Unless you live under a rock, you're aware of the high-stakes literary drama surrounding Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, and its subsequent debunking by The Smoking Gun, which has sent tsunami waves through the publishing industry. Here's how the Times framed it:
In an extraordinary live broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the top-rated talk show host admitted that she "made a mistake" in backing Frey, whose harrowing account of his drug addiction and rehabilitation has been questioned by the Smoking Gun website and others. Winfrey had told CNN's Larry King two weeks ago when Frey was a guest on his show that despite allegations that the author had fabricated portions of his account, "the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me."
On Thursday, a somber Winfrey said: "I left the impression that the truth does not matter, and I am deeply sorry about that. But that is not what I believe. And to everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right."
Stop the presses! Attention all journalists and memoir-makers: Truth Matters.
Winfrey, at times visibly angry and tearful, asked Frey why he "felt the need to lie." The audience (many of whom probably purchased the book on Winfrey's recommendation) groaned and gasped at Frey's halting, stuttered admissions that certain facts and characters had been "altered" but that the essence of his memoir was real. "I don't think it is a novel," Frey said of his book, which had initially been offered to publishers, and rejected by many, as fiction. "I still think it's a memoir."
I must say, the pseudo-scholarly debates which have ensued about the differences between memoirs and novels, essential truth and factual truth are absurd. Still, many seem to believe that as long as something "resonates" within a person, facts are irrelevant.
But everywhere I turn, the truth is coming back to bite its detractors. Washington Post columnist, Richard Cohen, put it this way in his article Oprah's Grand Delusion:
Here is where Dr. Phil steps in. He might tell his friend and mentor (Oprah) that there is no redemption without honesty. Treatment, as one expert told me, begins with "owning your life" and not embellishing it for the sake of others or yourself. It was one thing when Frey's tale was believed to be 100 percent true. Now that the lie has been exposed, the message can no longer be about redemption but about concoction -- the lies that addicts tell others, the ones they tell themselves.
The gateway to healing, deliverance and recovery is honesty. How significant is it that a book by a supposed addict, which has purportedly helped so many recovering addicts, is based upon lies.
There's an old saying: The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. In Oprah's case -- and the case of her adoring patients -- the reverse was true: The truth set them free and THEN it made them miserable. In fact, it wasn't the truth at all. So were they really set free to begin with?
I think Oprah's somber admission that she was duped will bring her devotees closer to the truth than most of the psyco-babble crap she's ever endorsed. "I left the impression that the truth does not matter," she said, "and I am deeply sorry about that." Bravo Oprah! (Did I just say that?) Your confession "resonates" within me, babe. Thanks for reminding the world that truth bites.