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James Frey May Have Lied But Oprah Has Bad Manners

Nan TaleseNan Talese, editor and publisher of James Frey’s fictional autobiography called A Million Little Pieces, struck back after enduring months of scorn and anger, much of it fueled by Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah Winfrey featured James Frey on her show and was later appalled to find out that a great deal of the non fiction story was actually fiction. She had Frey and Nan Talese back on her show to question them about the truth behind the book.

Oprah: James Frey is here and I have to say it is difficult for me to talk to you because I feel really duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers. I think it’s such a gift to have millions of people to read your work and that bothers me greatly. So now, as I sit here today I don’t know what is true and I don’t know what isn’t. So first of all, I wanted to start with The Smoking Gun report titled, “The Man Who Conned Oprah” and I want to know–"were they right?

James: I think most of what they wrote was pretty accurate. Absolutely.

This weekend at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest, Nan Talese said she was unapologetic about what happened and “the only person who should be apologetic is Oprah Winfrey.” She went on to say that Oprah had “fiercely bad manners” was “mean and self-serving and “sanctimoniousness.”

While I feel bad for the public beating that Talese took, she did participate in the process by including promotional language such as “brutally honest” when she knew, in fact, that it was not and not taking responsibility for knowing that it wasn’t entirely truthful when confronted with questions back in 2003.

Q: [I]n a press release sent out for the book in 2004, by your company, the book was described as “brutally honest and an altering look at addiction.” So how can you say that if you haven’t checked it to be sure?

A: You know, Oprah, I mean, I think this whole experience is very sad. It’s very sad for you. It’s very sad for us.

Q: It’s not sad for me. It’s embarrassing and disappointing for me.

A: I do not know how you get inside another person’s mind.

I am guessing Talese isn’t going to get invited back to the Oprah show unless it is for another “public stoning.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 18:29:39

    Don’t ‘cha just love when those who are in error try to pass the blame? Own up to it, Ms. Talese. You and Frey were both in the wrong and Oprah called you on it. You’re lucky to still have a job, IMO.

  2. bettie
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 21:17:22

    Usually, I hate it when people take Oprah’s name in vain. But apologies are in order from both parties.

    1) Nan Talese should apologize for presenting A Million Little Pieces to a nation-wide audience as nonfiction.

    2) Oprah should apologize for presenting The Secret to a nation-wide audience.

  3. RfP
    Jul 31, 2007 @ 14:20:33

    Definitely fault the publisher for presenting the book as something it wasn’t… but does the book still have value even if it’s not The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth? Sure, Oprah’s embarrassed to have lionized Frey as a huge redemption story. But separating him from his book, does it hold up as a fictionalized autobiography? Does it still serve the same purpose Oprah intended? (I don’t know the answer: I don’t plan to read the book. I’m literally “just saying”, because I find the whole flap about it strange.)

    Nonfiction is never The Truth; particularly (auto)biography. That doesn’t negate it. Would Bill Bryson’s autobiographical travel books be worth reading if he included only verifiable incidents? No way.

    I’m not excusing the author/publisher’s presenting it the way they did, but I think the outrage and the $2.35 million settlement are overblown.

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