Friday, January 27, 2006
James Frey and the case of The Smoking Gun #2
Now more than famous, the infamous James Frey made another and probably his last appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is safe to conclude that the love fest is over. Oprah was visibly upset. No – let’s call it what it is – she was pissed. She had to do something she was not used to doing: Admit she was wrong and apologize. Not for her original endorsement, she could have just been a victim like everyone else that believed Frey, but for her defense after the truth was revealed.
It is not unfair to say that Oprah brought this on herself. She could have waited before throwing her considerable clout behind the defense of Mr. Frey and his book. She could have paid attention to the Larry King interview and saw what I believe the rest of the world saw: An author fielding the softest of softball questions and still squirming. Evading questions, answering in ambiguity and playing games with semantics are not the tactics of an honest man.
Oprah claims her judgment was clouded, that she too was swept up by the fervor that she helped create. Perhaps. I happen to have a great deal of respect for what she has done in her life although not necessarily in form, definitely in substance. Thus being the case, I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Yes, that means I have doubt. But I feel that she has earned at least one pass, a “get out of jail free card” as it were, a mulligan.
However, granting her the benefit of excuse does not relieve her of the direct consequences of her statement of support. That is to say that there is a penalty for picking a losing horse, but not always one for the negligence in picking it. And Oprah felt a wrath heretofore foreign to her. Many gave her credit for stepping up and doing the right thing. They say it took courage. I don’t know about that. I think she had little choice and indeed it was, in a backhanded way, a boost to an already lofty persona.
Suffice it to say that Oprah took responsibility for a variety of reasons, among then the right ones. And she was tough – and Frey squirmed. He was not having a good time, yet he continued to lie. He has not learned how to tell the truth. He is claiming only what he thinks he has to. He is admitting the bare minimum and it isn’t enough. He makes excuse after excuse after excuse. I guess he wants us to feel sorry for him after all he went through. Spare me!
As I knew from the very first time I got wind of his book, Mr. Frey is not capable of telling the truth. He lied yesterday, the day before and quite probably has been doing it all of his life. In his defense, if he had come clean about everything, there would be scant factual material left. He still should have. He’s already rich; his fame is pretty well established, why not come clean? Maybe he doesn’t think he has to. Perhaps it’s too big a pill to swallow. For whatever reason, it is clear that he intends to hold on to everything he can.
Oprah may have been able to wait for the hoopla to die down. She may have been able to ignore the whole mess and let it die a natural death. However, after her rush to stand behind him live on Larry King, by validating Frey’s “essential” or “emotional” truth, she endorsed dishonesty by default. Although she quite probably could have weathered the criticism leveled at her, it struck at one of her core beliefs and, to her credit and for what I believe are sincere and genuine reasons, felt compelled to set the record straight. She said she was duped. She was not alone. Nevertheless, some of us smelled this rat a mile away.