Friday, January 27, 2006

James Frey and the case of The Smoking Gun #2

Now more than famous, the infamous James Frey made another and probably his last appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is safe to conclude that the love fest is over. Oprah was visibly upset. No – let’s call it what it is – she was pissed. She had to do something she was not used to doing: Admit she was wrong and apologize. Not for her original endorsement, she could have just been a victim like everyone else that believed Frey, but for her defense after the truth was revealed.

It is not unfair to say that Oprah brought this on herself. She could have waited before throwing her considerable clout behind the defense of Mr. Frey and his book. She could have paid attention to the Larry King interview and saw what I believe the rest of the world saw: An author fielding the softest of softball questions and still squirming. Evading questions, answering in ambiguity and playing games with semantics are not the tactics of an honest man.

Oprah claims her judgment was clouded, that she too was swept up by the fervor that she helped create. Perhaps. I happen to have a great deal of respect for what she has done in her life although not necessarily in form, definitely in substance. Thus being the case, I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Yes, that means I have doubt. But I feel that she has earned at least one pass, a “get out of jail free card” as it were, a mulligan.

However, granting her the benefit of excuse does not relieve her of the direct consequences of her statement of support. That is to say that there is a penalty for picking a losing horse, but not always one for the negligence in picking it. And Oprah felt a wrath heretofore foreign to her. Many gave her credit for stepping up and doing the right thing. They say it took courage. I don’t know about that. I think she had little choice and indeed it was, in a backhanded way, a boost to an already lofty persona.

Suffice it to say that Oprah took responsibility for a variety of reasons, among then the right ones. And she was tough – and Frey squirmed. He was not having a good time, yet he continued to lie. He has not learned how to tell the truth. He is claiming only what he thinks he has to. He is admitting the bare minimum and it isn’t enough. He makes excuse after excuse after excuse. I guess he wants us to feel sorry for him after all he went through. Spare me!

As I knew from the very first time I got wind of his book, Mr. Frey is not capable of telling the truth. He lied yesterday, the day before and quite probably has been doing it all of his life. In his defense, if he had come clean about everything, there would be scant factual material left. He still should have. He’s already rich; his fame is pretty well established, why not come clean? Maybe he doesn’t think he has to. Perhaps it’s too big a pill to swallow. For whatever reason, it is clear that he intends to hold on to everything he can.

Oprah may have been able to wait for the hoopla to die down. She may have been able to ignore the whole mess and let it die a natural death. However, after her rush to stand behind him live on Larry King, by validating Frey’s “essential” or “emotional” truth, she endorsed dishonesty by default. Although she quite probably could have weathered the criticism leveled at her, it struck at one of her core beliefs and, to her credit and for what I believe are sincere and genuine reasons, felt compelled to set the record straight. She said she was duped. She was not alone. Nevertheless, some of us smelled this rat a mile away.


Saur♥Kraut said...

Beautiful! But I'm not shedding any tears for Oprah. She's a big celeb with a lotta money that has never been more deep than a puddle.

She's as sweet and fluffy as fluffernutter, and has as much substance. Her fans won't care, and the rest of us aren't surprised.

As for Frey, I've never read the book or heard of him until the scandal hit. But I've always wondered about human nature: why do we want to read such prurient trash???

Saur♥Kraut said...

Scratch fluffernutter and make it marshmallow creme. Fluffernutter has some substance, after all...

Sadie Lou said...

I haven't heard of this story and I watch Oprah all the time. Like yourself, I think Oprah is capable of great things. Her passion for capturing child predators and handsomely rewarding the people who find them is one of her more admirable causes.
I have always hated the idea of Oprah's Book Club.
My sister works in a book store and they refuse to make an Oprah's Book Club display shelf with all her picks.
I think authors should be able to make it in that industry on their own two feet without the shameless plug from Oprah.
If I were an author and she wanted to endorse me--it'd be a tough choice. I'd most likely say "no thanks".
I'm going to read up on this some more thanks to your lead in.

Michael K. Althouse said...

saur: For the record, I am not in any way, shape, or form an Oprah fan. I think her ego is so big that it takes two trips to go anywhere. That said, I do think that in her own very public, very commercial way she has made more than her share of contribution to society.

The outrage over this much beloved "Queen's" apparent reversal over what she stood for is what really put the icing on this cake. It think it may have been marshmallow cream frosting...

sadie lou:Ya I think she is capable of great things and has done some great things. It just seems to me that everytime she does something nice, it's about "look at me, look how good I am." She's like an egomaniac with low self-esteem. The most geniune charity is anonymous.

Then there is the commercialism of her philanthropy. She is always sponsored by or thanking so-and-so for or recognizing the generostity of... She has enough money and these companies don't need her help (well, maybe GM could use a little) [:->.


Bar L. said...

I agree with you 100% on this.

A young friend of mine who is in rehab for meth addiction gave me the book because hse read it. It ticks me off that she bought his lies. I read it and thought he was arrogant and hard to believe, but I am always hard to fool - some people that read it were very emotionally involved in what they thought was truth.

Sadie Lou said...

I totally agree with your anlaysis of Oprah's intentions. It's kind of a double edged sword because while her money should be put to good use, I really don't think we need to keep giving her a pat on the back for it. With that kind of fundage you SHOULD be making waves for charity--ya know?
What really bothers me are the Oprah followers. These fans of hers that rush out do or buy whatever she gets behind. It's so mindless and puts Oprah in this unnatural position of being super influential.
Kinda scary.

Unknown said...

Oprah does a lot of philanthropic work, which is the reason why I think many people admire her.

Isn't it true that this Frey character tried initially tried to publish this book as fiction, but no one was buying so he decided to push it as 'memoirs'?? I read that somewhere online, although it's hard to decipher fact from fiction online, too.

Do you know anything about this??

Michael K. Althouse said...

bar bar a:Absolutely, it is only under the premise of truth that this book works.

sadie lou:It's not just her charity work, she has overcome much adversity too. All the same, I can only handle some much ingratiation.

bhakti:Yes, he did try to sell his book as a novel, but no one was interested. The reason that it "worked" as a "memoir" is the belief that these things really happened. It is not that compelling as fiction.

Jenn said...

I saw that confrontation. Wow, was that ever uncomfortable. I thought he'd come prepared with a bunch of well rehersed lies to defend himself with, but she really had him on the spot! He looked like a boy at the principal's office.

Michael K. Althouse said...

jenn:I'm surprised he didn't have his attorney there with him. Maybe he thought Nan Talese would save his ass. She was too busy saving her own!

Ellen said...

I caught the first interview Oprah did with James Frey about his book. All she kept saying (as well as the people who had read it), was that you couldn't put it down... it was too compelling. I was tempted to pick up a copy, but kept holding back. Then this "scandel" comes out, and it makes me glad I didn't spend the money for fiction when I was expecting biography. I wished I had seen the show last week when she denounced him, as he deserved it for being a fraud.

The general public have become "sheeple" with every word that comes out of her mouth; buying the products she endorses, etc. This is what specifically got her into trouble in Texas with the cattlemen... they were afraid that people would stop eating red meat and their bottom line profit would spiral with a non-endorsement from Oprah.

Regardless, she will weather this faux pas, as the philinthropic work she does has a louder voice in the minds of her fans.

Great post!

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Well said.

Yes, it is disappointing to reveal that someone makes up what is supposedly a true story. Oprah, in my opinion, is more worried about her ratings, that the content of this man's story.

It is not uncommon for addicts and alcoholics to embellish a bit. What is the real message that lies beneath it all? A successful recovery sparkeled with some untruths?

Jamie Dawn said...

Well, Oprah will get over it. Frey, on the other hand, may be pretty much screwed for life.

Michael K. Althouse said...

ellen: I think Oprah was most honest when she said she was embarrassed. Although I said I'd give her the benefit of the doubt (and that's still true), I think throwing her support behind Frey initially was an attempt to use her *power* to quash the whole affair. She chose unwisely, so part of her recantation was about damage control. I do agree that she is held in such high regard that this won't hurt her.

barbara: I think that there are those who would argue that he has no recovery at all. He is just (allegedly) abstinant. All the dope-fiend behavior is still there. Self aggrandizing, embellishing and lying. The self-centeredness which is at the core of every addiction is still prominent. He just switch his "drug" of choice.

jamie dawn: You are absolutely right about Oprah, but apparently Frey's book(s) are still on the best seller list for NON-fiction!! I certainly don't wish him any harm, but at the same time, I don't like seeing anyone capitalize on fraud.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Right on the money, again.

I must say that in reading the comments on my own post about this and reading many of yours too, I may be the shallowest person on the planet...but I do not understand the extreme..EXTEEEME Animous towards Oprah! What the hell has she done to have sooo many people feel the way they do about her. She worked hard; she rose above a very lousy beginning; she gor rich; she continues to do GOOD things...I mean, if you are going to be angry at RICH about all those Oil & Enron Gansters who don't do anything for anyone else but themselves...(I don't mean this directed at you Mike..not at all..) I'm just upset by this doesn't allow for any of her humanity, which I truly do not understand, at all!

Abyway, my dear Mr.Althouse...thank you for writing about all this...and more!!! I'll stop now... And I dearly thank you for visiting my blog.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

My dear...let me just a few more things that I did not say as my personal disclaimer, lest I be accusesed of being an Oprah Worshiper!

I have never bought anything she talks anout or endorses. I have never bought any book her book club endorses, including Mr. Frey's Fiction!
And...Whatever Oprah's motives may be...IF THEY DON'T HURT ANYONE...I'll take the GOOD she does and be grateful that someone with the endless cash cow ability she back to people all over our world...and, in essence, puts her money where her mouth is.
Now, I'm really done. (For this moment...LOL)

Michael K. Althouse said...

Nor am I. But as I said, I do give her the benefit of the doubt. i think she has earned AT LEAST that much.

Thanks for your kind words and visiting my blog. I post most every day so stop back by.


David Amulet said...

I think it was sad. Her first response was to defend, defend, defend so she didn't look bad ... and THEN when it became clear that her fans didn't like that strategy, she flip-flopped and acted shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that he had done this.

Shame on her.

-- david

UltimateWriter said...

As sorry as he and others may be, guess what? He doesn't have to give any of the money back. Boom, fizzle, thud.

The Zombieslayer said...

She could have paid attention to the Larry King interview and saw what I believe the rest of the world saw: An author fielding the softest of softball questions and still squirming.

Anyone who squirms at a Larry King interview has serious issues. King should lose his job. He's such a soft interviewer that he could make anyone appear safe.

neal said...

I am not a big Oprah fan but my wife watches her pretty religiously. I sometimes would have to suffer the wrath of the things Oprah had on her show. She used to be just another trash talk show almost as bad as Springer, Rikki Lake, and the likes.

I have noticed a change in her though and I do credit her for that. She seems to be a bit more serious in her topics and does do alot of good. I do think she is basically covering her ass on this one though. She flubbed and supported this goofball and now she is saving face.

But it is far less an offense for her than the loss of face Bill O Reilly and Rush Limbaugh went through. I think she will end up coming out just fine on this one.