WASHINGTON – An increasingly political Oprah Winfrey used her show Monday to advocate for a Senate bill aimed at fighting child exploitation.
On the surface, the cause appears noble enough.The bill would increase resources for regional computer forensic labs and add other improvements to increase the ability of authorities to investigate and prosecute predators.
But the bill is at the center of political wrangling between Republicans and Democrats.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden sponsored the bill, and Republican Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn opposes it, saying he wants to stop redundant programs and reduce federal spending.
"Those who watched Oprah's broadcast today deserve to know that Senate leaders have repeatedly objected to passing critical child protection legislation for partisan, political purposes," Coburn said in a statement. "Congress has a 9 percent approval rating because politicians in Washington refuse to set common sense priorities, refuse to make rational budget decisoins, and refuse to work across the aisle when that requires sharing credit with the other party during election season.
"Victims of these horrible crimes don't care whether Democrats or Republicans get the credit for protecting children," he continued.
The queen of daytime talk first ventured into the political ring last year when she endorsed Barack Obama for president. Since then, she has drawn fire for refusing to invite Sarah Palin on her show until after the November election. Obama has appeared on her show twice — in early 2005 and the fall of 2006 — before he was a presidential candidate.
"At the beginning of this presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates," Oprah said in a statement released when the criticism started.
But Oprah is willing to use her show as a plaform for the highly politicized issue of child exploitation, which has emerged a campaign issue.
McCain recently released an ad condeming what he said was Obama's vote for "comprehensive sex education" for kindergartners. But the bill, which never passed the Illinois state Senate, actually outlined age-appropriate categories, seeking to teach young children how to defend themselves against sexual predators and inappropriate touching.
Oprah's production company issued a statement Monday before the show aired.
"In an arresting hour, viewers will see the true extent and pervasivness of child pornography trafficking in America, as state-of-the-art technology reveals the staggering magnitude of the problem for the first time," the statement read.
Winfrey plans to ask her audience of 8 million viewers, mostly women, to contact their senators about the bill and link to the Senate's Web site through her own.
Senate staffers got a warning e-mail on Friday saying the system administrator expected "larger than normal volumes of traffic."
Coburn explained that Senate leaders have insisted the bill pass only if it is included in a package of unrelated bills that address less vital concerns such as the interstate commerce of non-human primates. Coburn said his proposal to separate the causes of protecting children and chimpanzees was rejected.
In response, he said, he introduced a comprehensive child exploitation bill that would have been linked to the Securing Adolescents from Exploitation Online (SAFE) Act of 2007. But Democrats objected, hesaid, because the SAFE Act's author, John McCain, would have gotten credit for passing the bill.
"Finally, I'm concerned that Oprah's program only highlighted one half of the solution — the half supported by the presidential ticket she has endorsed. While I support the right of celebrities to use their platforms to advance partisan goals, Oprah's viewers deserve to know all of the facts," Coburn said.
"The American people have had enough of Washington's false promises and partisan rhetoric that fails to acknowledge that all Americans, both Democrat and Republican, want to do their best to protect our children from Internet predators."