January 11, 2006

Oprah Winfrey supports embattled writer Frey

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Powerful TV talk show host Oprah
Winfrey threw her support to embattled author James Frey on
Wednesday, saying a national uproar over whether he
fictionalized parts of his best-selling memoir was "much ado
about nothing."

Appearing as a surprise caller on CNN's "Larry King Live"
after King had gently quizzed Frey for nearly an hour, Winfrey
broke her silence over whether his "A Million Little Pieces"
was still a choice of her book club and had her endorsement.

She said that even though the facts of the account of
Frey's drug and alcohol addiction were being questioned, the
book "still resonates with me" and called the controversy "much
ado about nothing" because, as Frey told King, the disputed
passages make up less than 5 percent of the book.

Talking to King on the phone just minutes before the show
was to end, Winfrey said, "Everyone has been asking me to
release a statement, and I first wanted to hear what James had
to say and I didn't want that colored by any personal
conversation that I've had.

"He's said he's had many conversations with my producers
who do fully support him and obviously we support the book
because we recognize that there have been thousands and
hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been changed
by this book."

It was Winfrey's selection of the memoir for her book club
that helped make it the biggest-selling nonfiction book in the
United States last year, with more than 1.7 million copies sold
in a paperback edition.


But she had been silent following weekend charges made by
The Smoking Gun Web site that Frey had made up an account that
he had spent three months in jail after trying to run over a
policeman while on drugs.

The Smoking Gun said it could find no evidence of his
having spent that much time in jail and that his auto accident
consisted of running his car up on a curb.

Frey refused to directly confront whether the incident was
made up or not and insisted that while some elements in the
book were embellished, the book's emotional core was true.

"I hope the emotional truth of the book resonates with
(readers)," he told King. "I couldn't have written it if I
hadn't been through a lot of the things I talk about."

He added, "It's a memoir. It's an imperfect animal. ...I
don't think it should be held up and scrutinized the way a
perfect nonfiction documentary would be or a newspaper

Winfrey appeared to agree, telling King: "Whether or not
the car's wheels rolled up on the sidewalk or whether he hit
the police officer or didn't hit the police officer is
irrelevant to me."

She added, "What is relevant is that he was a drug addict,
spent years in turmoil, from the time he was 10 years old and
tormenting himself and his parents, and out of that history to
be the man that he is today and to take that message to other
people and allow them to save themselves. That's what important
about this book."

As for Frey, he insisted "The essential truth of (my) drug
and alcohol addiction is there. The emotional truth is there.
.... I think you will find people who will dispute every memoir
ever written."

Readers calling publisher Random House's customer service
line were told they could receive refunds if they had bought
the book directly from the publishing house. Random House, a
unit of German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG, issued a
statement saying that such refunds were standard procedure.

Bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. also said it is standard
practice to offer refunds for returned books.

But Publishers Weekly Senior Editor Charlotte Abbott called
the Random House refunds unprecedented.