Producers of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and the star herself met Tuesday with Jewish leaders in Chicago to deal with the fallout from statements on an edition of the talk show last week accusing Jews of ritual murder.
The program’s production company, Harpo Inc., requested the meeting and asked the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith to assemble Jewish leaders to discuss the program. It was broadcast May 1 and watched by an estimated 8 million households.
Participating in the session were representatives of ADL, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago, Greater Chicago Board of Rabbis, American Jewish committee and American Jewish Congress.
Winfrey’s popular syndicated show, known for delving into controversial subject matter, went off on an unexpected tangent May 1, when a guest dubbed "Rachel" alleged that she had witnessed infanticide practiced ritualistically in Jewish homes.
The subject of the program was satanic killings. It focused on the ritualistic slayings that took place recently in Matamoros, Mexico, where 15 bodies were unearthed from a mass grave. Guests on the show discussed ritualistic killings they claimed to have witnessed.
Winfrey introduced "Rachel" as someone who was in psychiatric treatment for a multiple personality disorder. The inclusion of an identifiably mentally troubled person whose responses could not be predicted has drawn criticism and was the heart of the discussions that took place Tuesday.
CALLS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
"Rachel" described herself as Jewish and said she had witnessed ritual sacrifice of children by her family. She went on to say that ritual sacrifice takes place in "other Jewish families across the country. It’s not just my family."
The switchboards of ADL offices in Chicago, Pittsburgh, other cities and national headquarters in New York lit up immediately, as viewers saw the syndicated program, said Jeffrey Sinensky, director of the ADL’s civil rights division.
Barry Morrison, director of the Chicago ADL office, which received the first calls of protest, called the program’s producers immediately to convey viewers’ distress. Sinensky wrote to Winfrey and her producers, who expressed willingness to convene on the problem.
Morrison said Tuesday’s meeting with Winfrey, her producers and chief executive officer produced several things, including "a greater understanding on the part of Oprah Winfrey and her producers about the sensibilities of the Jewish community.
"It hopefully created a greater commitment to scrutinize invited guests for potential to exacerbate relations between groups."
"The Jewish representatives "felt very strongly that she intended no harm and was not maliciously motivated, did not want to see the Jewish people portrayed in a negative light and was sorry for whatever harm was rendered or offense taken," said Morrison.
Winfrey, not "Rachel," first brought up the woman’s religion, but also expressed disbelief that Jews practiced ritual killing.
Winfrey asked, "Does everyone else think it’s a nice Jewish family from the outside? You appear to be a nice Jewish girl."
"Rachel" pointed out that "not all Jewish people sacrifice babies. It’s not a very typical thing."
Winfrey responded, "I think we kind of Know that."
The talk-show host also said, "This is the first time I heard of any Jewish people sacrificing babies. But anyway, so you witnessed the sacrifice?"
Rachel said that when she "was very young, I was forced to participate . . . to sacrifice an infant."
Winfrey also interviewed another panel member, Tina Grossman, identified as a counselor of ritual abuse victims. Saying she was Jewish, she described the Passover seder. Grossman said, "But before there was Christ and before there was a system of one God, there was paganism, and it still exists in the world."
Morrison commented that Grossman "mentioned the rituals of Passover in such a way that it was very easy for listeners to confuse those rituals with the rituals of satanic worship, and that compounded the problem."
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.