January 9, 2006

Best-selling book by US author called a fraud

By Mark Egan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Only Harry Potter sold more books last
year than James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," but was the
American's memoir of alcohol and drug-induced mayhem as much
fantasy as the boy wizard himself?

Frey's book sold 1.77 million copies last year after being
chosen by Oprah Winfrey's book club in September, but one
investigative Web site now says his book was based on lies.

The book's publisher, Random House's Doubleday division,
stood by the author and declined to make Frey available for
interview. But on his personal Web site bigjimindustries.com he
called the article "the latest attempt to discredit me."

"So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by
my book, and my life, and I won't dignify this bullshit with
any sort of further response," Frey wrote.

"The Man Who Conned Oprah," was the headline on Monday on
The Smoking Gun Web site, a news site owned by Court TV. The
article on Frey charges he fabricated serving a prison
sentence, exaggerated his role in an FBI investigation and lied
about his status as an outlaw "wanted in three states," among
other things.

"I was a bad guy," Frey told Winfrey in a television
broadcast last October which made him an overnight literary
sensation. "If I was gonna write a book that was true, and I
was gonna write a book that was honest, then I was gonna have
to write about myself in very, very negative ways."

But The Smoking Gun says, "He has demonstrably fabricated
key parts of the book, which could -- and probably should --
cause a discerning reader ... to wonder what is true in 'A
Million Little Pieces' and its sequel, 'My Friend Leonard."'

Random House spokesman Russell Perreault, declined to
discuss the Smoking Gun article beyond saying, "We stand in
support of our author, James Frey, and his book which has
touched the lives of millions of readers."

A spokeswoman for Winfrey did not return calls for comment.

Central to Frey's book, published in 2003, is his assertion
that he was charged with assaulting a police officer in Ohio
with his car, with inciting a riot, with possession of crack
cocaine and felony drunk driving -- charges that he wrote
resulted in him serving a three-month prison term.

But Smoking Gun editor William Bastone said that incident
was really "as vanilla an incident as you will ever see."

"The overall majority of contentions he makes in the book
are not borne out by contemporaneous police records or by
interviews we conducted with police and court officials in Ohio
and Michigan," Bastone told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

The Smoking Gun's Web site displays the original police
officer's report of the 1992 incident which shows Frey was
found drunk in his car without a driver's license but did not,
as he wrote, serve time behind bars for the incident or behave
in the outrageous manner portrayed in his book.

"He (Frey) was polite and cooperative at all times. He was
later released on $733 cash bond," the police report from the
October 24, 1992, incident concludes.

And of Frey's claim that he was the subject of an FBI drug
investigation while at university, Bastone published a police
report revealing him as a bit player in a minor drug probe
rather than the "outlaw" portrayed in his memoir.

"In off-the-record interviews with us, Frey admitted
embellishing facts in the book for dramatic impact," Bastone
said, adding that Frey later backed off that stance and his
lawyers have since threatened to sue.

Frey also told The Smoking Gun during the course of three
interviews before the article was published that he had sought
to have his legal records expunged when his book was first
published in hardcover in 2003, Bastone said.

Frey's lawyer Martin Singer was not immediately available
for comment. But in a letter to the Smoking Gun dated January 6
and published on the Web site, he called The Smoking Gun's
assertions defamatory and threatened a lawsuit for millions of
dollars in damages.

"We do not expect to be sued," Bastone said.