Oprah Winfrey, who exploited her position as a billionaire, media mogul to attack a “racist” sales clerk at a Swiss boutique, began backpedaling away from her story on Tuesday, claiming she’s “really sorry that it got blown up.” Considering it was Oprah herself who brought the the story to national attention on Entertainment Tonight, such a non-apology rings exceedingly hollow — especially since her story has also “evolved” in the interim.
Oprah’s alleged tale of woe occurred last month when she was in Zurich, Switzerland to attend Tina Turner’s wedding. While there she went to a boutique, later identified as Trois Pomme, to buy a handbag that matched her dress. According to Winfrey, the sales clerk refused to show her a $38,000 bag because it was “too expensive.”
“One more time, I tried. I said, ‘But I really do just want to see that one,’ and the shopkeeper said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings,’ and I said, ‘Okay, thank you so much. You’re probably right, I can’t afford it.’ And I walked out of the store,” Winfrey told ET’s Nancy O’Dell. Oprah recounted the same story on Larry King, even as she told King she is not a person who “pulls the race card.”
That’s a remarkable assertion considering Winfrey recently asserted the death of Trayvon Martin and the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 were the “same thing.” Martin was killed in an altercation with George Zimmerman, who pled self-defense and was acquitted. Till was killed by a group of white men who took him to a barn where they beat him, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head, and dumped his body in a river, because he had flirted with a white woman. “Trayvon Martin, parallel to Emmett Till,” Oprah said in an interview. “Let me just tell you, in my mind, same thing.”
That’s not pulling the race card. That’s maxing it out.
After Oprah’s recounting of the incident in Zurich, the story became a media sensation. Store owner Trudi Goetz, who was also a guest at Turner’s wedding, apologized. “Everyone wants to sell a crocodile bag,” Ms. Goetz said. “It’s a misunderstanding.” Zurich trade president Markus Hunig condemned the snub as well. “It’s totally unacceptable. I’ve never heard of anything like it,” he claimed.
Even the Swiss Tourism Office apologized for the alleged “racist” treatment Winfrey said she received. “We are totally ashamed about what happened,” said spokesman Daniela Bar. “This sales assistant was completely in the wrong. We apologize on behalf of Swiss tourism for what happened. This was a one-off and will not have a long lasting effect on the popularity of Switzerland, but the saleswoman should apologize to Oprah Winfrey.”
Thus, the stage was set. All the saleswoman had to do was play her anticipated role in this drama and all would have undoubtedly been forgiven and forgotten.
The problem? The sales clerk wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t know why she is making these accusations,” the unidentified woman told Swiss paper SonntagsBlick. “She is so powerful, and I am just a shop girl. I didn’t hurt anyone. I don’t know why someone as great as her must cannibalize me on TV. It is absolutely not true that I declined to show her the bag on racist grounds….I would never say something like that to a customer. I explained to her the bags come in different sizes and materials, like I always do. She looked at a frame behind me. Far above there was the 35,000 Swiss franc crocodile leather bag. I simply told her it was like the one I held in my hand, only much more expensive, and that I could show her similar bags.”
That was more than enough for Trudi Goetz, who is now standing behind her employee. She said there would be no repercussions for the 37-year-old Italian woman, who has been “working for me for five years and is an excellent seller.” Goetz characterized the exchange differently as well. “Oprah came into the business, wanted to see the crocodile bag,” Goetz explained. “She inquired about the price. When my saleswoman told her that it cost 35,000 francs and then offered to show her cheaper ones, she walked away.” She further noted that Winfrey is “so very sensitive” and that she finds it regrettable that Winfrey “has come to this service from exactly the wrong way.”
Apparently Winfrey was beginning to feel the heat. During a Tuesday interview on the red carpet for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” her first movie role in 15 years, Winfrey surmised the people who encounter her in stores are unaware that she carries the black card, which is an invitation-only credit card issued by American Express. Thus, such people can only make an assessment of Winfrey, “based on the way I look and who I am.”
Here’s where the story gets interesting. Last week on ET, Winfrey contended that while she wasn’t wearing her eyelashes she was “in full Oprah Winfrey gear; Donna Karan skirt, sandals.” On Tuesday, she embellished that description. “I didn’t have anything that said ‘I have money,'” Winfrey explained. “I wasn’t wearing a diamond stud. I didn’t have a pocketbook. I didn’t wear Louboutin shoes. I didn’t have anything.” She then reiterated her accusation. “You should be able to go in a store looking like whatever you look like and say ‘I’d like to see this.’ That didn’t happen.”
So what did happen? Exactly what someone deeply familiar with the machinations of the media and entertainment industry more than likely wanted to happen, namely, the creation of a huge media buzz perfectly timed for the opening of her latest movie. Breitbart’s John Nolte reaches a similar conclusion, wondering if it occurred to anyone in the media that “such an anecdote mixed with the promotion of a film based on a racial theme might be a little too neat?”
The unidentified salesclerk who served Winfrey cannot be located because, according to Goetz, she is currently afraid of “public hatred.” Meanwhile, the same mainstream media that dutifully reported Winfrey’s version of the events, absent any investigation, is talking about the “Oscar buzz” being generated by Winfrey’s performance in the movie. The bet here is it’s no better than the one she has generated at the expense of a powerless shop clerk.
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