Celebrities Behaving Badly

How very interesting that über-celeb (and possibly former über-celeb) Oprah Winfrey has now tried to walk back a very publically-made accusation of being treated with racial bias in an expensive Swiss handbag shop in Zurich with one of those lame apologies which aren’t really apologies, more of that sniveling, ‘I’m sorry that you were offended,’ statements which are framed so as to throw blame on the offended party merely for being offended. At least, she has skipped over the second part of the pro-forma excuse and non-apology, which is usually some variant of, ‘gosh, don’t you have a sense of humor?’ Both statements of which, I am obliged to confirm, do not remove the sting that a party thus abused takes away from the experience. Or even that that such an apology has been honestly and fully rendered to the aggrieved party.

I have to say, though – that the handbag alleged to be in question is butt-ugly. My own reaction at being told the price of it was $38,000 would have been to walk away, laughing. That Ms Winfrey reportedly didn’t want to buy it at that price is about the only believable statement that I take away from her version of events. I am not particularly well-versed in the protocols of very-high-end retail establishments in Zurich, Switzerland – but I have had a brief but intense experience in high-end retail in San Antonio, during the year after I retired from the Air Force. One of those places – a fur salon in the Marshall Field store which was closing the San Antonio location – paid a small salary and a commission on sales, which had the effect of concentrating one’s attention on service and attentiveness to the customers who walked through the door.
One of the first lessons learned in those venues was that you could size up customers swiftly and often with considerable accuracy, regarding their background, real income and ability to pay for what the place was selling and if they were the ‘right sort’.

The second lesson was that such a judgement was not anything like 100% accurate; being dismissively rude a customer on that basis – yes, failing to be attentive to any customer, even the ones who at first glance looked like they had wandered in from the nearest trailer court (or from under the nearest highway bridge) – was a bad call and liable to rebound disastrously. Anyone in retail for any length of time has stories about the surprise customer and oftentimes many of them. Mine was of the girl who looked about the age of my then-high-school-aged daughter, who wandered into the fur salon on a mid-afternoon weekday, and began asking about the coats. There were no other customers and I was bored out of my mind. To pass the time, I gave the apparent-high-school girl a thorough tour through the racks, the usual informative lecture about furs and the quality thereof, unlocked a couple of nice coats and let her try on a couple in front of the triple mirror … and then she utterly floored me by selecting the nicest of them and getting out her credit card. She told me that she had just passed the Bar, had a nice job lined up with a prestigious firm – and had promised herself that she would buy herself a nice fur coat to celebrate. Well, color me all over astounded – she didn’t look to me as if she was old enough to drive alone, let alone go to law school.

And she bought the coat, of her choice and thanked me very graciously. Chalk that sale up to the principle of making an initial assumption and being polite and helpful anyway. The ones who can’t really afford the stuff in the shop will go away, with all the speed they can muster. The others will perhaps purchase something. 2% off a $38,000 price tag would be a nice chunk o’change. Snub a likely customer – even a badly-dressed one – and forfeit that commission? Pull the other leg, sweet-cheeks – that one has jingly bells on it.

So, the takeaway for Oprah’s ‘bag-gate’, as it has been dubbed – is that it was most likely – because of the convenience of the timing – an effort to gin up publicity for the movie The Butler, in which she has a part. Sigh. This whole thing is becoming just too transparent. And sad, and pathetic – as well as rather unthinking as to other results on Ms Winfrey’s part; yes, spin a tale of Swiss retail racism, just as your movie is about to open, get a whole-lotta-media coverage for your tale of woe by one of America’s most well-compensated celebrities=mysterious transmission=profit! I really don’t have any particular insight into the workings publicity for this particular movie, but it strikes me that this is really the case – it is pathetic on so many levels. Sure, one of the wealthiest and most well-known American television personalities deliberately accusing a woman working in a high-end shop with an accusation of racism, just to gin up some interest in a movie … which, curiously, touches on racial matters. What a coincidence.

But Oprah’s big problem, and possibly the one she didn’t see coming was the fact that the national race card is about tapped out, along with the several former industrial cities, the job market, and your favorite charitable food pantry. Ms Winfrey’s little buddy from Chicago has been elected to the highest office in the land – twice! Really – and take it from me – in the wake of that event, white people who don’t harbor any particular racial animosity are getting damned tired of being accused of it … especially if the person whipping out the race card gets some material advantage from doing so. Since the director of The Butler also saw fit to stunt-cast Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, this attempt at promotion may all have been all for naught anyway; conservatives and military veterans will give a miss to it on those grounds alone.

(Crossposted at www.ncobrief.com)

17 thoughts on “Celebrities Behaving Badly”

  1. Oprah’s cable network isn’t turning out the way she thought it would – I think she is fading from the national consciousness

    As to sales you have articulated why 90% of sales people are mediocre.

    I could give you a dozen stories of car salesmen incorrectly “sizing up” a potential customer and losing a sale – usually from people who aren’t “dressed right” that the salesman brushes off.I am sure in retail fur you faced the same thing.

    I used to do the toughest kind of sales – building a (then new) computer service, I made cold calls – around the state.

    It was brutal – days – even a week – of constant rejection. Other weeks I could do no wrong.

    But I learned 1 thing – “you never know

    People who you think would be on the verge of signing up would always have an excuse for me to “come back next time” and people I thought would have no interest would want to sign up in 5 minutes.

    It’s a numbers game and everyone deserves some of your time.

    I think you are right on Oprah’s motives. But I wouldn’t bother seeing the movie anyway…

  2. I saw Oprah’s show right after it began, back in the 80s, and liked her and it. I don’t watch daytime (or anytime, really) TV but it seemed better than what I had seen before. Her audience, I suspect, dropped with her enthusiastic promotion of her fellow Rev Wright parishioner, Obama. Her refusal to include Ann Romney in her guest list was another strike. I don’t know how her magazine is doing but she seems to have lost the balance that first impressed me.

    I have a similar story about the unlikely customer. My college roommate spent summers at his parents’ summer home in northern Idaho. He worked part time selling cars at a local dealer. One day a farmer in bib overalls walked in. The other salesmen told him to wait on this hayseed character. They had better things to do. He spent a hour showing him a bunch of cars and a couple of trucks. Finally, the old farmer thanked him for his time and then said, “I’ll take that one, and that one, and that truck over there, and that fancy car out front.” He was an old wheat farmer who had just gotten his check for the year. Some of those wheat farms are 3,000 acres. He bought four car and a truck for cash.

  3. Hah! (Dearieme, if you aren’t being humorous, the answer here.) I accidently called her Orca this morning, when my daughter and I were talking it over. Orca Winfrey – it has a ring to it, I think. Additional material about the whole flap here.

  4. Dearieme: – I hope your question becomes the dominant question in the next few years ;-)

    Mike – my business partner used to have an uncle in Manhattan Beach who liked to do this for fun – dress like a bum and visit car dealers. He’d bring cash (unknown to them) and the first dealer and salesman who would give him time he would surprise them – like the wheat farmer but on a smaller scale – then he liked to show the other dealers what he bought

  5. The shop girl can thank her lucky stars she works in Switzerland. She just got a little taste of Atlanta, NYC, Chicago…speaking of Chicago celebrities behaving badly, I’m watching the Cubs/Reds game and some local weatherman (meteorologist variety) was vociferously pimping “climate change” to Len before the seventh inning stretch. Most unpleasant!

  6. Will, every sportscaster wants to be a political pundit. It goes back to Westbrook Pegler, if anyone remembers him. The MSNBC guy, Olbermann, is only a recent example.

  7. A friend who is Italian has said that she’s found shop assistants in Italy generally less-helpful and less engaged with the customers than they are in the US.

    So maybe Oprah is guilty of cultural insensitivity!

  8. This is not the first time Oprah, and her mother, have had issues with high-end retail stores. They seem to make a habit out of this. The perceived synergies with this upcoming movie may seem a cherry on top for Ms. Winfrey.


    and her Mom

    In addition to the movie, another motivating factor is obvious. It’s no longer too soon to consider a post Obama America. Politically focused blacks, scared of losing some relevancy, may be tempted to fall into the old trap about an intrinsically racist culture. “If Oprah can still be a victim of racism well then surely I can!” I suspect the Paula Dean hullabaloo is also related to this some way.

  9. Tina Turner is going to have to stop inviting her to things if she keeps this up.
    The owner of the boutique is a friend of Mrs Turner and was a guest at the wedding, I wonder if there wasn’t a shakedown, along the lines of “hey, I know your boss, why don’t you let me have that bag for free and I’ll name drop your store to anyone that asks?” I know its fairly common for designers and high end retail establishment to loan celebs their stuff for the off chance that they will be seen/papped wearing it at movie premieres and whatnot!

  10. One of my past bosses – this was the small consultant firm specializing in patents and intellectual property, and he was the owner of it – often referred to Oprah as ‘the woman who blighted my life.’ His wife, who was otherwise fiercely-intelligent, a perfectionist, and the stay-at-home mother of his three children, was a mad fan of Oprah. They were both, BTW, white and upper-middle-class. I’ve often wondered about how readily Oprah jettisoned those middle-class and white fans, in order to throw her considerable influence to Obama. It is really sad, having made a mega-national name as an advocate for women, and to then snub Sarah Palin and Ann Romney out of a sense of racial solidarity with the Worst Candidate Evah! … and now to make commercial hay out of accusing a female sales clerk of racism.
    It seems that the owner of the boutique is also a friend of Tina Turner’s – at least a good enough friend to be invited to the wedding, too. Tina Turner has always struck me as being fairly level-headed, and loyal to people and institutions who have been good to her. Wonder who she feels about Oprah using her friend’s boutique for a publicity stunt?

  11. I don’t remember Westbrook Pegler; thankfully apparently. I barely remember the loathsome Olbermann, who I disliked as a sports announcer. (I never saw his political commentary.)

  12. I was considering seeing the movie, until the promotional website had this crap to say:

    Recognizing his tenacity for equality in the workplace,
    Nancy Reagan invites Cecil and his wife to dine at the
    State Dinner despite the President’s well-known opposition
    to Civil Rights advances.

    Along with having Fonda play Nancy… I mean, can you possibly produce a more obviously likely application of the noun-verb combo of “axe” and “grind”…?

    Also judging from the same timeline, part of the goal is to whitewash the actions of the violent Black Panthers in the public’s eye:

    The Black Panther party is founded by Huey Newton and
    Bobby Seale to combat police brutality, improve health in
    inner city black communities, and fight racism around the

    Yeah, right. They were choirboys looking to make the world a better place… Ahuh.

  13. ErisGuy, Westbrook Pegler was a very powerful columnist at the Chicago Tribune when it was a rabid opponent of Roosevelt.

    He elicited this observation by Time magazine in its October 10, 1938 issue:

    At the age of 44, Mr. Mister Pegler’s place as the great dissenter for the common man is unchallenged. Six days a week, for an estimated $65,000 a year, in 116 papers reaching nearly 6,000,000 readers, Mister Pegler is invariably irritated, inexhaustibly scornful. Unhampered by coordinated convictions of his own, Pegler applies himself to presidents and peanut vendors with equal zeal and skill. Dissension is his philosophy.[3]

    In 1941, he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing criminal racketeering in labor unions. The same year, he finished third (behind Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin) for Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year”.

  14. IGotBupkis

    Also judging from the same timeline, part of the goal is to whitewash the actions of the violent Black Panthers in the public’s eye:

    <i?The Black Panther party is founded by Huey Newton and
    Bobby Seale to combat police brutality, improve health in
    inner city black communities, and fight racism around the

    Yeah, right. They were choirboys looking to make the world a better place… Ahuh.

    While there were some Black Panthers who acted in a benign manner, that is not the case with regard to what the BPP apparently did to Betty Van Patter. At the recommendation of David Horowitz, the Black Panthers hired Betty Van Patter as bookkeeper for Educational Opportunities Corporation, a Black Panther entity. After Betty Van Patter found irregularities in the books, she disappeared. A month later her body was found washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay. While no one has ever been arrested for Betty Van Patter’s murder, the motives and evidence point to the Black Panthers.

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