Winfrey tells of another situation involving a producer who used the budding talk-show host as a babysitter — and this was after she had already established herself as a co-host with Sher on "People Are Talking."
"At the time, we didn't even really realize how bad it was," King says. "And inappropriate … She was taken advantage of many, many times."
Some of Winfrey's friends urged her to sue the station over such matters.
"But I knew if I complained or spoke too loudly or, for God's sake, filed a suit, that would be the end of my career. And it just wasn't worth it to me, because I came into Baltimore knowing I would not stay. I never even learned the streets."
Arleen Weiner, a former producer of "People Are Talking," who, like King, has remained a lifetime friend, provides a glimpse of the private Winfrey during her Baltimore years at WJZ.
"I can remember many days after work, because we started early, when I would stop at her place on the way home just to chill or something, and she was not happy here — she really wasn't," Weiner says.
Coming of age
Friends say Winfrey's sense of humor helped her through the toughest times at WJZ. And there is a real sense of fun and even joy in her voice as she recounts coming-of-age, newsroom memories.
"This is after I got removed from the 6 o'clock news, so I'm sitting in the newsroom now, and I'm supposed to be writing, which is not exactly a strong point of mine," Winfrey says. "And there was this guy, an executive producer, and every day, I'd hear, 'Oprah, where is that goddamn copy?'"
Then, she drops her voice another octave and shouts even louder, mimicking the daily refrain, "'Winfrey, where is that goddamn copy?'"
"So, that's also where I learned to curse — in the newsroom," she says. "When I came to JZ, I was churchgoing and never cursed. But in a newsroom, everybody is always saying the 'f' word or the 'g' word or whatever word.
"So at first, I was like [she does a Dorothy from "Wizard of Oz" voice], 'The language in here is very disturbing. Very disturbing, the way these people talk to each other.' But after a couple of months, you're in there, too, doing it."
Winfrey says she also had problems with some of the conventions of TV news.
"I was a terrible writer, terrible writer. I was a good talker, but it would take me much longer to sit down and write the scripts. So I got a lot of the live Action-cam assignments, because I could talk better than I could sit down and compose a story," she says.
"But I'd go out and cover a story and then, in that little transition thing where you're supposed to toss it back to the anchor at the end of the story, I couldn't think of anything to say, because I felt I'd said it all in the story. I was like, 'I've already said everything in the story,'" she says, laughing at the memory.
But there were deeper issues that made Winfrey decide that maybe she was more suited to some line of media work that wasn't strictly journalism.
"I once went back the next day after covering a family that had been burned out and brought them some of my blankets and stuff," Winfrey says. "And the assistant news director at the time told me how wrong that was and that if I did that again and they found out about it, I could be fired, because I was involving myself in other people's stories. Which is true, you're there to cover the story, not get involved in it, but …"
Despite appreciating that journalistic principle, Winfrey says, "by the time I left Baltimore, I was solidly aware that I no longer wanted to just do television news. I was very uncomfortable doing television news."