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Why is Oprah Defending a Fraud?



I know there are way more important media stories unfolding this day -- the question of why, for example, most media seem to be focusing on Judge Alito's wife losing it during his confirmation hearings, instead of his subtle way of leaving the door open to reverse women's right to an abortion (my thought: if Mrs. Alito can't handle Lindsey Graham's ham-handed attempts to make her husband look good, she's in for a long, troubling time as a First Lady of the Supreme Court).

But why is Oprah Winfrey standing up for discredited author James Frey? presented a devastating analysis of Frey's book A Million Little Pieces Sunday, contending that "Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's book." After a six-month investigation, they concluded that he exagerrated many elements of his book which describes status as an outlaw "wanted in three states."

When Frey finally submitted to an in-depth interview to explain himself on CNN's Larry King Live, he predictably fell back on assertions that memoirs don't have to be entirely accurate -- despite asserting in earlier interviews that his book was mostly true.

But he most surprising moment came from Winfrey, who called into King's show to assert that Frey article contained essential truths -- even if it wasn't true.

"The underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me," said the talk show host, who is constantly encouraging her audience to face painful truths in their own lives.

"Whether or not the cars' wheels rolled up on the sidewalk or whether he hit the police officer or didn't hit the police officer is irrelevant to me," Winfrey added. "What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil, from the time he was 10 years old, drinking and -- and tormenting himself and his parents."

Leaving aside the question of whether we can believe that part of his story either, Winfrey's words carry a disappointing message: Because he's telling me a story I want to hear, she seems to say, it doesn't matter if it is true.

I know: Who could imagine that a big-shot talk show host, accused of presenting a fraudulent book to her audience as a revolutionary tale, would say anything to save her credibility? That little "Oprah's Book Club" seal ties her credibility to his; she could have severed it by expressing some concern about the questions raised, but she instead chose to encourage her fans to ignore the inconsistencies completely.

It remains disappointing that a woman with so much power in the publishing world would resort to a "truthiness" defense to back up a guy who seems the literary equivalent of P.T. Barnum.

And, as if to add insult to injury, Frey's book remains at the top of's bestselling list.

UPDATE: National Public Radio announced today that former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel will join the channel as a senior new analyst, contributing to a range of NPR programs in the same way that his former ABC News colleague, Cokie Roberts, currently does. Koppel will also contribute op-ed pieces to the New York Times, wth the first one slated for Jan. 29.

So all that stuff I said about old reporters and ABC News goes double now.

Local Guy Alert!

University of South Florida professor Ray Arsenault appears today on National Public Radio's Fresh Air interview show to discuss his most recent book, Freedom Riders, just in time for Martin Luther King's birthday and Black History Month. Ray is a local treasure -- a nationally-recognized historian who has made his home in tha Tampa Bay area and continually enlightens us with his work. I'm sure his time with Terri Gross is well worth checking out.

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


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