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"Why I Turned Down Oprah Winfrey"

Nieman Reports, Harvard University, Fall 1996.

   As producers for such shows go, Oprah's wasn't unusually pushy or insensitive. Linda was just doing her job. In order to keep ratings high, new angles must be continually tried, boundaries tested. On the subject of rape, I've experienced this any number of times. The producer for the Home Show initially wanted me to appear with my therapist in order to give the audience an "inside view" of my recovery. I pointed out as gently as I could that what she was asking was a little like asking a journalist to publicly reveal her sources; she found a local crisis counselor instead who could speak in general terms about recovery from sexual assault--a good balance. Another producer discarded me after a brief conversation because, as she put it, I was a writer and wouldn't be "raw" enough. Another wanted me to appear with my husband and describe details about our sex life since the rape; that conversation left me feeling like a side-show freak. ...
   The mainstream press claims to hold a higher standard. Unfortunately, as a victim of rape, I have seen the news cover traumatic events with as much thoughtlessness as talk TV. Intrusion without apology seems the rule. Over the AP wire comes the latest survey results on the rates of sexual assault, and reporters are on the phones to rape crisis agencies, asking for a victim to interview. Few seem aware of how hurtful it is to ask a survivor--especially one in crisis--to go public. It's getting so that I jokingly advise agencies to tell media who are trolling for rape victims to ask around in their own news rooms. Of course the interview or taping must be done today in order to make the evening news deadlines, preferably in your home. "How about your place?" I suggested to one reporter after I explained that I didn't want my home on camera. Gamely, she agreed, and later confided that she'd gotten up at 5 that morning to clean house. "I never realized what people went through for us," she said. Exactly.