Live-blogging the Oprah-James Frey smackdown
4:00 p.m. Yeah, reading Gawker‘s account of the taping earlier today spoiled some of this, but the printed account can’t do justice to the rare sight of Oprah in righteous-anger mode. She begins with a brief recap of the scandal surrounding A Million Little Pieces, up to her phone call to Larry King defending Frey. ”I regret that phone call. I made a mistake, and I left the impression that the truth does not matter.” Snap! ”To everyone who challenged me on the issue of truth, you are absolutely right.”
4:05 Oprah confronts Frey face to face. ”I really feel duped. More than that, I feel you betrayed millions of readers.” Then she starts grilling him point-by-point on the particulars of The Smoking Gun’s report. ”Most of what they wrote was pretty accurate. They did a good job,” Frey says. He admits for the first time that he was in jail for two hours, not 87 days. So he was not in jail, as he wrote, when Lilly committed suicide. ”I made a mistake,” says Frey, who admits he altered details about every person in the book.
4:10 Oprah says she believed Frey and his publisher when they vouched for the veracity of the book, so why did he lie? He says that he was coming up with ”a coping mechanism.” “I thought of myself as being tougher than I was, badder than I was,” he says. Still, he says, ”not very much” of the book was fabricated.
4:13 There’s an audible groan from the audience when Frey admits that Lilly didn’t hang herself (she cut her wrists, he says). Oprah notes that he keeps referring to the people in his book as ”characters,” so why didn’t he just write a novel?
4:15 Asked if he ”conned us all,” Frey says no because ”nobody’s contesting that I was a drug addict.” Still, Oprah insists, ”you presented a false person.” Audience applauds.
4:17 Asked if his account of dental surgery without Novocainewas true, he says, ”I wrote it from memory.” Audience sighs again.Frey concedes that it may not have happened as he remembered it. Oprahall but rolls her eyes as she calls him a liar. Audience applaudsagain. Man, this is painful and awkward.
4:22 In taped segments, newspaper columnists Joel Stein, StanleyCrouch, and Maureen Dowd give Frey verbal spankings. MoDo says the bookdoesn’t deserve Oprah’s seal of approval.
4:23 Frey’s editor, Nan Talese, joins Oprah and Frey onstage and says Frey’s manuscript came to her as a memoir. Says she oncehad a root canal without Novocaine, ”so it wasn’t a red flag to me.”Says she didn’t learn of the fabrications until she read the Smoking Gun report. She asks if she should have asked Frey, ”Are you really asbad as you say you are?” ”Yes!” says Oprah. Asked whatresponsibility publishers have to fact-check their books, Talesesuggests there isn’t much. ”It seems no one was liable,” Talese says.This doesn’t wash with Oprah, who berates Talese while Frey, sittingbetween them, gulps and swallows uncomfortably. Talese uses an anecdoteabout Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s divergent memoirs to show that peopleremember things differently, as if Frey’s embellishments were a matterof perception. ”It should say ‘Based on a true story”’ Oprah says.
4:30 Oprah confirms the New York Times report that a Hazeldenstaffer contacted the show before Frey’s initial appearance last falland warned them that his account was dubious, but she adds that shecalled Talese’s company, and they assured her that Pieces wasaccurate. Talese acknowledges that it’s a sad situation for Oprah, whocuts in and says, ”It’s not sad for me. It’s embarrassing anddisappointing for me.” She complains, ”Anybody can walk in off thestreet and say this is my story.” That’s true, Talese says, then goeson to make a distinction between memoir and autobiography. A memoir,Talese says, is ”an author’s recollection of a particular time.”Unlike Frey, Talese isn’t going to give an inch to Oprah today.
4:35 Stein is back (on tape) saying that he still liked the bookeven after learning it was fabricated; he just doesn’t like the authoranymore. More spankings from Crouch and MoDo as well.
4:36 Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen comes on. Oprah praises him for calling her ”deluded” after the Larry King show; he pats her on the back in turn for today’s program. Tells Talese, who he says is a friend, that she should hire a cheap fact-checker, who could have determined in half an hour that Frey’s opening account of boarding a plane with a bloody hole in his face couldn’t be true. ”I can’t even take a third piece of luggage on board.” Cohen also says he’s never been addicted to anything stronger than bagels. Ba-dump-bum! Tip your waitresses generously, folks.
4:42 New York Times columnist Frank Rich calls this scandal the ”tip of the iceberg.” Says we now have a culture of Stephen Colbert-style ”truthiness” rather than actual truth.
4:46 Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar of the PoynterInstitute, snarks that Frey wrote in his own book: “Remember the truth– that’s all that matters.” Suggests memoirs be rated on a truth scale, from completely true to ”total BS.”
4:50 Oprah says she hopes he was joking when he remarked about having a gun backstage, presumably to kill himself.
4:54 “This hasn’t been a great day for me,” says Frey.
4:57 Oprah’s final thought? A quote from New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani: “This is not about truth in labeling … this is about how much value contemporary culture places on truth.”
5:01 Oprah pours herself a tall, frosty one. (No, not really. We were lying. Just to be clear.)