Monday, January 09, 2006

The Man Who Conned Oprah

The Smokiing Gun is one of the funnest sites on the internets.
Muckraking at its cyber-best.
The current gusher of deceit describes how a shill of a writer conned Oprah Winfrey so effectively that his "nonfiction" book made the coveted Oprah Book Club list, bringing new meaning to the word prevarication.

The Man Who Conned Oprah is a fascinating piece of work illustrating that, to turn a phrase around, fiction is stranger than truth.

...a six-week investigation by The Smoking Gun reveals that there may be a lot less to love about Frey's runaway hit, which has sold more than 3.5 million copies and, thanks to Winfrey, has sat atop The New York Times nonfiction paperback best seller list for the past 15 weeks. Next to the latest Harry Potter title, Nielsen BookScan reported Friday, Frey's book sold more copies in the U.S. in 2005--1.77 million--than any other title, with the majority of that total coming after Winfrey's selection.

Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's book. The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw "wanted in three states."

In additon to these rap sheet creations, Frey also invented a role for himself in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students. In what may be his book's most crass flight from reality, Frey remarkably appropriates and manipulates details of the incident so he can falsely portray himself as the tragedy's third victim. It's a cynical and offensive ploy that has left one of the victims' parents bewildered. "As far as I know, he had nothing to do with the accident," said the mother of one of the dead girls. "I figured he was taking license...he's a writer, you know, they don't tell everything that's factual and true."

I didn't read it too closely. It doesn't interest me all that much, except as an illustration of the vapid froth passing for content these days. Its hard to determine where it originates, this empty chattering about little of nothing -- commercial television, the publishing industry or old-fashioned, air-headed water-cooler gossip...
Chicken or egg or other egg or other chicken get the idea.

Addendum, January 16...

This post has been a daily Google hit from the day it was published. On the last day of the Alito hearings, it rated twice the number of hits as comments about Alito.
Here from The New Criterion blog, is the best retrospective nutshell about the subject that I have come across (emphasis added):
Everyone wondered how Oprah would react to the scandal. Well, what do you know--she's decided to stand by her man. "For Oprah, the emotional truth is enough." (Oprah should write a memoir about overcoming cheesecake addiction and see if the "emotional truth" sustains it.) In the meantime, millions of readers have been given bohemianism without artistry, authenticity without facts, disorder and chaos without purpose--and they are the worse for it. It's time to break the memoir addiction once and for all.

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