Too Little, Too Late, Oprah

Three years ago, Oprah Winfrey publicly shamed author James Frey for stretching the truth in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which was one of her book club choices until The Smoking Gun reported that Frey’s narrative had some falsities.

Now, Oprah has apologized for humiliating the author in front of national television. She invited him onto her show only to criticize him for “duping” everyone. Oprah may be the most powerful woman in existence, but it was unnecessary and very catty of her to verbally stone Frey to death in front of the world. No one deserves that.

Frey said Winfrey called him last fall to tell him “I felt I owe you an apology,” and she explained that her lambasting of him sprang from her sense of feeling betrayed, according to the Vanity Fair report.

“It was a nice surprise to hear from her, and I really appreciated the call and the sentiment,” he told Vanity Fair.

Frey did, however, invent certain elements to his notable memoir, which I loved regardless of the exaggerations. He said his ex-girlfriend hanged herself, when in reality, she slit her wrists until she died. He exaggerated his jail time, and admitted that he wanted to seem like a bigger hero than he really was.

Emily Dickinson once said, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” and I think this line should apply to even memoirs. Should Frey have lied about the nature of his ex-girlfriend’s death? No, but it does not change the fact that she killed herself in a dramatic way. He didn’t have to lie about his jail time to impress readers, either. He was as big of a drug and alcohol addict as you’ll ever find, and he came out of it clean. I learned in my Non-Fiction class that it’s all right to lie about small things to make a non-fiction story read more like a fiction narrative.

The white lies don’t change the story’s theme of redemption and the overcoming of adversity, but everyone overlooks the moral and criticizes the author for not having a fantastic enough story. It’s too bad that Jame’s inspirational story is overshadowed by a small mistake.


6 thoughts on “Too Little, Too Late, Oprah

  1. People didn’t blow up at him three years ago because he altered facts, but that he lied about what was changed and greatly understated his embellishments. He stated that the “only things [he] changed were aspects of people that might reveal their identity. Otherwise, it’s all true,” while proceeding to fabricate a train accident and multiple stints in jail that never occurred, as well as his girlfriend’s cause of death.

    The guy defrauded his publishers and his readers, and did a disservice to anyone who struggles with addiction by telling incredulous stories about his own. When Oprah annihilated him, I thought it was just.

  2. He lied, but ultimately, he overcame something that is impossible for the vast majority of addicts. Everyone focused on his petty lies, which were still significant, but in the end, he survived alcoholism, and that’s all people should care about.

  3. I’m appalled by how obsessed we’ve become with verifying the absolute authenticity of books like this, particularly considering they’re arguably closer to fiction as a genre than they are to journalism. A book based entirely on a person’s subjective experiences shouldn’t be judged the way we would a work of history. Are we all legally obligated to fact-check our own existences befofe we write anything? So Oprah feels “betrayed.” Why? Did the fact that Frey stretched the truth make it a bad book? If so, you can toss Mark Twain and every other “tall tale”-teller out of the canon.

    1. I completely agree, Justyn. As you said, these books are based off one person’s perspective. That alone suggests that there are other sides to the story. We just have to take the author’s word. Plus, how can he truly remember every word of his conversations? Is there something wrong with fictionalizing his dialogue? Authors do us all a favor when they change the dialogue because real-life conversation can look pretty uneducated on paper.

      Everyone overreacted by demonizing Frey. It’s such a shame that his white lies ruined an otherwise memorable book.

  4. You don’t fight fire with fire. I’m unaware of this event or the actual lies that may or may not have been told, but no matter HOW bad they were, I cannot think of a situation where public humiliation is the right answer.

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