New Oprah campaign targets sexual predators

United States talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey, whose influence can turn the New York Times bestseller list on its head, is having a similar impact on the FBI’s most-wanted list with a campaign to catch fugitive paedophiles.

Winfrey launched “Oprah’s Child Predator Watch List”, which features a round-up of the FBI’s most-wanted sex offenders, last week, to almost immediate results.

Within 48 hours, federal agents had picked up William Davis (33) in North Dakota following a tip from a couple of Oprah viewers.

“We were happily surprised,” said Rex Tomb, chief of the FBI’s fugitive publicity and public affairs unit.

Shortly afterwards, another absconding child molester, Niles Scott (50), was arrested in Belize City, Belize, after a local woman recognised him from the show and contacted local authorities.

Scott was flown back to Cleveland, where he is awaiting trial on charges of molesting three boys.

The swift results were testimony to the huge audience Winfrey’s syndicated talk show enjoys, pulling in about 30-million viewers a day and reaching 112 countries.

“She has an enormous audience that cuts across most demographic boundaries and it has been tremendously helpful,” Tomb said. “We see this as an extremely beneficial development.”

Winfrey (51), who was named the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine in June, has sweetened her campaign by offering $100 000 of her own money for each fugitive brought to justice.

On Tuesday’s broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey handed over two cheques for $50 000 to the two women responsible for turning in Davis.

“This is the best money I’ve ever spent,” she said.

Belize officials are reportedly working to determine which tipsters are eligible to receive the reward in the Scott case.

‘We are going to move heaven and earth’

Winfrey, who was molested as a child, has devoted many shows to the issue of sexual predators, but her new campaign to publicise fugitives’ identities has taken her involvement to a new level.

“With every breath in my body, whatever it takes and, most importantly, with you by my side, we are going to move heaven and earth to stop an evil that’s been going on for far too long,” Winfrey said on her show.

Tomb said the number of calls received by the FBI’s tip line has spiked significantly since Winfrey launched the new watch list.

He also made it clear that the fugitive details passed on to the show are carefully selected to avoid cases that might be hindered by the publicity.

“There are instances where it could set an investigation back,” Tomb said. “We may have a good lead that a person is in a particular city, in which case you would want to hold off, in case he went on the run again,” he said.

The $100 000 rewards are pocket change to Winfrey, who earned $225-million last year alone, according to Forbes.

Her influence is most readily visible through her well-known book club whose selections guarantee a minimum 500 000-copy increase in sales for any chosen title—or an additional $5-million in revenue.

The Oprah Winfrey Show‘s trademark mix of inspirational stories and tales of personal redemption led the Wall Street Journal to coin the word “Oprahfication” to describe public confession as a form of therapy.—Sapa-AFP

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