Further fact-checking of James Frey’s memoirs

By now, just about everyone has heard about the evidence on thesmokinggun.com regarding gross fabrications in the James Frey memoir “A Million Little Pieces.”

Frey’s primary defense has been to say that his criminal history is a minor part of the book and these inconsistencies do not substantively change the meaning of the story.

Of course, his criminal history is the only thing that thesmokinggun.com actually looked into. Given that virtually nothing checked out, it doesn’t bode well for the veracity of the rest of the book.

Which got me thinking about whether there are ways to verify other facts in his memoirs.

For a number of my research projects, I have worked with a data set called the “Mortality Detail File.” As the name implies, these data, which are publicly available from theCDC, provide detailed information on every death that occurs in the United States.

In the beginning of his second book “My Friend Leonard,” Frey describes rushing directly from his three-month jail term in Ohio to Chicago to see his lover Lilly, only to arrive and discover that she has committed suicide by hanging herself. Since thesmokinggun.com showed that he hadn’t spent three months in jail, one might wonder whether the suicide is a fabrication as well.

So I looked in the Mortality Detail File for evidence of a death that would match the one described in the book.

Indeed, there was one case that vaguely fits the description. A 24 year old single white woman did commit suicide by hanging in Chicago in March of 1994. That much, at least, looks favorable to Frey’s description.

Working strongly against him, however, is that the woman who committed suicide had completed college. From Frey’s description of Lilly — a prostitute since the age of 13 and a long time heroin and crack addict — it seems highly unlikely that she would have completed college.

I don’t think Frey is very interested in answering questions these days, but I would be quite curious to hear what he has to say about this.


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De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

A hipótese Levitt do aborto: mais uma evidência

Quem leu Freakonomics deve se lembrar do capítulo "Onde foram parar todos os criminosos?". Nele, os autores levantam uma - inusitada? - causa para a queda da criminalidade nos EUA dos anos 90: o aborto. No início dos anos 90,...

Gawker

And Still, More of Frey's Lies?

We promise that this will be our last James Frey post of the, uh, minute -- but it's really important,...

missmarya

Frey's behavior is typical of an alcoholic and a drug addict, to exaggerate stories to involve more desperate times, more severe fights, more rock bottom circumstances. Drug addicts are liars and they love to talk about themselves. They are insecure and they try to escape the boring reality and tedium of life at every possible turn. They need to escape the fact that in reality they are douchbag losers who are only hurting themselves and fading into obscurity one day at a time. Are we naive to trust gritty memoirs such as these or is Frey just another Jayson Blair, a fame hungry fluke?

traveler

I read the book when it first came out, in early 2003. I may be the sucker who buys everyone's first novel, but I am not a sucker who believes everything I read, no matter how it's labeled. I never believed everything happened the way he said it did, but it didn't matter. A book with a glossy cover as a bible for recovery? The guy rejects AA, rejects acknowledging that he couldn't turn it off and on at will. The book is anti- the cult of recovery. That was what was fascinating for me. I don't think he wanted to be a model for other addicts. I think he wanted to be a famous writer. Why else be willing to write yourself that bad, true or not? Was it marketed back then as non-fiction? Does it need to be any more non-fiction than "In Cold Blood" or another memoir of addiction, "Drinking, A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp from 1996? (Ms. Knapp died of lung cancer in 2002, a result of her lesser addiction, smoking.) It's a marketing thing not a lying thing, in my opinion. The book was devastating, mesmerizing and a breakthrough in style. I was shocked when Oprah chose it, because as anyone who's now read it knows: it's really ugly. Yes, addicts lie and embellish, but so does every author in order to make something you want to read and share and read again and talk about. Give credit where credit is due. The guy wrote, from memory and/or his creative wellspring, a really good book.

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wild horse

I must be the only person who read that TSG posting, and thought, "She hung herself from a shower faucet? That's pretty unlikely." Those things aren't load bearing structures, they're just held in place by the plumbing and the hole in the wall.

Assuming it's got enough of a height advantage on you, and just out perpendicularly far enough from that wall, that you might conceivably be able to hang yourself, go into your shower and give the faucet a good shake...do you think it'll hang you?

aljones15

I didn't finish the TSG article, but did the fact that there was a "Leonard" in the Ohio prison system around the time stated match up with the timing of the girl in Chicago's death? Also your assumption that a prostitute wouldn't be college educated certianly seems a little weird. Of the 2 heroin addicts I've known, both were college educated. One even ended up in a trailer home with what appeared to be her dealer/ pimp. Anyway, I don't find the fabrications that alarming, the fact of the matter is I think culturally we love a good rags to fame story and Americans in particular are fond of this form. For instance in Taiwan an english school owner once told me she didn't understand why all the Americans who come to her school "don't have any money" and yet go out and buy motorbikes and other gifts will beyond their means with their first paycheck. We play the game with ourselves all the time of "coming from nothing." What I do find alarming is Frey's inability to fess up to his fabrications. I mean Vanilla Ice eventually got around to telling the truth... or at least a series of comic books unmasked him for what he was just another suburban kid with a myth to tell.

peace,
A

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SteveSailer

From John Dolan's 2003 review of A Million Little Pieces in The eXile:

"But then Frey is no expert observer, as he proves in one of the funniest scenes from his nature walks, when he meets a "fat otter": "There is an island among the rot, a large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch. There is chatter beneath the pile and a fat brown otter with a flat, armored tail climbs atop and he stares at me."

"Now, can anyone tell me what a "fat otter with a flat, armored tail" actually is? That's right: a beaver! Now, can anyone guess what the "large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch" would be? Yes indeed: a beaver dam!" [Well, to be precise, Canadian experts inform me, it's a beaver lodge.]

"Any kindergartner would know that, and anyone with a flicker of life would be delighted to see a beaver and its home. But for Frey, a very stupid and very vain man, the "fat otter" is nothing but another mirror in which to adore his Terrible Fate. He engages the beaver in the most dismal of adolescent rhetorical interrogations:

"Hey, Fat Otter.

He stares at me.

You want what I got?

He stares at me.

I'll give you everything.

Stares at me...."

"And so on, for another half-page. You want to slap the sulking spoiled brat. The Fat Otter should've slapped him with its "flat, armored tail" and then chewed his leg off and used it to fortify its "Pile with monstrous protrusions."

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SteveSailer

That Dr. Levitt fell for James Frey's book says a lot about his credulity and lack of understanding of how the real world works. Perhaps the secret to Dr. Levitt's success as a bestselling author, what makes Dr. Levitt the James Frey of the social sciences, might not be that he understands the common mind, but that he has the common mind.

EconGod

I saw Steve Sailer making out with a guy.

somerville

Ok, why has no one investigated whether Frey was actually at Hazelden ? I was there, and I don't recognize the place from his description. Being able to call anyone you want with a free phone when detoxing ? Not a chance ? People screaming all night in detox ? Not according to a counselor I spoke with who worked there for twenty years. Says he never heard anyone scream in detox there in twenty years... Going with his counselor to a crack house ?No, no way in hell would anyone at Hazelden have let Frey do that. This guy was never there. His book is a total sham and someone needs to get to the bottom of the Hazelden problem.

John

For those who missed the Larry King interview of Mr. Frey, CNN provides a transcript.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0601/11/lkl.01.html

The two excerpts below demonstrate the most blatant examples of evasion. There are lessons here, both for sociologists studying American culture, and politicians wanting to brush up on interview techniques.

FIRST EXCERPT==============

KING: OK. The book -- Frey says he spent three months in an Ohio jail for various offenses. "The Smoking Gun" says: the closest Frey ever came to a jail cell was a few unshackled hours he once spent in an Ohio police headquarters waiting for a buddy to post $733 cash bond. True?

FREY: I mean, I don't discuss being in a jail cell in this book. In this book, you know, like I said, 420 of the 432 pages of it take place in a treatment facility.

KING: You never discussed being in a jail cell?

FREY: I mean, we talk about being in a jail cell but .....

SECOND EXCERPT=================

KING: Frey writes vividly about arrests in Ohio in 1992, claims he hit a cop with his car, got into a fight with the police, was charged with felony, DUI and possession of narcotics. The Web site maintains you ran a car onto a curb, never struck a cop, no record of any police melee, no record of any crack and at the time of the arrest, there was no such thing as felony DUI on the books on Ohio.

FREY: I mean again, we're dealing with a very subjective memory. "The Smoking Gun" certainly seems to have done a lot of specific research related to it.

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somerville

I am wondering whether Frey was ever at Hazelden. There are a couple of scenes in which Frey said he had to clean his counselor's toilets.. he gets into a fight with another patient who says he isn't doing a good job cleaning. But I talked to someone who has been on staff at Hazelden for 20 years. Turns out patients have never had to clean toilets.. a professional cleaning service does. So those scenes with the macho guys duking it out over the toilets goes out the window... I have talked to people who were in rehab there and they say the prison gang-like cliques Frey describes is a load of b.s. I think it's possible that Frey himself was never at Hazelden.

chris

This post is getting closer to the whole truth.

Have you read both of Frey's books?

What if I told you that his decription of Hazeldon doesn't jive with anything that exists in reality?

Screaming in the detox center. Really.....

Dental surgery without anathesia? Sure...

Counseler supported raids on abandoned houses full of crack depraved degenerates? My, my.

Even a physical desciption that frankly doesn't reflect the layout of the rehab he claims to have stayed at.

That's pretty scary.

What if I told you Leonard doesn't exist?

What if I told you Lilly didn't exist?

What if, as the Smoking Gun implies, Frey never spent even one night in jail?

In light of his scathing attack on the traditonal approach to recovery, an approach that millions of truly addicted folks owe their very survival to, wouldn't it be a service to expose the whole fraud of this book before some poor, newly recovering person buys into this "memoir" and ends up dead.

Willpower kept him sober? This is the central and deadly theme of this book, this fabrication plying on the wallets of the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the addicted.

It's a crime.

I would welcome a deeper investigation into this book. It might save someone's life to realize that this "biography" is full of fictitious storytelling and very dangerous advice to a very vulnerable audience with alot to lose.

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chris

P.S. The dialogue here needs a bigger audience. There are folks here who have deep suspicions that need to heard by the public.

writingfailure

I just learned today that Google censored my paid advertisement regarding James Frey.

Ad said: James Frey Tells Lies - Latest news about James Frey and his Silly Book of Lies.

Anyone see the humor in that?

Anyway, the ad had an outstanding click thru rate of about 12%.

Why would Google suspend it?

writingfailure.com if you want to have a look.

chris

writingfailure:
It was a brilliant idea. I suspect that Google's response did not have as much to do with the content of your ad as it does there new polcy. From what I have been told, they have increased the minimum bids per click, sometimes putting in minimum bid amounts that are many multiples of whhat they were before. Also, they have summarily closed low volume accounts. I don't think you would have the same difficulty at Yahoo and msn.
Kudos for the attempt.
I just posted a zinger on Amazon.

hfogg1

I received James Frey's book as a X-mas gift. When I began reading it, many questions arose in my head as to the validity of the story. Beginning in the first chapter, when he describes waking up on a plane bleeding and with a hole in his face. I don't know any airline that would allow someone to board a plane in that condition. I continued to read on only because the story intrigued me. I have dealt with drug/alcohol addiction of my own and with many of my family members since I was a child. It was intriguing to hear about how someone else has struggled with it. I have only read two chapters, and now I found out that his stories hold little truth. That is extremely dissapointing. I have not picked up the book since, and I don't think that I will. I think that it is terrible to say that believing these "non-fiction" writers makes us naive. There still are honest people in this world-we have to rely on that fact. I also think that it is totally ignorant to generalize those addicted to drugs as liars. I know many honest people who have addiction problems. Let's not be so quick to judge!

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