Friday, January 13, 2006 at 12:45 PM
What kept Oprah soaring beyond the firmament of other meteoric stars, however, was the fact that her celebrity seemed completely immune to scandal. But that all changed this week after her Midas touch on a book of non-fiction was exposed as an unwitting endorsement of book of lies.
Last September, the author of A Million Little Pieces, James Frey, was introduced to Oprah’s TV universe as “the man who kept Oprah awake at night.” (I guess Stedman was busy doing his guy thing in separate quarters on “The Promised Land” – her 42-acre, $50 million California estate.) But, beyond this nocturnal tease, Oprah whipped her viewers into frantic suspense with the following blurb:
“A Million Little Pieces is James Frey’s shocking true story about his battle with addiction and his gut-wrenching journey to recovery. At age 23, after a decade of drug and alcohol abuse, Frey hasn’t just hit rock bottom, he’s knocking on Death’s door. One more drink or one more drug, the doctors tell him, will kill him. But this will be no ordinary stint in rehab—in a move that’s both courageous and obstinate, Frey rejects the Twelve Step Program and chooses his own path to sobriety. Raw and honest, Frey’s descriptions of his withdrawal and the Fury that rages inside jump off the page and pull you in. A Million Little Pieces is an unforgettable account of how far one man will go to destroy himself and what it takes to turn him around.”
Then, after eliciting a few tantalizing details from her new protégé during an hour-long séance, Oprah christened her latest literary offspring with the following command to her millions of devoted fans:
“Start reading A Million Little Pieces—James Frey’s gut-wrenching memoir about his wild ride through rehab!”
And read they did: inflating sales of Frey’s book to over 3.5 million copies and making him very rich indeed. Great!
Except that it was revealed on Tuesday that many of the most interesting (think gut-wrenching) details in Frey’s memoir are, well, just figments of his heroin-chic imagination. (Please click here to read the exhaustive investigative report that smoked-out this high-profile huckster and debunked his tale of pseudo-vices).
But back to Oprah: Given all of her talk about embracing one’s true self and living a blissful life of open confessions, one might’ve expected Oprah to feel betrayed, perhaps even humiliated, by this abuse of her reputation and trust. Instead, she blessed Frey’s fatuous plea about taking creative license with the truth and ignored the emotional toil his lies will undoubtedly have on her fans whose lives were “impacted” by his book.
Because on Wednesday’s edition of CNN’s Larry King Live, as Frey was drowning under a tidal wave of backlash, Oprah threw him a life raft by calling-in to comfort him and assure her public that all of the evidence about Frey’s lies amounts to:
“…much ado about nothing [and that they should] keep holding on….What is relevant is that he was a drug addict . . . and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves. [Besides, she affirmed,] the book’s message of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction still resonates with me.”
Nonetheless, Frey’s publisher, Random House, and major booksellers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com admitted being hoodwinked and have offered refunds to all readers who feel they were sold a bill of goods.
I feel obliged to inform you that I admire Oprah tremendously. And, where her accomplishments as a talk show host are self-evident, I suspect that relatively few people are aware of her generous funding of schools and other charities in South Africa. But it is in this context that I find Oprah most impressive.
Nonetheless, her reaction to Frey’s deceit and obvious intent to exploit her fame and defraud her fans is disappointing, indeed, troubling. After all, when the publisher of the New York Times found out that his star reporter Jayson Blair had committed a similar publishing crime (reporting pure fiction as fact), he not only fired Blair but his editors as well.
Why is she still defending this book? Is it not irresponsible for her to counsel her deceived fans to “keep holding on” to the professed inspiration they got from a pack of lies? And why would she – who admonishes people almost daily to be true to themselves and to live their own lives – now enable Frey to gloss over pathological (and mercenary) lies about his own life?
Although, despite her pretense, Oprah’s own doubts about Frey’s “non-fiction” may be the reason why the only other books she promoted last year were classic fictions by William Faulkner…..Hmmmm?
Of course, it does not matter how she answers these questions now because her credibility has already suffered irreparable and notorious harm.
But good heavens, even President Bush has finally admitted he was duped on WMDs. Has Oprah become so convinced of her own power and infallibility that she cannot admit a single mistake?
Alas, on this book parade, the empress wears no clothes….