Live-blogging the Oprah-James Frey smackdown

115144__frey_l_14:00 p.m. Yeah, reading Gawker‘s account of the taping earlier today spoiled some of this, but the printed account can’t do justice to the rare sight of Oprah in righteous-anger mode. She begins with a brief recap of the scandal surrounding A Million Little Pieces, up to her phone call to Larry King defending Frey. ”I regret that phone call. I made a mistake, and I left the impression that the truth does not matter.” Snap! ”To everyone who challenged me on the issue of truth, you are absolutely right.”

4:05 Oprah confronts Frey face to face. ”I really feel duped. More than that, I feel you betrayed millions of readers.” Then she starts grilling him point-by-point on the particulars of The Smoking Gun’s report. ”Most of what they wrote was pretty accurate. They did a good job,” Frey says. He admits for the first time that he was in jail for two hours, not 87 days. So he was not in jail, as he wrote, when Lilly committed suicide. ”I made a mistake,” says Frey, who admits he altered details about every person in the book.

Oprah says she believed Frey and his publisher when they vouched for the veracity of the book, so why did he lie? He says that he was coming up with ”a coping mechanism.”  "I thought of myself as being tougher than I was, badder than I was," he says. Still, he says, ”not very much” of the book was fabricated.

4:13 There’s an audible groan from the audience when Frey admits that Lilly didn’t hang herself (she cut her wrists, he says). Oprah notes that he keeps referring to the people in his book as ”characters,” so why didn’t he just write a novel?

4:15 Asked if he ”conned us all,” Frey says no because ”nobody’s contesting that I was a drug addict.” Still, Oprah insists, ”you presented a false person.” Audience applauds.

4:17 Asked if his account of dental surgery without Novocainewas true, he says, ”I wrote it from memory.” Audience sighs again.Frey concedes that it may not have happened as he remembered it. Oprahall but rolls her eyes as she calls him a liar. Audience applaudsagain. Man, this is painful and awkward.

4:22 In taped segments, newspaper columnists Joel Stein, StanleyCrouch, and Maureen Dowd give Frey verbal spankings. MoDo says the bookdoesn’t deserve Oprah’s seal of approval.

Frey’s editor, Nan Talese, joins Oprah and Frey onstage and says Frey’s manuscript came to her as a memoir. Says she oncehad a root canal without Novocaine, ”so it wasn’t a red flag to me.”Says she didn’t learn of the fabrications until she read the Smoking Gun report. She asks if she should have asked Frey, ”Are you really asbad as you say you are?” ”Yes!” says Oprah. Asked whatresponsibility publishers have to fact-check their books, Talesesuggests there isn’t much. ”It seems no one was liable,” Talese says.This doesn’t wash with Oprah, who berates Talese while Frey, sittingbetween them, gulps and swallows uncomfortably. Talese uses an anecdoteabout Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s divergent memoirs to show that peopleremember things differently, as if Frey’s embellishments were a matterof perception. ”It should say ‘Based on a true story”’ Oprah says.

4:30 Oprah confirms the New York Times report that a Hazeldenstaffer contacted the show before Frey’s initial appearance last falland warned them that his account was dubious, but she adds that shecalled Talese’s company, and they assured her that Pieces wasaccurate. Talese acknowledges that it’s a sad situation for Oprah, whocuts in and says, ”It’s not sad for me. It’s embarrassing anddisappointing for me.” She complains, ”Anybody can walk in off thestreet and say this is my story.” That’s true, Talese says, then goeson to make a distinction between memoir and autobiography. A memoir,Talese says, is ”an author’s recollection of a particular time.”Unlike Frey, Talese isn’t going to give an inch to Oprah today.

4:35 Stein is back (on tape) saying that he still liked the bookeven after learning it was fabricated; he just doesn’t like the authoranymore. More spankings from Crouch and MoDo as well.

4:36 Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen comes on. Oprah praises him for calling her ”deluded” after the Larry King show; he pats her on the back in turn for today’s program. Tells Talese, who he says is a friend, that she should hire a cheap fact-checker, who could have determined in half an hour that Frey’s opening account of boarding a plane with a bloody hole in his face couldn’t be true. ”I can’t even take a third piece of luggage on board.” Cohen also says he’s never been addicted to anything stronger than bagels. Ba-dump-bum! Tip your waitresses generously, folks.

4:42 New York Times columnist Frank Rich calls this scandal the ”tip of the iceberg.” Says we now have a culture of Stephen Colbert-style ”truthiness” rather than actual truth.

4:46 Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar of the PoynterInstitute, snarks that Frey wrote in his own book: "Remember the truth– that’s all that matters." Suggests memoirs be rated on a truth scale, from completely true to ”total BS.”

4:50 Oprah says she hopes he was joking when he remarked about having a gun backstage, presumably to kill himself.

4:54 "This hasn’t been a great day for me," says Frey.

4:57 Oprah’s final thought? A quote from New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani: "This is not about truth in labeling … this is about how much value contemporary culture places on truth."

5:01 Oprah pours herself a tall, frosty one. (No, not really. We were lying. Just to be clear.)

Comments (74 total) Add your comment
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  • derrick

    well we can all thank oprah for giving us many more reasons to thank and love her. i almost feel sorry for her becuz on the larry king interview she was so deepy convinced that she was standing up for what was right. only to find out that she was lied to by the author of the book as well as the publishers(money hungry corporate hounds). This show was really akward to watch because oprah was clearly upset and james fry was… well i dunno however one wants to describe him. I loved the journalist commentary clips.. Those were interesting. And I agree with what one of the journliast said. THIS BOOK DOESNT DESERVE OPRAHS SEAL OF APPROVAL. But I am eagerly awaiting to see todays “Oprah After The Show”. Once again lets all thank Oprah for having the balls to admit a wrong and for standing up for whats right and whats true.

  • brandonk

    Ooh, it’s sooo dramatic! *Yawn*

  • Tommy G

    You know, I’m a writer and I embellish a whole lot, but I’d never try to pass it off as a “true story” unless it really was. Someone out there somewhere knows the truth, and is more than willing to sell it to the tabloids if you ever make it big.
    So be good, boys and girls, and save the lies for the Fiction aisle. ‘Cause you certainly don’t want to be on Oprah’s “bad” list.

  • John

    How convenient that Oprah now turns on Frey after defending him because the public does not buy either of their stories. His was fabricated and she was so intent on trying to save face that they both ended up looking like fools. This is why people should not blindly believe everything that Oprah says. She makes mistakes like everyone else.

  • James

    why would he say he has a gun back stage? bizarre if it is a lie and he has obvious problems; wacko if it was true and he and Oprah have immediate problems. He is out of his mind either way. Very strange. I saw a brief clip of it on and I felt very sad for him because he looks destroyed, which he rightfully is, but man that is a tough one. I’d understand why he would want to kill himself, just would hope he doesn’t do it. He is kind of a drama-queen, just kind of, LOL.

  • kj

    oprah wasn’t trying to ‘save face.’ she was truly humble…admitting she was wrong, apologizing to her audience and saying she shouldn’t have made the call to larry king. she was acknowledging she made a mistake, not trying to cover her butt. i didn’t agree with her standing behind frey and i truly admire her doing what’s right.

  • jana

    I don’t want to love Oprah, but the way she conducts herself is truly admirable. She’s the real deal. God, I love her.

  • cate

    i just keep wondering why everyone cares so much. he’s just some guy who wrote a book. who cares whether it actually happened as long as the story means something to people. in my opinion, oprah has become so arrogant that it’s hard to watch her show at times.

  • Tim L

    I totally agree about Oprah being freaking arrogant. Why does she think that being duped is some sort of national tragedy? The message of the book is still the same and if you feel so outraged Oprah then get over yourself. We all get embarrassed on a daily basis, dozens of times over, I’m embrassed right now. So get over yourself and stop acting like your a god of literature. You got fooled just like the rest of it. Get over yourself!

  • Nicole

    This show was truly difficult to watch. I found myself listening more than watching because, though I find Frey’s admissions late in coming, I still found it hard to watch him get attacked. Oprah, who I often find to be a bit self-congratulatory and preachy, was excellent today. It could not have been easy for her. I read this book long before all of the hype and then controversy, and enjoyed it immensely. I defended it to several people after the Smoking Gun report. I still feel that when it’s all said and done, this is a great book. However, I feel that Frey is coming off as a sulky little boy who has been caught lying to his parents. Hopefully he will learn from this experience and grow as a person. I will look forward to reading any fiction from him in the future, but I will not read his second memoir. Once bitten, twice shy.

  • Jonathan

    man, i wish i saw that.

  • derrick

    So much for the much anticipated “Bill Clinton” memoir.. Didnt he push it back?.. Everyone will be ready to tear it to shreds…
    THANK GOD JK ROWLING MADE SURE HARRY POTTER WAS A FICTION BOOK AND NOT A MEMOIR.. LOL @ HER lying about harrys parents death(killed at the hands of lord voldemort) when in reality they just died while practicing spells to kill him with. HAHA THATD BE FUNNY

  • Jenny

    I think we can take today’s show as a clear sign that Oprah will indeed be running for office. Just like a politician, she conveniently changes her mind according to public opinion.
    Tim L, I agree with everything you said.

  • Wade

    LMAO!!! thanks for the live blog it was AWESOME!!!! I was at work and missed the episode, but your version had my co-workers and I in tears laughing. I bet the comment about the “third piece of luggage” wasn’t even as funny had I heard it on the show. Kudos Gary! Once again u slay me…

  • kenneth kaminski

    Did not see Oprah’s program, but I have read Frey’s book; at a time when I was battling my own personal demons. His “memoir” brought solace and catharsis at the time; now what can I say? What a disappointment.
    Is “MY FRIEND LEONARD” also a book of lies?
    Shame on you Mr. Frey.

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