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Oprah The Victim

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So Oprah Winfrey feels duped by author James Frey, writer of the so called memoir, A Million Little Pieces. “But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.” she added yesterday as she ripped her previously favoured author a new one.

Oprah’s surprising about face came only a week after she phoned in her support for the beleaguered author on “The Larry King Show”. Ever since the story was broken a couple of weeks ago that James Frey’s “memoir” of a life of crime and drug addiction was more fact than fiction, Oprah had stood by her man.

She was the one who catapulted him to fame in the first place. When she gave A Million Little Pieces her sticker of approval by making it a selection of the Oprah Book Club it was guaranteed massive best seller status. Frey himself was given the full Oprah treatment; cried over, praised and built up into some kind of one-man model of redemption. If he can come back from the edge of destruction, than anybody can.

So what caused Oprah to do such a full about face? The only thing that could make her change her mind: bad publicity for Oprah. All last week, she and her people had been receiving emails from disgruntled fans asking her how she could continue to support somebody who was such an obvious liar. Her fans, her ratings, and maybe her advertisers had spoken…James Frey had to be dropped like a hot potato.

He had committed the most unspeakable of crimes; he was making Oprah look bad. In fact, she was looking like an idiot for endorsing, supporting, and making a hero out of some guy who lived in a fantasy world of what a hard case he had been.

Last week, she was claiming that emotional truth mattered more than facts; this week. she was saying that she had left the impression that truth wasn’t important and blamed people who supported the book for clouding her judgment with all the emails they sent her. I wonder how many people who read and supportedA Million Little Pieces continued to do so only because she herself had initially endorsed it and continued to do so publicly until yesterday?

Poor Oprah, a victim of her own success at huckstering; she had convinced so many people of the veracity of this book that they wrote in to tell her how much they believed in it, and her. With all those endorsements based on her endorsement ringing in her ears, how could she tell the difference between right from wrong?

Just as her favourite author of the month James Frey had such a hard time distinguishing between the truth and lies, Oprah had a hard time distinguishing between what was going to damage her reputation more, supporting Frey or cutting him loose. Interestingly enough, in spite of yesterday, she did not rescind her A Million Little Pieces’ Oprah Book Club selection. Maybe it’s just too much hard work to go around taking all those stickers off the books already in stores.

I notice that amidst all her finger-pointing at Mr. Frey’s publishers, and the fans of his book, she has conveniently forgotten to mention anything of her involvement in the matter. She didn’t even apologise for saying that lying didn’t matter; all she did was make one of the lamest excuses I’ve heard since the days of Nixon and Watergate.

Has anybody heard her say to the reading public “I’m sorry for continuing to endorse this book after it was found to be full of lies”? You’d think it would be front-page news if she did and I haven’t seen any record of it yet. If I’m wrong, I apologise in advance to Ms. Winfrey for missing it, but as far as I can see she’s playing the role of the victim to the hilt, and acting like she had nothing to do with promoting both the author and the book.

Does this woman have no shame? She freely admitted on her show that her people had received information that the book might have contained inaccuracies but, instead of checking it out independently, they phoned the publisher. Let me see; you’ve just published a book as a memoir and Oprah phones to ask you if it’s true because she wants to endorse it, what do you do? Tell her the truth and say you don’t know and kiss millions of sales goodbye, or say yes of course it’s the truth?

If that’s the way Oprah’s fact checkers work on every story, you have to wonder about the accuracy of anything you see on that show. Publishers may not have the resources and the wherewithall to fact check all of the supposed memoirs that come into their offices that they want to publish, but Oprah can’t make that excuse.

She’s one of the wealthiest women in America; her show is massively syndicated and has access to resources beyond the scope of most news shows. Yet her people didn’t bother to fact check a couple of arrest records, or any of the other information that was refuted by The Smoking Gun

Even when she had the opportunity to follow up on their leads, which might have been the wise course considering that suspicions had been raised earlier, she refused. Instead of behaving responsibly and having her people check into things closely she kept on accepting everything Mr. Frey said at face value or, even worse, saying it didn’t matter whether he had told the complete truth or not.

But I guess if she were to accept any responsibility for this mess it would take away from her position as a victim in this matter. Poor Oprah, everybody has been out to get her this year. First, it was those horrible people at the Hermes store in Paris who wouldn’t let her come in after they had closed for a staff party. Now it’s James Frey, who had the nerve to be the liar everybody said he was and make her look bad for supporting him this last couple of weeks.

I wonder what Mr. Frey was expecting when he accepted the invitation to appear on Oprah’s show yesterday, an opportunity to defend himself again? Maybe some soft questions from Oprah that would lead to some tearful self-recriminations about lying and addiction that would soften the hearts of his critics?

Unfortunately for him, he had committed the unpardonable crime of making Oprah look bad so he had to pay the price, public humiliation in the form of being booed by the same studio audience who had so recently showered him with adoration. In the world according to Oprah, Oprah is infallible and you forget that at your peril.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • tim

    I heard Oprah say the three words that so few people manage to voice anymore:

    “I was wrong.”

    Not “I was wrong, but…” or “I was wrong because…”

    Yes, she hung a lot of this on Frey – as she should — but she also apologized directly for continuing to defend him. “I was wrong,” she said.

    And I’m no Oprah-junkie, but that’s enough for me.

  • The only thing she admitted to doing wrong was implying that lying was alright when she phoned the Larry King Show last week to lend her support to Mr. Frey.

    On top of that she qualified it by saying her judgement was clouded by all the emails she had received in support of Mr. Frey…that’s quite the but don’t you think?

    She has not accepted any responsiblity for the fact that she was part and parcel of the reason this man’s book was so popular in the first place. This woman has been given a lot of power to influence the marketplace, and she needs to start being held responsible for her actions.


  • TanMack

    I realize it’s hard to give Oprah credit–and there appears to be an Oprah backlash mounting now from two groups: those who think she has too much power and those betrayed fans from the audience she first created–her personal feelings audience–and has now dumped, along with Frey.

    But Oprah really shouldn’t have to do a background check on every book she selects for her book club. As much as some hate it, she is doing authors and publishers a favor by cultivating readers and growing a market. Why can’t publishers do their part by ensuring a book’s validity? Isn’t it their job? Would $30,000 dollars for a fact checker really bust their budgets? Having worked at many of these publishing companies, I recall they spend 5 times that at their sales meetings.

    The point is that this is Oprah’s Book Club not Oprah’s Publishing Company, though I’m sure she could buy Random House out and do their job for them–if that’s what people really want.

    I heard Oprah apologize, repeatedly, for her mistake, for ignoring the red flags and blindly carrying on with the program. But she wasn’t the only one at fault in this charade–there are some editors, agents, and others connected with Frey who have been hiding from public inquiry since this whole thing started.

    People hate to give her credit, but Oprah has saved the market for publishers, corralled them and herded them on toward the bookstores. Why not thank her for it instead of scorning her?

  • TanMack, as a reader I shudder to think of a literary marketplace geared to the tastes of those who have to be herded to the bookstore like cattle. Were you being tongue-in-cheek when you said that?

    I’ve long viewed Oprah as pandering to victimhood, emotional voyuerism and celebrity worship. As of this post, I vow to stop devoting any mental space to her. I won’t click on any posts about her, because I’m simply not interested. “Looking away shall be my only negation.”

  • John Slattery

    I’m no Oprah fan. (Though my wife is; mama mia she likes Dr. Phil, too. But I love her anyway.) However, I applaud the lady for admitting that she made a mistake. Tim, I think you got it right. It was refreshing to hear a public figure say those three little words: “I was wrong.’
    Lord knows there are so many more we’ll NEVER hear that from, including the current resident of the Oval Office.

  • For me, Oprah Winfrey and her many impersonators are symbols of exactly what’s wrong in America. Many people have turned off their ability to reason and instead place their trust in an iconic figure like Winfrey, who tells them how to eat, sleep, drink, what to wear and what to do with their lives. That Winfrey’s staff didn’t properly investigate Frey’s account is not surprising. Frey’s book is the kind of teary-eyed stuff that TV movies are made from in order to touch the viewer on those cornerstones of faith and emotion instead of common sense. That’s why Winfrey and her people chose it- because they understand Oprah’s audience is more suseptible to emotion than reason- and those are the kinds of people that advertisers want to reach.

    Oprah Winfrey is like James Frey and his publisher in many ways- she panders to the lowest common denominators of our species- those with $35.00 burning in their hot little hands for a salacious story. Fact? Fiction? Who cares, as long as the money keeps rolling in.

  • No sorrow for Oprah here.

    I’ve published three books and sent all three to her without even a response (they were all fiction). She’d rather choose crap like Frey’s book or old time writers like Faulkner. I love Faulkner, but give a guy who is alive and writing fiction a break.

    Oh, and Frey might be the book equivalent to the musical one-hit wonder. Let’s hope so anyway.

  • I must agree with Victor ( #7 ) as it seems that she (or whoever is doing that, reading her choices and then declares this or that book as latest senstion in her book club)has a secret ” BOOK LOTTERY ” and this time the numbers did not match, but the chosen was declared winner anyhow ! That is sad and should really give people to think about where corruption starts and where it ends – just like in the Artist world, acting or authors universe : starving talent on the street. I asked her hersonally with some important people for support in my case and never heard back from her (or her staff). But Life seems fair, as now she is in the news and yet it could have been my excausting three month research on a whole complott – involving a book ( besides other scandals ) and I believe that Marilyn Monroe is still more important than addictions – especially if MM has become my own addiction ! Thank you, Oprah ! Continue to purchase more jewelery and report on glamorous parties ~ let phony moviestar jump on your couch and bring people to tears. Cocodile tears it seems all too often. I am amazed anyhow – and that is the beauty of this debate – that some people still read instead talking on their cellphones, while driving to meet an online date on their way to shop for a new notebook…