January 26, 2006

The Winfrey-Frey fray.

Reader IAm simulblogs today's Oprah show:
Man, the [WaPo] article did not do this show justice (not its fault--it's a visual and auditory thing)! Oprah's as pissed as I've ever seen her--even during the whole beef trial thing, if I'm recalling correctly. She's clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable, and she's actually having a hard time, from what I can see, looking at Frey.

From the linked WaPo article:
"I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that," Winfrey told viewers of her syndicated show. "That is not what I believe." She added: "To everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right."

Now, she's for truth, now that she got slammed for saying: "the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book." Truth seems more like a strategy for getting out of a jam.


RogerA said...

small world--blogspot was down, my wife home early after a long day yesterday and watching Oprah--Oprah admits to being embarassed and mad--Then my last synapse fired: I wish she would have displayed this same degree of anger whilst standing in front of the superdome, listening to Ray Nagin and Eddie Compass describing the rapes of babies, murders and the like--too bad she doesnt have them on the show to explain themselves--just sayin'

Being taken by politicians like that must not be quite as embarassing as getting taken by a hustling author.

Beth said...

I'm happy to see her apologize, and take responsibility. I'd love to see more that in public life.

It may comfort you to know, Roger, that Eddie Compass resigned not long after his public meltdown. I too wish Oprah would confront that episode as well, but it doesn't detract from my appreciation of this one.

If only our elected officials would have the nerve to say "I was wrong."

RogerA said...

Elizzabeth--I know Eddie Compass "resigned," but I suspect it was under considerable pressure from an even more beseiged mayor--Nonetheless, I do have admiration for Oprah who appears to me to be a very classy lady--most people would have ignored the contretemps over the Frey book; she confronted it. and how many of us have said things that we wish we could have taken back. Agree, Oprah is classy.

wildaboutharrie said...

Good for Oprah for admitting a mistake.

I also was really angry about the Katrina urban legends. I was watching that show with my sister. She began to cry, and I told her that she should be suspicious - the stories were bad enough without the unubstantiated (and, as we learned, untrue, thank God) horrors.

Oprah really should revisit that episode. And in general she should be more discriminating.

P_J said...

I saw a short video clip of the show. Frey looked and sounded like a nerdy kid who wants to be cool, but breaks down in the principal's office when he's caught. Not the image you want when you're trying to be a reformed "bad boy."

Link to the video and comments here.

vw: mxgig = a dj's job

Jen Bradford said...

It's an especially big deal, given that her next book club selection is Wiesel's Night. She can't discuss it and also fail to appreciate the difference between truth and truthiness, given Holocaust denial in 2006.

I missed the show - did she suggest a charity to which Frey could contribute to help with his lousy karma?

Jen Bradford said...

p.s. that reminds me - did anyone else read Benjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments before it was discovered to be a fraud? That was a huge disappointment.

reader_iam said...


Not that I saw--but what an excellent idea, especially given that Frey's got not one, but two bestsellers on the NYT bestsellers list.

"A Million Little Pieces" is #1 on the --ahem--non-fiction paperback list.

"My Friend Leonard" is #3 on the hardback non-fiction paperback list.

Anyone care to guess whether I should add an "ahem" before "non-fiction" there, too?

I don't know ... but I'd be a commplete idiot if I weren't wondering.

PatCA said...

I saw the show today. Frey was as shifty-eyed as usual. I tell you, on the initial show, he showed a video of himself I think at home and Oprah asked him, hey, why are there beer bottles in the picture, I thought you were not drinking? His answer was more shifty eyes, saying, well, my friends still drink...it was their beer, Mom! I just didn't buy him at all. Thank goodness Oprah doesn't any more either. She was indeed shaking, almost crying, angry.

Nan Talese was really weak, even dropping in an anecdote about her work with Jimmy Carter and his wife on their memoirs. Whoo-hoo! She has a name and used it to get to her position. I think most people will be astounded that neither she, nor anybody, checks facts on these books! Until now. So, hurray, for Oprah.

JohnF said...

So Oprah was against the truth before she was for it.

And Oprah at first thought Frey's book was fake but accurate.

You know, the great cliches really live on beyond their creation--that's what makes them cliches, of course.

Good times.

reader_iam said...

With an extra "m" (as in hmmmm ...) to boot.

Rueful ; )

Unknown said...

I dunno. I think saying that there were WMD's in Iraq and "Mission Accomplished" when neither were true, are just a few examples of lies that bother me more than this.

Never even heard of this guy until Ann's post.

Beth said...

Roger, you're probably right about the pressure on Compass, but it was inevitable. His on-air breakdown with Oprah was just the icing on the cake. He'd apparently spent most of the three critical days during and after the storm holed up in a command center, not in touch with his officers, and slowly losing it. The guy who's now in charge may have some baggage, but Warren Riley was on the ground, and in the water, keeping communications going, minimal as they were. His officers saw him, and responded to his leadership. Compass had a fine record as a cop on the street, and as a supervisor. But he was way over his head as chief, and that was already a problem well before Katrina.

And I agree, Oprah has some class.

Lonesome Payne said...

I've been posting from prison for some time and it's a good day when I can say I'm wearing a blood-stained torn shirt, incidentally. So this sort of bullshit really pisses me off.

Kirk Parker said...

"the underlying message ... still resonates with me"

Well, this sort of thing worked for Rigoberta Menchu, and almost worked for Dan Rather--who can fault anyone for giving "fake but accurate" one last try?

And hey, paulfrommpls: do you have any idea close you came to having to buy me a new keyboard and monitor, and pay to repaint the wall behind my computer desk? Luckily, I had finished my drink a few minutes earlier... Next time, put a <facetious humor> warning label on it, OK? :-)

JodyTresidder said...

I think I've never watched (and thanks reader_iam for the links) a more completely compelling bit of "soft" television than Oprah/Frey - though it's taken me a while to figure why.

Superficially, it was the familiar talk show format but this time the host was wasn't worrying whether she might one day want the guest back!

This doesn't often happen - does it? - with the Big Guest - it seemed to be wonderfully liberating.

Interviewees don't come much more blankly furtive than the disgraced Frey - but Oprah wrung out almost everything she could.

I know she was personally furious with him. I know there have been other more significant or worthy issues for her anger. I've also been following the whole mess unhealthily closely. But I could hardly blink.

It was also fascinating watching Oprah tossing her questions politely but without a shred of empathy. (She's no pushover, obviously, but oodles of empathy is pretty much the stock-in-trade of all the soft interviewers.)

Agree hotly with Patca about Nan Talese. Talese gave an incredibly feeble account of the publisher's responsibility and seemed to believe a certain perky personal charm might see her through the sticky bits. Hence, I assume, that ghastly self-serving Carter anecdote. Boy, was she wrong.

(BTW, I hope Frey doesn't do something self-destructive. He's made an incredibly public botch of his life, yet it's still hard to know if he feels anxious remorse or just resentment.)

Beth said...

Ann, I didn't initially pay attention, but on second glance, I love the Frey fray wordplay.

Lonesome Payne said...

Although I give her credit for changing her mind and saying she made a mistake, it baffles me how me she could have gotten it so wrong originally.

I mean this is not a tough moral case. The guy's a jerk. There was no way around it. It means she panicked and couldn't see straight; or she panicked and thought she could bluster her way past it; or she's cynical and underestimated her audience; or it just gives a glimpse into how oddly focused and unreal life gets when you become a hyper-celebrity.

Oprah seems to matter to people, it seems.

Brendan said...

Holy crap, did you see who she booked as guest critics? Richard Cohen, Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, Joel "I don't support the troops" Stein, and Stanley Crouch. It's like a who's who of fevered Bush haters. Rich even had the nerve to politicize the gathering by tarring the Iraq War as a "lie," when his old disgraced colleague Jayson Blair would have made a far better example. Are we to believe that her producers couldn't scrounge up ONE moderate to conservative voice?

Ann Althouse said...

Elizabeth: re wordplay. It's especially interesting that Winfrey is Win Frey. He's permanently attached to her name. How irksome that must be for her.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: "it baffles me how me she could have gotten it so wrong originally."

I don't think it's baffling at all. It shows the strength of her instinct to protect her own self-interest -- enough to cloud her perception of how people would react.

bearbee said...

Not a Winfrey fan.....during the early '90's I recall tuning in to shows devoted to male bashing and was revolted. Her conduct appeared to fuel the harsh rhetoric.

Is it possible her sudden reversal was being influenced by Fans Want Nobel Peace Prize For Oprah???

Unknown said...

Am I the only one who didn't buy the anger she was exhibiting? I've seen enough Oprah shows where she gushes and praises people in such a fake manner that this just seemed the same. You see, my problem with Oprah is that everything is about her. So a show where Frey comes on and reveals that his tall-tale is just that, has nothing to do with him and is all about her. And that's how Today, Good Morning America and the rest ran with it this morning - "Oprah Is Sad."

I also find it strange that people actually go in for her book club recommendations. To me it's a smaller version of her give-away show. What I mean is that once a year Oprah indulges in a giant give-away so that people can point out how unbelievably generous she is. That show will inevitably make the evening news also. Of course, companies are just begging to give stuff away on that episode. Oprah's staff are left inundated with various products that assorted companies are desperate to market through her TV show. But the rub is that Oprah endorses every product as if she handpicked it herself, and had to tell everyone about. Which is often difficult - the Video Ipod is a case in point - not only did she have no idea how to work it, but she confessed that she'd been told by lots of people that it's the next big thing. That's pretty much how she does her Book Club shows as well. Except she'll have a promo shot of herself amongst a pile of books which she herself has endorsed.

Her defensive phone call to Larry King was too strong. Her Frey interview was nothing overly special but she felt the need to phone a live tv show and defend herself (you didn't think she was defending him now did you?).

Charles said...

Let's be real, Oprah ONLY confronted this when she saw 20,000 letters and emails and found out the public outrage against him AND HER for duping loyal fans. That is the only thing that brought out the apology show. She can't stand not having the admiration and adoration. If it was sincere, let's see her fix lots of her shows that were wrong. How about the car giveaway where the richest woman in media pays the taxes for regular people? How about confronting Scientology? How about fixing her New Orleans show?

How about just unendorsing Frey's book? This is an extra show to drive up sales of that book and make good with the publisher.

George said...

Oprah is interested in one thing--Oprah. I mean, come one...how big of an egomaniac do you have to be to name a magazine after yourself and put yourself on the cover each week!

She is a horrible influence on this country...thing, for example, of all the damage Dr. Phil has done with his mindless pop psychology.

Bleh. She got what she deserved.

JodyTresidder said...

Ooof, down you cynics!

Still feel yesterday's show was one of those lovely times when self-serving loyalty to a carefully tended corporate image (Oprah's) interesected with the public's right to richly enjoy TV - er, I mean - to get to a portion of the truth!

As one of the fools who paid good money for the stupid book long before Oprah, I feel an angry idiot.

But I am soothing myself with the lay Freudian "insight" that Frey's con-job is all about his father.

I am convinced that the purpose of Frey assuming the disguise of a super-duper Criminal Bad Boy was to stick it to a remote, disappointed, successful middle-class dad who refused to notice his son's "pain".

If you re-read the book with this in mind, some sort of consistent psychological logic emerges.

Possibly this is nonsense. But at least, for once, the false blame (since Frey, of course, was never more than averagely deliquent) doesn't fall on the mother!

JodyTresidder said...

Sorry. "delinquent".

RogerA said...

I am going to take the cynic position here: "Of course this is theater--Oprah is protecting her corporate image; she (0r her staff) read her emails and responde to her phone calls--she will take whatever position is necessary to maintain her market share--
So whats not bad about that? she isnt a saint and I dont believe she is a sinner--she's out to make a buck--or, in her case millions of bucks. I dont begrudge her anything she does to maintain that market power.
If somehow, somewhere, anyone thinks she is anything more than a "personality" then we should go back to whatever we were smoking, drinking, or shooting up--This is theater! Whats hard to understand about that?

hmmm--confirmation word sounds like putz

Coco said...


Rigoberta Menchu's book was proven to be embellished? false? what? This is all news to me. Please elucidate if you have the time. Thanks

Abraham said...

I think saying that there were WMD's in Iraq and "Mission Accomplished" when neither were true

No topic too remote to bash Bush with, is there? For the record, only idiots deny that Iraq had WMD's (those Kurds didn't gas themselves, after all), and for the naval personnel on board the carrier who hung that banner, their mission was in fact accomplished.

Beth said...

Are we to believe that her producers couldn't scrounge up ONE moderate to conservative voice?

Brendan, they were all booked on MSNBC, CNN and FOX.

Charles said...

Just to also be on the other side, in case the Agents of O monitor this web site:

Our Oprah, Who art in Chicago, hallowed be Thy Show. Forgive us our sins of disbelief, permit us to be in Your Annual Giveaway, let us accept your spawn Dr Phil and keep the relationship commandments as written in his books, forever and ever... Oprahamen.

Beth said...


Idiots would like to know what we did, in 1988, when Saddam used gas on the Kurds. Why'd we wait 15 years to do anything about it? I had stuff in 1988 that I don't have now. Why is it idiotic to want to establish that Saddam STILL had WMDs in 2003, as opposed to 1988, before our first invasion, and before the years of monitoring that followed?

As for the Mission Accomplished rationalizing, gee, that's some parsing, along the lines of what "it" means. The flight suit drag was cute, though.

amn said...

Oprah's indignation was amazingly phony. Where was accepting of responsibility for the selection of the book? Having read it, I can say that there were several things that sent up red flags as being pretty unbelievable. The no-pain-killer root canals, getting on a flight unconscious with a big hole in his face, etc. I didn't buy them for a second, but they worked with the story and seemed like they may have been a metaphor for more bland stories that would have made an overly long uncompelling book.

My guess is that Oprah came to the same conclusions. Given the nature of the book, if she had cared as much about truth as she claims to, she should have done the fact checking on her own. The fact that it should have been Doubleday's job doesn't let her off the hook for putting her name on it. It wasn't Doubledays job to protect her image. She has a media empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Surely Smoking Gun didn't find the truth because of more resources.

It doesn't seem like Oprah cared until the fictions of the book were pointed out AND her fans came out resoundingly against it, which is why her level of indignation was so hollow to me. I think that she truly believed what she said on the Larry King show: if it helped people as Oprah claimed it did would those people have been better off if he had written a less interesting book about fighting the same inner demons? Would it have been better if he had written the same book, called it a novel, and had the same people brush it off as rambling from some guy who didn't know anything. I'm not necessarily defending him, I think there are good arguments on both sides, but her level of indignation was completely over the top. It was as much her fault as the publisher's that facts weren't checked, but she was too busy posturing to acknowledge that.

PatCA said...

Some readers who bought the book and believed it are suing. Maybe Oprah is worried about the legal ramifications, ala the beef "beef."


Beth said...

Suing? Oh goodness.

I think Frey is a cheesy fake. But I also don't buy a memoir thinking I'm buying a slice of history. Memoir is memory. Just think about the last tiff you've had with a spouse or partner, and what role memory played in your disagreement. I assume some fictionalizing, or embellisment, in a memoir. The first-person narrator, both in autobiography and in fiction, carries an air of questionable reliability.

Frey failed to carry it off. His stories were too thin, too easy to debunk, too melodramatic. But anyone who feels cheated to the point of suing needs to grow an independent personality of their own, and stop looking for one in books.

PatCA said...

I agree his story didn't pass the stink test from the beginning, E, but I think the lawsuit is more about "show me the money" than the actual time they lost reading it.

*crocodile tears*