Oprah Does Amarillo

It's the Queen of Talk versus the Meat Men, and outside the courtroom, master media manipulator Winfrey is already the clear winner.

Although Engler is the one who started this mess, Winfrey's arrival 15 minutes later makes it clear who the real star of this show is.

A round of "it's Oprah!" ripples through the cluster of bodies, igniting a stampede to the end of the street. Cameramen and reporters nudge each other aside as they fight for space to tape Winfrey, who is dressed in a black dress and sunglasses.

Winfrey smiles and waves as the cameras follow her down the sidewalk, up the stairs and into the building. The moment she disappears from view, the reporters whip out cell phones and microphones and begin dictating the blow-by-blow details.

"Oprah just got here," one petite blond reporter tells her camera from atop a plastic stool. "She smiled and waved a little bit."

At noon, the parade starts anew. Engler and his attorneys are the first to leave. Rather than videotape Engler, the reporters crane their necks and scan the door for Winfrey.

Instead, they see a lanky CNN reporter, part of the pool of journalists admitted to the crowded courtroom, who has been assigned the thankless task of informing his colleagues what happened inside. As he reports that no jurors have been seated, another round of "it's Oprah!" pulses through the crowd.

The cluster of cameras and equipment swarms into lunch-hour traffic as a squad of motorcycle cops hustles to prevent a pedestrian maiming.

"I'm feeling good," Winfrey says, giving the reporters a tiny sound bite for their stories and leaving a street full of gawking noontime drivers in her wake.

"Nothing like being upstaged," a stay-behind CBS cameraman tells the CNN reporter, who blinks in disbelief as he watches his ungrateful audience disappear.

Asked for his name, the CNN reporter can't contain his disgust.
"Jeff Flock," he says. "As in sheep."

During the down times between Winfrey's comings and goings, the denizens of Camp Oprah busied themselves trying to scare up local color to enliven their dispatches. Municipal court employee Mimi McBroom took the day off work to lend them a hand. In return, she got a lesson in "editing for content."

If you followed the first day's coverage from Amarillo, you might remember McBroom. She was the woman dressed in a cow costume who stood outside the courtroom with a sign that read: "Cattlemen can eat me, leave Oprah alone."

A meat eater who is not particularly an Oprah fan, McBroom says she was there to represent most Amarillo residents, who, she contends, still value the First Amendment and view Engler's lawsuit as an embarrassment.

But the reporters interviewing McBroom had no time for such gray matter. In their Big-Beef-Takes-On-Oprah stories, the only place for locals like McBroom was either on the pro-beef side or the pro-Oprah side of the dispute.

Despite what was later reported, McBroom was not dressed as a cow to support either animal rights or the cattle industry. It was a bull suit, she explained, as in, "This event is a bunch of ...." The sign was a challenge to the networks to air a mild double-entendre.

By early afternoon, McBroom had grown tired of explaining that she was not simply pro-beef or anti-Oprah, and plopped down at the edge of Camp Oprah to take in the spectacle.

Reporters killed time between Oprah sightings by interviewing anyone and everyone who walked by, getting the "local" reaction without actually venturing out into the city.

"They're interviewing Jason's Deli?" McBroom says, watching a teenager toting a deli bag get flanked by cameras. "The kid can't even push sandwiches without getting interviewed."

By that point, it seemed, every reporter on site had interviewed McBroom -- except one.

"Have you seen any cattlemen?" Fox correspondent Grant Rampy queries no one in particular as he strolls past McBroom in an apparent quest for a pro-cattle interviewee. His reporter's instinct in full alert, Rampy then kneels before McBroom and preps her for an interview.

"We don't want you to mooooooove," Rampy explains, sticking his wonderboy face in McBroom's and blinking his lashes.

"You've stepped on my statement," McBroom replies, shooting a look at Rampy's cameraman, who indeed has inadvertently walked on McBroom's "eat me" sign.

Rampy, dressed in cowboy boots and jeans, straightens his necktie, readjusts his sport coat and fires his first question.

"So you're a big Oprah fan?" Rampy asks, waiting for an "I Love Oprah" quote that never comes. Instead, McBroom holds up her sign and explains that she supports freedom of speech. Rampy laughs at the words.

"Of course," he tells McBroom, "we can't put that on the air."
McBroom shakes her head.
"Fox is saying they can't put my sign on Fox, and they've got Bart Simpson saying, 'Eat my shorts'? You know what?" McBroom shouts at Rampy's back. "Your jeans offend me, dude. If you're gonna wear a suit, wear a whole suit."

A few feet away, in front of the Fox tent, Rampy leans forward and speaks to the camera.

"It's the cattlemen versus Oprah, with one big question to answer," Rampy says. "Can someone say, 'I'm not going to eat another hamburger because I think it's gonna make me sick?' Grant Rampy, reporting live from Amarillo."

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