Friday, January 27, 2006

"Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!" taunts an infuriated Oprah

At 4:30 yesterday afternoon I came home to channel surf before starting dinner and I stumbled across James Freys' public flogging on the Oprah show...already in progress. It was pretty overwhelming what with all the columnists weighing in with their opinions and Nan A. Talese getting winged by the verbal gunfire aimed the man whose bestselling book she helped to publish. The bloodied and bowed Frey took his licks, most of which he deserved, though I doubt his book merited the veritable gang-attack of vitriolic sermonizing (led by Miss Winfrey) levied at him in such a high-profile way. Lying about having a root canal done without novocain doesn't necessarily put one in the same category as the cesspit of rapists, child abusers and wife-beaters Oprah normally goes after. Still, I venture to say that I've never seen The Big "O" this angry.

For the previously comatose few who might be unaware of the events that have Miss O's panties in a big twist, please note the following:

Frey writes memoir about drug addiction and freakout. Oprah likes book. Orders universe to read it. Oprah discovers that parts are made up. Oprah mad.

Full disclosure: I have yet to read James Frey's book," A Million Little Pieces". It's sitting on my bedside table along with about 15 other books I need to read. I had actually finished the first chapter at the beginning of December when I was advised
by Shrinking Violet to wait until the Christmas-fueled chaos
of work/holidays/kids/home improvement was over, so devastating was the story of the author's addiction. So I did.

Then Oprah orders all of her loyal subjects---er---fanatics--
I mean---viewers to read the book. "Go. Now. Buy" she said, "Do not even stop to pick your children up from school nor
pause to have your rupturing appendix removed at the hospital. I am the Great and Powerful O, and I have spoken."

It goes without saying that the book, its author and its publisher were enjoying a nice patch of sunny success...up until the moment that The Smoking Gun turned up the discrepancies between portions of the book and the real-life incidents upon which they were (or, in this case, were not) based.

It also goes without saying that Nan A. Talese (Her husband is Gay. No, really! No...he's not gay. His name is Gay. Gay Talese??? Oh...go look it up if you don't believe me!) and her cohorts should have been a little more assiduous in asking questions. Okay...a lot more. Either way, Nan believed James. Oprah's people (despite a call from Hazeldon --the drug rehab place-- disputing parts of James' story) believed Nan...who believed James. The Smoking Gun blows holes in Freys' story and everyone emerges with a whole lotta egg on their faces.

Guess who acts as though she/he has the biggest axe to grind here? The readers who plunked down money to read a memoir that wasn't all that they thought? The publisher whose reputation is now forever called into question? The author who, even after admitting that he lied, was set up to be totally butt-reamed on national television? No, friends, it's Oprah, and I'll tell you why.


Something tells me that Oprah doesn't enjoy being wrong in front of millions of people. Maybe it was the executioner's hood that tipped me off or the hot death flames of accusation shooting out of her eyeholes. Perhaps it was just because she had ironed her hair straight for this very serious occasion rather than ordering up the whimsical curls she sports for Tom Cruise-azy or Jamie Foxx. That her manner was stiff and unyielding was to be expected, given how embarrassing this situation was for all concerned. However, her righteous indignation was, I think, overplayed, and she came off looking...well...self-involved. Petulant and dare I say it? Homicidal.

Oprah Winfrey has built a profitable empire from a show that eviscerates deadbeat fathers and props up tired, old Whitney Houston one week and then amazes everyone by giving away lavender Pashminas or cars to audience members. One week she's all about kids dying in Africa and the next week she wants to tell every American woman that they've been buying the wrong kind of bra. No matter what the topic, she brings her own brand of irritating gravitas to the fore and, after a while, I suppose it's inevitable that someone like her would start believing her own press. One imagines Oprah addressing her mirror every morning in a Bob Fossey/Gloria Swanson-kind of way saying, "Oh, yesss! I am rather wonderful, aren't I?" I doubt that her talking mirror has the guts to argue with her.

Does Oprah have a right to be pissed at James Frey? Sure she does! Her complete infatuation with a book that isn't all what it seemed to be calls into question Oprah's peerless discernment where literary excellence is concerned as well as the publisher's culpability. Plus, she's going to have to have the whole Oprah's Book Club list retyped, not to mention thinking of another depressing-assed book to take its place. But you occurred to me that Oprah's taken on convicted murderers, mano a mano. She's visited prison and interviewed men who have committed heinously violent crimes against children without needing a bunch of people to sit around her like a choir of syncophantic parrots to strengthen her case. Maybe it's because she doesn't normally apologize to sex offenders and Thursday's show was a painful and unfamiliar exercise in self-flagellation.

The extra chairs set out for the peanut gallery of blamers who were there to bolster Oprah's case were totally unnecessary. On hand was the Washington Posts's Richard Cohen whose role seemed to be as much that of kiss-ass to Miss Winfrey as it was a finger-pointer at Frey. I ask you, can this woman EVER have a show in which someone doesn't thank her, stroke her ego, break down crying upon entering her airspace, or credit her with the invention of the polio vaccine? Having all of those people telling how grateful the publishing industry should be for her interference was really all about balancing her own impulsive role in this drama. Be right about something else so that folks won't know how dumb you look about Frey's book. Bottom line: It's always gotta be about The Oprah. And it makes me weary, people. Very weary.

You know...if she's this upset over endorsing the truth of a book that isn't so true, imagine how pissed she'll be when she finds out that there aren't really any weapons of mass destruction. That's one confrontation for which I'd be willing to invest in TiVo.


Blogger mrtl said...

I didn't watch yesterday, but you know that the book club (aka Oprah's power) is going to take a hit over this. Her credibility is at stake, especially after supporting Frey publicly after the news first broke.

Granted, it won't be a huge hit. Her public flogging is going to appease a lot of the public's indignation over the whole thing.

Overplayed? Probably. Effective? Definitely. She's no idiot.

4:27 PM  
Blogger The Queen Mama said...

Dear God. I'm so glad I don't watch the O.

I mean, I like her in principle. Like that she supports a lot of worthy causes and is generous with her time, money and celebrity.

But you're right. She has gotten way too self-involved.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

So, I was wondering, if he lied in the book, does that make it less of a good read?

I think, on this one, they have gone overboard, he is a writer, not a reporter, not a criminal, a writer. Apparently, one with an overactive imagination. He should not have lied, but, as you say, there are worse people out there.

8:14 PM  
Blogger mE said...

Thank you, my thoughts (pretty much) exactly... the level of passion didn't really fit the crime, and smacked of being pissed off at being embarrassed. And mostly it smelled of being embarrassed that she had voluntarily come riding to his defense (on the Alan King show) without checking her facts first - something that Ms Winfrey, as a former journalist, should have known better than to do.

Hey, I understand being ticked. I'd feel betrayed and pissed off and ashamed, too. I'd probably even want revenge. But as a person of a great deal of power and influence, the O should have done better than to indulge her passions in quite this public a forum. A little more dignity would have stood her in better stead, I think.


9:37 PM  
Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

I didn't follow this story too closely, but my neighbor, who has a son who went through a drug addiction, did. Apparently Frey first tried to get the book published as fiction, based on a true story. The publisher advised him to beef it up a little, which he did, and everything would have been fine if it has ended up on the fiction rack, like it was supposed to. But somehow it ended up published as non-fiction instead. It sounds to me more like a mistake in judgement than an actual attempt to deceive. Methinks Oprah needs a Chill-pill.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Kai said...

I can't help but sniffing publicity stunt through all of this - it feels....too convenient. Too controlled and outraged. Too much like 'look, I can admit I'm wrong, but only cause I was tricked'. And I bet anyone that raises it in the future will be turned on.
Anyone else gets tricked and we comfort them, but many times, we also advise against the stupidity. Oprah was told - it stopped being duped when she was given that information. And in the end, she only did something cause of contact from her viewers, which she also, seemingly admitted in the show.

I don't hold much stock in celebrity controlling celebrity, which is what she does.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Hänni said...

I totally agree with everything everyone has said here.

My question is, why do you think James Frey agreed to come back on the show for that nationally televised gangbang in the first place?

I think 15 minutes of flaggellation would have been enough. 60 minutes plus guest butt-kickers, that's overkill.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Yes, ditto what Queen Mama said. And I haven't read the book either, because the hand covered with a million pellets from a Tylenol gel cap completely freaks me out.

Letter B wrote a good bit on this as well.

I also wonder what all the hub-bub will do to sales of the book. Go down? Probably not. How convenient!

8:49 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I've been trying to articulate my thoughts on this subject, and now I don't have to. Well said, Wordgirl.

What is so bad about being mistaken? Oprah had an opportunity to say, with dignity, "I was mistaken. I was taken in. Oops." I bet 99% of her book club followers would have accepted this and immediately moved on to the next book/episode/suggestion.

I think, as a society, we are so afraid of making mistakes that it hinders our growth. Everyone is wrong sometimes. There's nothing wrong with saying so.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous LetterB said...

We are of the same mind Girl, totally. This post is awesome. And it includes a Gay Talese reference. Brilliant!

9:34 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Pretty much in agreeance with everyone here. Didn't see the original show, but saw a snippet of it on and really, I think she was more angry about being embarrassed in the public eye than she was about him embellishing or lying about details.

Mignon, those are pellets from a Tylenol gel-cap? Um...I thought they were sprinkles. ~blush~

12:45 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

I remember reading that "Girl, Interrupted" turned out to be only marginally true....but it wasn't a big controversy because it wasn't one of Oprah's book club books. It seemed like Oprah handled the best way possible, considering the circumstances.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I thought they were sprinkles, too. :)

12:51 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I read the book and recommended that my book club read it and we will be meeting at my house on Feb. 7th. Wanta come?

Its a good read - fiction or not. You know that it isn't all made up. I don't think it could be.

I don't like James Frey when I have seen him on Larry King or O. But, you know what? He's a crackhead and a drunk. Why would we think he would be a stand-up totally honest person all of a sudden???

1:31 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrrl said...

Ah, Debbie, that's insightful! That made me totally LOL.

Haven't read the book but I do think if something is marketed as a memoir, the basic facts of the story and its premise should be held up for scrutiny.

Get this: I've never seen Oprah's TV show. I used to subscribe to her magazine but I can only take so much "self-improvement" the Oprah way. I particularly disliked her column, "What I Know for Sure" and her endless sermonizing. And I hate that every issue has Oprah on the cover, braying like a donkey with her big white teeth ready to eat us alive.

That said, I do think she attracts some great writers with interesting ideas and her magazine is geared to smart women who like to think about their lives. I still like to read it, just not every month.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Oh, great post! Totally agree with you. I saw the show and Oprah (Queen of the World) in all her self righteous indignation. I know she does a lot of good, but really, her head has gotten so big that at this point she probably can't even fit it through the door of her private jet.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

So right on. Just had this same exact conversation with J on Sunday night.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I thought it would have been more sincere on her part if she had spoken against Frey when we first heard about the lies in his book, but she supported him saying it was still an important book.

Her complaining and having Frey on her show to answer charges was just staging, entertaining her faithful.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Nilbo said...

I think I just fell in love with you a little bit over this post. Brilliant!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Cat said...

In the words of my Secret Greek Idol Luvah, "I think I love you."

That is all.

2:37 PM  

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