Friday, January 27, 2006


The Truth will set you somewhere . . . Or something like that

I'm taking a break from talking about the really unimportant minutiae of life in LA (and my fairly silly life in general) to talk about something that's equally unimportant, but that everyone is taking sooooo seriously.

The wife and I sat down last night to watch the Oprah she'd TIVO'd from earlier in the day. You've no doubt heard about it. It's the episode where Oprah piled on faux memoirist James Frey for putting lies - LIES - into his best-selling book A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, which Oprah made part of her reading list (and thus catapulted to Best-Seller status).

The whole thing pretty much made me sick. There were so many layers of hypocrisy and ritual chest-beating, not to mention a good solid round of ego masturbation. Our Woman in LA was forced to stop the TIVO a number of times so that I could roundly bitch about the show.

If you don't know about this power hour of daytime TV, Slate's got a pretty good piece about it, which you can read here:

First you had Oprah sitting there, playing the part of the good gal done wrong, seething but telling her audience how she made a mistake in defending Frey, and then actively going after him and just about everyone else in the Chicago metropolitan area for the sweet, sweet blood of redemption.

She went after Frey. How could he have lied?! HOW!??! He made her somehow complicit in the lying because she recommended the book.

Ahem, no, Oprah, you did that yourself, by calling Larry King. It's still a pretty good book, no? And seriously, does anyone at all believe that the queen of all media would have done this "Very Special" Oprah show if her fans hadn't called in and taken this whole thing a good more seriously than it needed to be taken?

Then she piled on Nan Talese, the book's publisher. How could she not have doubted, well, just about every detail of the book when she read it? You know, even though, Oprah herself didn't doubt anything until she was told that the book was more fiction than fact. I dug how Nan tried to explain that memoirs aren't exactly the same thing as journalism or autobiography, that there's a place for artistic license in the genre. It would have been nice to hear more of that, but alas, it was drowned out by a Greek chorus demanding retribution.

Oprah Rex.

Then there were the chorus of journalists who joined the posse. One gentleman from the New York Times, a publication that used to be the gold standard of objective journalism in America. But by the way, how is Jayson Blair these days? Oh and yeah, it's been pretty cool watching the old NY Times spending the last couple of years on scapegoat patrol. We've watched them take potshot - and often highly inaccurate - blasts at every easy target industry and individual who stands one side of the ethical center.

Frey's just next. Sorry, James. As big a tool as you seem to be, you're really just another victim of a publication looking to prove that they're better and more ethical than, well, someone. Which is why they then targeted old Nan and the publishing industry.

"We have fact checkers, Nan. Do you?" No. But she had lawyers, who made sure there was no libel in the book. To this point, I can't recall hearing that Frey libeled anyone so much as he just made stuff up. And again, where were those fact checkers in the Blair case? Or why not ask your colleagues at the New Republic if high-level fact checkers, too, can be duped.

Or does nobody remember Stephen Glass, either?

Oh, and by the way, isn't a little bit less of a crime to make up something in a memoir than it is to invent stories for the newspaper and major news magazines? I'm just thinking. Blair fabricated stories about military hostages in the Iraq war. Glass made things up about the security of computer systems at major corporations, and how they could be hacked. Frey made ridiculous claims about his own personal experience of drug rehab.

None of it's good at all. But Frey's affects a whole lot fewer people. Anyway, back to the show.

Then we had more pile-on by Maureen Dowd, a woman whose own nonfiction book ARE MEN NECESSARY? has come under attack because she allegedly used only anecdotal and out-of-context evidence in her book, which contends that American men are never, ever attracted to women who are smart or successful. Her contentions might be true, but when she's under fire for creating her own story out of thin air, for massaging a few facts here and there, is she really the paragon of truth that should be allowed to publicly poke holes in Frey - or anyone?

Seriously. How sanctimonious can you get? "Well, my book's under attack for not being a very truthful non-fiction book, too, but we really can't allow these people like James Frey to get away with this."

I suppose once you've shattered all the walls of your glass house, you might as well keep on throwing.

OK, look. I'm not defending Frey. He misled a whole bunch of people, and he made a big mess bigger. Probably when this book was rejected by publishers as a novel, the best policy was not to re-pitch it as a memoir. If it's as good as advertised, it probably would have been picked up. He's a jerk and a loser, and yeah, he's a liar.

Everybody knows it. His contract is "under review" by his publisher, which is code for "he'll be cut loose later when all the hoo-ha dies down and we don't look even worse."

But let's cut the blame game, guys. Oprah, you screwed up, too, and it's your fault. New York Times and Washington Post guys, to say nothing of Maureen Dowd and Joel Stein (Joel Stein? Why was he there?), the dude from the Poynter Institute and the one from the New York Daily News: Enough. Scrambling around to decry James Frey doesn't do much service to make you look better. Just more pompous.

So there you have it. Here endeth the rant. Back to minutiae. High of 65 in LA today. At least that's my story. But feel free to check my facts.

Quite, yes
Do not despond! More cheerfully!
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