Was Oprah’s Defense of James Frey a Preemptive Strike?

A lot of people were surprised when Oprah Winfrey called in during Larry King’s interview of James Frey to stand behind Frey in the mess about whether, or just how much, Frey fictionalized his experiences in A Million Little Pieces. Winfrey argued that while some of Frey’s details may not be the stuff of non-fiction, the overall reading experience resonated with her, and all the hubbub was a distraction from the book’s strengths. Now I wonder if perhaps she was thinking ahead to her next Oprah Book Club selection as well. It’s just been announced that she has chosen Elie Wiesel’s holocaust memoir Night, a book that over the years has been challenged by critics as being a fantastical rendering of Weisel’s experiences at Auschwitz. (Some of those critics, it should be said, are outright Holocaust deniers; but many are not.) If you think the ethics of criticizing a drug-rehab author (Frey) are sticky, how about the ethics of criticizing a Holocaust-survivor author?


econopete

It's fine that people criticize the work of others so long as they put forward evidence supporting their claim.

Why is there such a negative connotation associated with criticism? The entire POINT of the scientific community is communal criticism; without it, there would be no separation of the quacks from the experts.

Criticism is a vital check on anyone making a claim of significance. It wouldn't be right for someone to claim that, say, the world would be thrown back into an ice age if carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere without sufficient support to back it up. Yet people in politics and the media do this all the time; they make baseless comments to gain support. These people then cry "slander" or "traitor" whenever someone checks them on their facts. This rhetorical tactic is extremely dangerous, and it's unfortunate that so many get away with it.

econopete

I must clarify: after extensive reading on global warming, I feel the scientists working in the field have a legitimate case that must be heeded. (Much of that research, interestingly, was funded by the government.) I'm just making the point that someone shouldn't say "the sky is falling!" with absolute certainty without sufficient support. But because the field of global climate is so complex, it's easily confused and many individuals simply say, "Oh, well, that's just junk science" despite the 50+ years of study dedicated to the field.

kimi619

It's obvious Oprah is publicly supporting Frey during this whole ordeal simply to maintain her own credibility as the dictator of the world's most powerful book club. I'm sure she felt just as cheated as the rest of us when The Smoking Gun report was released.

bonnie2315k

Next up on Oprah's book club: "TESTIMONY: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to Solomon Volkov"? (Or so he says)

zenofguitar

Is she going to discuss Elie Wiesel's book because of the additional publicity due to Iran's announcement? Think of the power Oprah wields with that club. I wish I could suggest some books.

hfogg1

I agree that Oprah's continued support of James Frey is clearly a weak attempt to save face!

admiral

I think it's pretty obvious that this has been blown out of proportion. No one is going to go into a State of the Union address citing James Frey's book as evidence to invade Iran. Err wait...

inferno

now after todays show where oprah has the interview with him, i dont think of her in the same way. i feel like shes doing it out of fear because she got pressured into apologizing to her viewers. and she did it because she had people telling her to do it. she's just trying to protect her image. and shes mad at frey for lying to her... well, we should have thought about things a little differently before picking million little pieces for the book club. first she loves him, then she becomes totally hostile toward him? What is this oprah, a reaction demanded by viewers?

inferno

yes i agree with what the people here said about oprah. she shouldnt have done the second show to save her image. she should have left it after larry king. because now to me she seems like someone whose afraid of what people say about her.

obviously while reading million little pieces one can very much distinguish that about half of it is made up. the events are just too fantastical. of all people an avid reader such as oprah should have also made that distinction. she should have known not everything was true. so why did she pick it for the book club? even i knew that the stuff couldnt be true.

this seems like either oprah made a really big mistake or there is some sort of established setup between everybody in order to get frey's book sales up.

Development on a Shoestring » Oprah’s million little complaints

[...] When he went on the Larry King show, Oprah Winfrey called up to defend him, say effectively that the truth didn’t matter, it was the ‘overall reading experience’ that mattered. Sort of another fake but accurate defence. It would seem that since then quite a number of people have called her on the logical, if not moral, inconsistency of her defence of James Frey. The Stephen Dubner, of Freakanomics fame, put up the idea that she was just trying to defend her next, possibly fantastical biographical book. It would seem though that she has actually listened to the criticisms and has realised that the guy is a liar and she said so in her most recent show. Oprah: You went to the dentist. What’s true about the dentist? [...]

Oprah » oprah winfrey

[...] Freakonomics Blog ” Was Oprah’s Defense of James Frey a Preemptive Strike? A lot of people were surprised when Oprah Winfrey called in during Larry King’s interview of James Frey to stand behind Frey in the mess about whether, or just how much, Frey fictionalized his experiences in A Million Little Pieces. … was thinking ahead to her next Oprah Book Club selection as well … July 4, 2006 | In Oprah | [...]

holden42

I think the whole thing is ironic--given how much fiction is involved in the statements a celebrity like Oprah makes on a show like Larry King's. It's all about saving face, appearing to be something other than what you are. What disturbs people is when someone admits to pretending to be what they're not on such a grand scale. www.seenontvnow.com

econopete

It's fine that people criticize the work of others so long as they put forward evidence supporting their claim.

Why is there such a negative connotation associated with criticism? The entire POINT of the scientific community is communal criticism; without it, there would be no separation of the quacks from the experts.

Criticism is a vital check on anyone making a claim of significance. It wouldn't be right for someone to claim that, say, the world would be thrown back into an ice age if carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere without sufficient support to back it up. Yet people in politics and the media do this all the time; they make baseless comments to gain support. These people then cry "slander" or "traitor" whenever someone checks them on their facts. This rhetorical tactic is extremely dangerous, and it's unfortunate that so many get away with it.

econopete

I must clarify: after extensive reading on global warming, I feel the scientists working in the field have a legitimate case that must be heeded. (Much of that research, interestingly, was funded by the government.) I'm just making the point that someone shouldn't say "the sky is falling!" with absolute certainty without sufficient support. But because the field of global climate is so complex, it's easily confused and many individuals simply say, "Oh, well, that's just junk science" despite the 50+ years of study dedicated to the field.

kimi619

It's obvious Oprah is publicly supporting Frey during this whole ordeal simply to maintain her own credibility as the dictator of the world's most powerful book club. I'm sure she felt just as cheated as the rest of us when The Smoking Gun report was released.

bonnie2315k

Next up on Oprah's book club: "TESTIMONY: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to Solomon Volkov"? (Or so he says)

zenofguitar

Is she going to discuss Elie Wiesel's book because of the additional publicity due to Iran's announcement? Think of the power Oprah wields with that club. I wish I could suggest some books.

hfogg1

I agree that Oprah's continued support of James Frey is clearly a weak attempt to save face!

admiral

I think it's pretty obvious that this has been blown out of proportion. No one is going to go into a State of the Union address citing James Frey's book as evidence to invade Iran. Err wait...

inferno

now after todays show where oprah has the interview with him, i dont think of her in the same way. i feel like shes doing it out of fear because she got pressured into apologizing to her viewers. and she did it because she had people telling her to do it. she's just trying to protect her image. and shes mad at frey for lying to her... well, we should have thought about things a little differently before picking million little pieces for the book club. first she loves him, then she becomes totally hostile toward him? What is this oprah, a reaction demanded by viewers?