Oprah responds to being ‘terrorized and vilified’ over fund to help victims of Maui fires

Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson caught plenty of flak over the fund they launched to help Maui wildfire victims after they asked fans to contribute, and Oprah is finally responding some two weeks later.

Worth an estimated $2.8 billion, Winfrey donated $5 million along with Johnson, who is reportedly worth $800 million, to the People’s Fund of Maui — the proceeds are to be distributed directly to those in need who were affected by the fires in the Lahaina area, according to the two celebrities.

Winfrey appeared on “CBS Mornings” on Tuesday alongside Arthur C. Brooks to plug their new book, “Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier,” and she was given a platform to address the criticism after host Nate Burleson noted that she and Johnson “poured time, effort and millions” into kicking off the fund.

Ever the saleswoman, Winfrey tied her remarks back to the book when she replied, “Well, this is a really great point about being happier in the midst of an onslaught of being terrorized and vilified online.”

“I will say this. I came out of this experience with so much more compassion for young kids, because I was thinking what if I didn’t really know who I am? What if I didn’t have the assurance of Invictus that I am the master of my own fate and the captain of my soul.”

“CBS Mornings” cohost and Winfrey’s best friend Gayle King interjected, “It would have taken you down.”

“It will take you out,” Winfrey agreed. “So all the online slams, attacks, lies, conspiracy theories, really took the focus off of what was the most important thing, and that was the people of Maui.”

“So this idea came about because I was on the ground talking to lots of people, trying to figure out how do I best help,” she continued. “In the beginning, it was just material things, dropping off generators and towels. And then I started talking to people. People really wanted their own agency. Gayle’s son Will sent me an article about Dolly Parton — Dolly Parton in 2017, during the wildfires in Gatlinburg, started a people’s fund, she called it My People’s Fund. She had a concert. She raised $12.5 million and then directly gave it to the people, $1,000 a month. I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s the idea!’”

“Giving the money into the hands of the people,” Burleson said in assisting his guest in presenting her case.

“Directly into the hands of the people,” Winfrey said. “So to set up the infrastructure for that, The Rock and his team and my team were literally on I don’t know how many Zooms to set up the infrastructure for the verification process to be able to drop money into people’s accounts.”

She made it a point to inform viewers that both she and The Rock “have given to charities our whole life.”

“I’ve been giving to charity since my first paycheck, and still do that — so we thought starting the fund with $10 million would be a great idea because any of us who have ever been to any benefit, you know, you go to a benefit and somebody gives $10 million, that’s called a good night,” she added. “So we thought $10 million would start off the fund, we’ll do what Dolly did, get other people to give money, and then we’ll put it directly into the people’s bank account. I was so excited. I was so excited about it.”

“I was so excited. I got up the next morning and I saw all of this vitriol and I was like, ‘Whoa, what happened here?’” the 69-year-old went on.

Explaining that people were calling and asking where they could donate money, Winfrey said she thought it would be a great idea to set up a place for donations — she also let slip that none of the money had been distributed yet.

“And I still think it’s a really strong idea. Dolly Parton was right,” she said. “Putting money directly into the hands of the people is a significant thing, and the model that’s been created, I will say that, as of today, 2,200 people have been cleared and verified, and those people are going to get a notice from the People Fund of Maui and are going to have the money.”

“It made me deeply mad and deeply sad,” best pal Gayle King said, prompting Winfrey to reply, “It made me sad that we’re in this state in our country, you know?”

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