalled by her interview of the Elizabeth Smart girl, so glad I missed this one!

XXOO

Lisa :-] said...

I don't watch Oprah (thank god?) But I am right there with you when it comes to 21st century interviewing techniques. they have nothing to do with the interviewee/issue, and everything to do with setting barbed hooks into the gawkers at home...

Chris said...

I am just glad that I don't get home from work until her show is over. It sounds horrible.

This will sound weird, but in some ways, what that monster has taken from that boy is worse than if he had killed him outright.


Chris
My Blog

Erin said...

I haven't much liked snippets of Oprah's shows that I have seen. I remember seeing part of her show during the Katrina disaster. It seemed as though she was trying too hard to sound and look empathetic and "helpful". It all seemed very false and almost as though she was exploiting the situation.

Paul said...

I didn't see it, but I was appalled by what I heard about it. The woman is shameless.