Is Oprah Winfrey backpedaling on her Switzerland handbag saga? After the sales clerk told her side of the story, Oprah has apologized for the frenzy.
The controversy stemmed from an incident last month in Zurich, Switzerland, where Winfrey was staying for Tina Turner's wedding. The media icon reportedly went to the Trois Pomme boutique to buy a handbag to match her dress, but said the sales clerk refused to show her the nearly $40,000 purse, saying it was "too expensive."
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"One more time, I tried. I said, 'But I really do just want to see that one,' and the shopkeeper said, 'Oh, I don't want to hurt your feelings,' and I said, 'Okay, thank you so much. You're probably right, I can't afford it.' And I walked out of the store," Winfrey recounted to Entertainment Tonight in an interview last week.
The sales clerk spoke out against Winfrey's interpretation of the incident.
"I don't know why she is making these accusations," the unidentified woman told Swiss paper SonntagsBlick, as interpreted by the Daily Mail
. "She is so powerful, and I am just a shop girl. I didn't hurt anyone. I don't know why someone as great as her must cannibalize me on TV. It is absolutely not true that I declined to show her the bag on racist grounds. ... This is not true. This is absurd. I would never say something like that to a customer.
"I explained to her the bags come in different sizes and materials, like I always do," she said. "She looked at a frame behind me. Far above there was the 35,000 Swiss franc crocodile leather bag. I simply told her it was like the one I held in my hand, only much more expensive, and that I could show her similar bags."
Winfrey apologized for the media frenzy Monday, saying she was "sorry that it got blown up."
The story did indeed blow up, with news organizations around the world claiming that Winfrey was a victim of racism.
Though she never blatantly claimed racism, the anecdote came up in a conversation about whether Winfrey had ever been called the N-word.
"Racism for me doesn’t show itself that way," she said before launching into the story.
This week, while promoting her upcoming film "The Butler," Winfrey again addressed the issue, this time saying she thinks she was denied the bag because she didn't look wealthy enough.
"I guess I did not dress up enough," she told reporters. "I did not have anything that said, 'I have money.’ I didn't have a diamond stud. I didn’t have a pocketbook. I didn’t have a Louis Vuitton shoe. I just had on a Donna Karan skirt and top and some sandals."
Some news outlets, including Breitbart, criticized Winfrey for supposedly "backpedaling" from her racism accusations.
"This is a completely different story than the one Oprah told both Entertainment Tonight and Larry King last week," John Nolte at Breitbart wrote
. "Winfrey said absolutely nothing to either ET or Larry King about being dressed down or not looking like she had money. On the contrary, without qualifiers, or even a hint of the benefit of a doubt, the shop girl anecdote was relayed to the world as an example of Oprah being a victim of naked racism."
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