People on social media have accused Oprah Winfrey of being “really gross” and trying to stage a “photo op” after she unsuccessfully sought to get a CBS film crew into a Maui evacuation center Sunday where she presumably hoped to be filmed talking to survivors of the deadly wildfires that swept though Lahaina last week.
The media mogul, who owns some 1,000 acres on Maui and reportedly lives on the island part-time, may have been hoping for a repeat on-camera opportunity from last week. On Thursday she was filmed by a BBC crew at the War Memorial Complex in Wailuku, which is being used as a shelter for evacuees, the New York Times reported. She was seen distributing “basic necessities,” including towels, water and personal hygiene products to evacuees.
Winfrey tried to return to the shelter on Sunday with her own camera crew from CBS. Initial reports Sunday said both she and the crew were denied entry because media were restricted, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said. The County of Maui later clarified that Winfrey was allowed to enter, but the camera crew was asked to stay outside, “out of respect for those who have come to seek safety and shelter at emergency shelters.”
On its Facebook page, the county thanked Winfrey for “instructing media journalists and camera crews to remain outside.”
The county also expressed appreciation for Winfrey’s efforts “to uplift our community’s spirit and give her aloha to victims of the tragic disaster.” The county said her visit inside of the shelter today “was truly heartwarming and we appreciate her understanding of our policy of having no camera crews or reporters accompanying dignitaries and celebrities in our emergency shelters.”
But many of the hundreds of people commenting on the county’s Facebook post were not so complimentary to Winfrey, given that she apparently hoped to film herself interacting with evacuees.
“We are going through a crisis, Maui doesn’t need to encourage publicity stunts,” said one person. Many thanked county officials for standing up to Winfrey and her camera crew.
“Good for you! Just because she lives there doesn’t give her the right to put cameras on others’ heartbreak & tragedy. My gosh!” said another person. Someone else said that many people were helping survivors and “not looking for recognition.”
“If Oprah wants to come that’s great! Put the cameras away and do something out of the goodness of your heart. Not for clout,” said another. Another person echoed that sentiment, saying, “Integrity is how you act when no one is watching. She shouldn’t need her helping be filmed.”
KULA, HI – MARCH 16: Oprah Winfrey’s estate is seen on March 16, 2004 in Kula, Hawaii. (Photo by Erik Aeder/Getty Images)
Some suggested that Winfrey’s “heart is in the right place” but that she was lacking sensitivity in this particular situation. Others said that her fame could help survivors in the long run by continuing to bring attention to their plight. However, others noted that a billionaire like Winfrey could be doing a lot more right now, such as helping to provide people with temporary housing, even on her properties. Her properties include the Thompson Ranch in central Maui, and hundreds of acres in the Kula area southeast of Lahaina, the New York Times said.
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“Virtue signaling and putting people who are traumatized and have lost everything on news to make yourself look important is really gross in my opinion,” one person said. “I know everyone thinks she’s such a saint for bringing a few pillows. She owns thousands of acres and is a billionaire. She could be setting up temporary housing for those displaced on her lands.”
Later Sunday, Winfrey recorded a video of herself which she posted on Instagram. She didn’t address the brewing controversy over her efforts to bring a camera crew with her. She vowed to make “a major donation” to relief efforts and to “be here for the long haul, doing what I can.”
“This week has taught, me, when you don’t know what to do, you do what you can,” Winfrey said.
She explained that when she visited the shelter last week, she asked people what they needed, then went shopping for “basic things,” such as “towels and sheets and shampoo and other necessities.” She also said she had met “so many incredible people,” including a man named Julius who had bandages covering burns he sustained while running from the fire.
“When I said, ‘What do you need,’ he said, ‘I need nothing. My life now is my greatest gift. I have my life,’” Winfrey recounted.
“I’ve seen so many families who are sharing a cot and an air mattress, and have nothing else left to their names, but they are grateful to have each other,” Winfrey continued. “The rebuilding has just begun.”