Celebrity endorsements, helpful or harmful? The LA Times explores that question with Oprah Winfrey and her endorsement of Democrat Barack Obama as a test case:
Although it's true that rallies featuring Winfrey in Iowa and South Carolina have drawn some of the biggest crowds of the campaign so far, Obama's people won't know whether they also triggered a backlash until election day.
Winfrey's website has been buzzing for weeks with angry postings about her involvement in the Illinois senator's campaign, something Hollywood, which always keeps its eye on the public mood, is bound to notice -- this is a town, after all, that measures success by weekly grosses and daily TV ratings.
One posting on her site, Oprah.com, accused the talk diva of being a traitor. (By Thursday, that message string had attracted more than 12,000 views.) Another poster told Winfrey to "stop pushing Obama down our throats." (There were 3,000 hits logged on that one.) Another said: "Do you really know Barack Hussein Obama? Scary & something we have to take into consideration!" (There were more than 4,000 views for that.)
"First of all I want to say that I am a HUGE Oprah fan," one poster wrote. "I love what she stands for. She is a strong woman changing the world. However, I have been extremely disappointed with her recent touring with Barack Obama. It is a manipulation and an abuse of her power and influence on the American culture.
"Let the American people form their own opinion, Oprah."
Since Winfrey announced over the summer that she was supporting Obama, more than 25,000 views of more than 345 separate discussions -- almost all of them centering on the campaign -- have been roiling along in the local and world news section of her website. By comparison, there were eight discussions going in recent weeks on the issue of global warming, which had generated about 1,100 views.
From the beginning, Hollywood A-listers have seen the potential for this kind of blow-back.
George Clooney, who also supports Obama and is a longtime friend of the senator, has been reluctant to campaign in person, not because he's worried about the effect on his film career but because experience has taught him that a celebrity's presence can hurt a candidate.
In a dinner-party conversation in Rome recently, Clooney said that Obama's people have been urging him to go out on the trail. "I've told them that having me out there would hurt more than help. I know they don't see it that way."