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James Frey Fallout (Updated)

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 11, 2006

Forgive me if the following gets a little jumbled in spots, I wrote some of it earlier today, added some material later, added more while watching a recording of the CNN interview (since I had watched ''Lost'' in real time), then added MORE when the Oprah call came in. I also did a little rewriting along the way. I hope it basically makes sense.


I mentioned in the ''Some Days Are Better Than Others'' post below that author James Frey's claims about his past were challenged in a long piece on The Smoking Gun. That report led to other coverage, and now Frey's publisher is offering refunds to some purchasers of his ''Million Little Pieces'' book. You can find a story about that here. Update: According to CNN tonight, the publisher is now saying this is not a ''special'' refund,


And, in TV news, Frey will be Larry King's guest tonight. I am anticipating a mea culpa of some sort from Frey, especially since he should get a very sympathetic hearing from Larry. (I mean, who doesn't?)


Update:Well, based on this Larry King appearance, Frey is a pretty big weasel, doing all he can to avoid apologizing to people who thought his story was true and not this thing he is calling ''subjective memory.''


Like so many people in public life today, he is hoping the people that want to believe his tale will continue to believe it -- or will never bother to read The Smoking Gun report, or don't know that Jerzy Kosinski's ''The Painted Bird'' -- though believed to have had autobiographical elements -- isn't a memoir. My ancient paperback copy is clearly marked ''fiction.''


The CNN interview was pretty bad; King seemed ready to doze off during most of it, let Frey completely off the hook on why TSG used interview material that had originally been off the record and kept asking essentially the same question again and again. And there was a lot of fumbling of clips during the show. The most interesting part may have been Frey's admission that he hdsn't talked to Oprah Winfrey about this scandal -- and especially that she had not contacted him.


Of course, then it turned out that Winfrey herself called in, and she spun admirably in defense of a book which she had, after all, made a big emotional committment to. (To the old ''blame the media,'' she added a new excuse: ''blame the publisher.'')


I also recorded today's ''Oprah,'' since she has been a booster of Frey and noticeably silent on the new revelations about him. I didn't see anything about Frey in the show, but hey, she had a story about a two-headed baby. A literary scandal isn't going to grab viewers on that scale. (NOTE: See the comments below for a clarification of this section.)


But, her CNN call notwithstanding, I suspect she was at least momentarily ticked at Frey,She seems to be the kind of person who would make a supportive phone call if she was not angry at the writer, and I don't buy her explanation about not calling to CNN.


Last update: You may be wondering why I am devoting some space to this whole issue. It goes back to the point I made when I first wrote about it, When someone like Frey embellishes a true story to make it more dramatic for readers, then it makes readers -- and viewers -- skeptical of all ''true stories,'' And that hurts a serious, truthful documentary like ''Country Boys,'' which has struck a nerve with the people who watched it on PBS, because it, too, is presented as a real story -- and some viewers are going to wonder if it''s ''real'' in the same way Frey's storytelling is,

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