In Which It’s Fine for Frey to Lie, But Unseemly for Oprah to Do It

I caught this YouTube clip over at Andrew Sullivan’s and it about made me have to hang my head in shame.  Seriously.  Listen to Nan Talese talk with such dripping contempt about how Oprah supposedly sold James Frey out because her “fans” demanded that Oprah not stand by a book that wasn’t true–a book, may I remind you, America, that passed itself off as true.

Talese must have some balls to get on tv–even on CSPAN–talking like it’s contemptible that people want a book that purports to be true to actually be not made up.  She put out a book that was a lie and then has the audacity to bitch about how unfair it was for Oprah to lie to Frey and Talese to get them on TV.   Talese is “appalled just in terms of basic manners.”

Pray tell, what are proper manners for how to treat a con artist–who fools you into believing that he’s someone he’s not in order to get you to promote his product and who then steals your and your audience’s money–and his willing accomplice when you have them on your TV show?

And is Talese the least bit ashamed of being involved in this whole scheme?  No.  She goes on national TV and says, “Oprah Winfrey was a huge fan of the book until there were two small incidents that had nothing to do with his experience with drugs that were found out to be an exaggeration.”

I’d love to know how she’s grouping all this stuff so as to only equal two small incidents.

Frankly, at this point, I can’t decide who’s the bigger con artist–Frey or Talese.  He pulled a whopper of a scam, it’s true, but here she is shifting the blame from herself and her author to one of their victims!  And people are clapping!

She’s good.  She’s real good.

14 thoughts on “In Which It’s Fine for Frey to Lie, But Unseemly for Oprah to Do It

  1. I would whine about Nan Talese, but any whinging I would do would be too much inside publishing baseball. I’m a publishing nerd the way some people are baseball nerds. And I know how the baseball stats bore ME….so…

    All that aside, I’m sorry. Talese screwed the pooch by failing to fact-check a “true” story out of fear that the truth would get in the way. That’s on the head of Talese and her publishing house. I also note that they did NOT fail to turn down the Oprah Hype Machine when it was working in Frey’s favour. Only AFTER she nailed them to the floor for their shenanigans did Talese decide to bitch about how awful Oprah was. Speaking of which, what kind of nut is she anyway? She still runs a publishing house. They still need Oprah to peddle their books. Unless, of course, Oprah’s done with anything from Talese’s imprint. Could you blame her? No.

    ON THE OTHER HAND–

    I’ve seen the Oprah Episode on Frey’s Lies a number of times. And, frankly, I do think that Oprah was awfully quick to lay all of the blame at Frey and Talese’s doors. Those books (Million Little Pieces AND My Friend Leonard) were catapulted into the stratosphere by the Oprah Hype Machine.

    If you brought me a book by a junkie–any junkie from Bubbles to Betty Ford–which purported to be true and was full of high speed chases, derring do and mafia buddies ,you better believe I would fact-check the HELL out of that sucker before promoting it. Junkies lie. It’s a fact of life. Publishers make money off of good stories.

    I think Oprah needs to step up to the bar and not be all Miss You-Lied-To-Me! Instead she ought to pony up with the fact that she herself heads a major media conglomerate and she was complicit in putting forth those steaming piles of horseshit as the truth.

    There are no clean faces in the Frey Debacle. And I think that may be the kernel of Talese’s nut.

  2. If there’s anything we love here at Tiny Cat Pants, though, it’s inside publishing baseball. Well, at least I love it.

    I do agree that Oprah has some complicity in that whole mess, but I swear it makes me pound my head on my desk to hear Talese complaining about Oprah being ill-mannered.

    Because, here’s the thing. It makes me feel like Talese views publishing as a rarefied endeavor done by and for people who are anything but ordinary “fans” of anything and that Oprah liked the book before those unseemly fans demanded otherwise. You know that “we” all get that publishing is just about… whatever it is about… and “we” stick together against “them” and the problem is that Oprah, one of “us”, took “their” side in the matter.

  3. I can’t believe I’m forced to take NT’s side in something. She represents all that’s ooky about modern publishing to me. And yet…here I go. (I suppose the Enemy of my Oprah is my friend, or something like that.)

    I didn’t entirely take that away from Talese’s remarks. I got that she was trying to say that Oprah was as much in on the shenanigans as anyone else (Doubleday; Talese; Frey; IngramBook) and that Oprah–far from being the unassailable Goddess of Truth–rode the bandwagon as long as she could until the groundswell of public opinion forced Oprah to turn on the pack.

    I see the whole “rarified endeavor” point you’re making. And I agree that under most circumstances that’s the first thing I’d take away from Talese’s comment, seeing as how that’s Talese’s hallmark. But I think this is as much about “Oprah is a shark in your mama’s clothing” as it is about how Talese views the consumers of her product.

    And frankly, that has always bugged me. The Frey controversy was in the world for several weeks (three, I think), and Oprah was initially supportive in spite of the Smoking Gun factblow. For her to turn around X weeks later and be all overcome with the vapors was a bit disingenuous to my mind.

    That’s the part of Talese’s statement I agree with.

  4. Ah, okay, yes. I see what you’re saying. I had forgotten that she was still sticking by Frey even after the Smoking Gun thing.

    But I still think there’s an element of con artists bitter at being outted. If they feel bitter at being outted by another con artist, well, that makes sense, too.

  5. I think Oprah behaved outrageously and meanly through the whole thing and Talese, although trying a little too hard to take none of the responsibility, is making important points.

    Let’s also note that Oprah has no trouble selected Elie Wiesel’s Night as her next autobiography (or memoir or whatever the term today is) a few months later. Booksellers, especially online ones, were scrambling to re categorize from fiction to non-fiction despite the fact that we all know that much of it is dramatized and has even changed over time with reprints and such. Even if Wiesel didn’t remember things right and did change things a bit to make the story better, no one thinks the book is any less valuable.

    But who would attack or even mildly challenge a Holocaust survivor. Oprah challenged a recovering addict, who as Kat points out, mostly just exaggerated and fiddled (the Smoking Gun is also exaggerating their case) some both for dramatic effect and to actually make himself look worse – which is something that fits right in at this stage in recovery. I thought he deserved compassion. Do most people really think that autobiographies tell THE TRUTH? Isn’t is all about experience and interpretation anyhow?

  6. I guess it depends on what you mean by “most people.” I think most people in Oprah’s audience think that autobiographies tell the truth as best as a person can remember it. I also think that people tend to believe that “serious” autobiographies are closer to the truth than, say, David Sedaris. If Sedaris makes shit up, it’s part of his thing.

    But yeah, I think most people think an autobiography is as true as can be, with maybe allowing a memoir to be a bit more arty.

  7. I thought an autobiography was “the story of my life, as true as I can make it” whereas a memoir was “the story of an episode or a period in my life, as true as I can make it.” Both are presupposed to be truthful at least to the way the writer experienced the past, but one is limited in it’s scope and the other is expected to tell all or most of the life lived up to that point.

    Is that distinction something I invented?

  8. That’s fair. I guess I just treated Frey less as a con man and more as a recovering addict and assumed that his intentions, while maybe not exactly honorable, were not in fact dishonorable either.

  9. Is that distinction something I invented?

    If it is, then I suppose you made it up and taught it to my lit teachers who then taught it to me.

    Do most people really think that autobiographies tell THE TRUTH?

    I think they should strive to tell the truth as the author sees it, while getting the facts correct. Some things are subjective, of course.

    I could write my autobiography and claim that the best food in the world is served at Duff’s Smorgasboard. While that may be the “truth” as I see it, it’s not a “fact”.

    However, if I say I was arrested in Beijing for patronising a prostitute and spent 7 months in a Chinese prison, never having gotten any closer to China than my local Chinese restaurant, then that’s a problem.

    The specific problem with Frey was that he took facts and turned them into fantasy, all for the sake of “telling a better story”. And the audience, as delivered by Oprah, bought it. They were fascinated by a white man from a “good” family who’d been arrested, hung with the mob and gotten out with the Happy Ending Best Seller. His FACTS were what people came for. And that’s how Oprah sold the book–as a profile in courage coupled with a “see, the middle-class boys can fuck up, too” morality tale.

  10. One wants to hurt you, and the other just doesn’t not want to hurt you enough to keep themselves from doing so.

  11. Heh. I meant to stick an “always” in between “doesn’t” and “not.” And perhaps to change the construction from “doesn’t (not) want” to “isn’t always capable,” or something like that. But the first way was snappier.

  12. I guess Oprah parades her moral indignation for some con artists, but not for others. A guy selling a supposed autobiography that was fast and loose with some facts is an unholy abomination in Oprah’s book. But having guys on selling a phony war that winds up killing hundreds of thousands of people? Not worth a peep, I guess. Follow this link and read the first few paragraphs (at least).

    I’m not suggesting that Oprah is a complete phony herself, but…

  13. Is that distinction something I invented?

    If it is, then I suppose you made it up and taught it to my lit teachers who then taught it to me.

    I’m old, but I don’t think I’m old enough for that. OK, then, someone else got taught that. So it must be true.

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