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Yay, Oprah!

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 26, 2006

I'm watching the Oprah Winfrey interview with James Frey and am so loving it. (I've also added things here as the show went along.) It's a great common-sense interview, plain and direct questions that require plain and direct answers. She is making Frey look like an even bigger weasel than he seemed on ''Larry King Live.''


While Winfrey could have denounced Frey sooner, it's still admirable that she is taking apart someone that she made a huge emotional, and professional, investment in. (And the groans from the audience just make it all better.) This interview is one of the reasons that people love Oprah. She was heartfelt in her support and defense of Frey, and she is just as heartfelt and passionate -- and even funny -- in taking him apart.


What terrific television.


Oh, and now it's getting better. Nan Talese, who oversaw publication of Frey's book, is doing her own weasel bit -- and Oprah's not buying it either. And she's not buying it in a way that will be perfectly clear to common-sense folks like her viewers, especially by insisting that a self-described true story should be fact-checked.


We have now entered the scorched-earth section of the interview, where Oprah takes apart not only Frey, but the publisher (adding to the unhappiness she expressed with the publisher on ''Larry King Live''). Frey, meanwhile, looks more and more like a convict who sees the guillotine being sharpened outside his cell. He may not realize that his head is already rolling down the stage.


But Oprah's kicking the head into the audience. She wants Frey to use the word ''lies.'' He's trying to avoid saying it -- even in his delusion he must know that would be a major sound bite on cable news -- but he has to at least admit that Oprah's not wrong in using it (and at the end of the show, he finally said it himself).


And now the commentators, Richard Cohen and Frank Rich. More praise for Oprah, who rightly says what she did is ''the only thing to do.''


She knows it wasn't. She knows she could have just kept silent. Or she could have continued her praise of Frey on some paper-thin defense of ''essential truth'' or ''emotional accuracy.'' But no. She stood up and said she was wrong -- AND THEN DEVOTED AN HOUR OF HER SHOW TO THE ISSUE.


I wish politicians could so boldly admit error instead of hiding behind feeble claims of confidentiality. Think of recent reports about White House officials refusing to discuss their actions in response to Hurricane Katrina, including this from David Schuster at msnbc.com: `''Lawmakers say that while FEMA has been cooperative, (former director) Michael Brown has not, refusing, like the White House, to answer questions.  But Brown does talk about Katrina for a fee.  Recently he was the keynote speaker at a storm response conference where attendees paid $375 each.''


I'm not going to spend $375 to find out if Brown is more forthcoming to a paying audience than he is to Congress. But Oprah knows she paid a price for this Frey nightmare, and she didn't make us pay to hear her regrets. As she said near the end of the show, ''I do believe the truth can set you free.''


All right, so that let-the-healing-begin moment at the end was a bit much. That's very Oprah, too. And I still came away from this both liking and admiring her more than ever.


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