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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Oprah vs Frey Part Deux

29

January

Let's say you're the editor of a Web site who has prompted one of the most powerful stars in the world to devote an hourlong show to criticizing the best-selling non-fiction author in the country -- forcing the writer to admit he's a fraud, and that your recent expose detailing his lies was true.

Do you watch the program with glee, feeling vindicated after weathering weeks of denials from said author?

Not if you're TheSmokingGun.com's Bill Bastone.

"I couldn't watch it when it replayed," said Bastone of Oprah Winfrey's now-legendary dressing-down of author James Frey, in which she admitted she felt "duped" by the author's now-discredited memoir A Million Little Pieces. (Read my follow-up here.)

Bastone watched the show live Thursday morning after technicians in the New York offices of SmokingGun owner CourtTV captured the satellite transmission. But when the program broadcast to New York viewers in the afternoon, Bastone couldn't bring himself to watch it again (though that didn't stop his co-workers).

"In some of the (footage of him) it looked like his dog had died," Bastone said of Frey, who endured withering criticism from Winfrey, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, New York Times columnist Frank Rich and many others. "If you think about it, of all the people in this country to have to be sitting across from a couch and have that person hand your head to you -- outside of the President doing it to you or the Pope -- there's nobody more powerful than Oprah."

(By the way, Bastone wasn't miffed Oprah didn't invite him or his staff to the program: "He had to answer to Oprah: It's her brand, her rep and her audience. She didn't need some dopey web site to take him to the woodshed.")

It's one of the biggerst firestorms ever kicked up by the site, started by former Village Voice reporter Bastone and two other friends as a fun hobby in 1997 and turned into a full-time job when CourtTV bought it in 2000. Enamored of records and what they reveal, Bastone and his cohorts discovered Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire star Rock Rockwell had been accused of domestic assault and published the deposition of the 13-year-old who accused Michael Jackson of molestation in 1993. But that was nothing compared to the tsunami of reaction when TSG published a blistering investigation of Frey's memoir, concluding he had lied about nearly every arrest and jail sentence in the book.

And Bastone has more in store. "Since we published the story, we have been contacted by a lot of people who know the author, went to school with him, and had business dealings with him in Chicago, North Carolina and Los Angeles. For us, they've opened up a lot of other areas of inquiry...Whether we're actually going to do another story, I don't know. Part of me says it
feel like you're kicking a guy when he's down. I mean, Oprah Winfrey sent out this message to the Winfrey nation and the country that the book's fake. If we point out a whole bunch of other stuff, does anyone really care anymore?"

Still, Bastone remains irritated that Frey hasn't recanted the most outrageous stories in his book -- including a claim that he got a root canal without pain medication and that he nearly killed a priest who tried to molest him. "He would have been so well-served had he been truthful from the get go. I don't think we would be talking about this -- 19 days after we first posted the story. If he just fessed up, it would have been so much better for him."

Other Voices Talking Frey and Oprah:

Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher, Grove/Atlantic Books: "What came out of (Oprah's show) was two things: It's almost like case law; she has set a precedent and we all know where the line should be drawn. And Doubleday should have dealt with this back in September when her producers asked about questions over the book before Oprah's book club endorsement. From now on, no publisher in his right mind is going to publish a memoir without asking the Frey question: What have you done with the material here?"

Ralph Keyes, author of The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Modern Life: "Up and down society I think we just feel we have permission to make things up and pretend that its real. We've lost our sense of a value system in which telling a lie is clearly wrong. We're so entertainment oriented, and the value system there is so fluid...entertainers have replaced the clergy as our dominant moral compass. We don't want to say we're telling lies. It's
the whole Steven Colbert 'truthiness' thing -- not quite a lie, and not quite the truth. We don't say honesty is the best policy...because that proves you're a rube. "

Jeffrey Seglin, professor at Emerson College and author of an ethics column for New York Times syndicate: "This guy Frey is very smart and (the show) oddly puts him in the position of being a victim, again. Basically, it was Oprah and...everybody else just piling on. And he just sat there and took it as smartly as you can do it. And meanwhile, his books keep selling...But, on a positive note, 20 years ago, nobody probably would have called his book into question. So one of the questions left is: Are the lies worse than ever before, or are we just catching people more now?''

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]

    

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