Oprah and James Frey

Yesterday, I caught part one of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with James Frey. This is a follow-up to her 2006 interview with the notorious author and his publisher. Oprah had chosen his memoir “A Million Little Pieces” as a book club selection and later felt betrayed when it was revealed many of the book’s details were fabrications.

After that initial interview, Oprah was blasted by a number of people for being hard on Frey. I watched the 2006 interview and agree. She picked on Frey for fabrications that didn’t strike me as that terrible. He lied about undergoing a root canal with no anesthetic. He changed an acquantance’s method of committing suicide. Frey claimed he did that protect the woman’s identity. Oprah insisted he chose a more sensational suicide method. Isn’t any suicide, by however means, awful enough?

My impression from this recent interview is that Oprah hasn’t changed her tune in the intervening years. Frey suggested that both his agent and publisher knew the memoir was borderline fiction. He’d been struggling for years to publish the book as a novel and obviously grabbed the chance to get his story published. The publisher and agent were the experts. In both interviews, Oprah skimmed past their guilt and heaped the blame on Frey.

In yesterday’s interview, Frey was contrite. He accepted full responsibility for his mistake. I wanted to see him argue back, but his approach is probably better for gaining sympathy and, perhaps, respect.

In his own defense, Frey did say that most writers of memoir fabricate. Oprah seemed startled by this remark and took it as evidence that Frey still doesn’t understand or accept that he did wrong. From my friends who write creative non-fiction, I gather that today some fabrication is acceptable and encouraged. This includes things like re-creating dialogue the writer could not have recalled literally. Some claim it’s even okay to alter facts to improve the story. I’m surprised that no one has told Oprah this is being done. Possibly they have and she still believes she’s right.

Part two is airing right now – Tuesday, 3:00 PM. I’ll watch the repeat show at 5:00.