Oprah Winfrey made a stunning reversal on Thursday, confronting James Frey about his memoir of drug and alcohol addiction, A Million Little Pieces, and telling him that she felt “duped” by the book that she helped launch onto the bestseller lists.
“I have been in television since I was 19 years old, and I have never been in this position,” she said at the outset of the program. “To everyone who has challenged me on” the subject of the book’s veracity, she later admitted, “you are absolutely right.”
To Frey, Winfrey said, “It is difficult for me to talk to you because I really feel duped … but more importantly I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.”
A Million Little Pieces hit stores in 2003 and enjoyed only moderate sales, then became the second bestselling title of last year, after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, once Winfrey touted it as her book club pick in September.
The high of the book’s incredible success came to a crashing end on Jan. 8, however, when the Smoking Gun Web site published a report about Frey’s accounts, saying that the author embellished, and even invented, some of his material.
Dissecting Frey’s text, Winfrey asked the author if the Smoking Gun report, titled “The Man Who Conned Oprah,” was true. “I think most of what they wrote was accurate,” he replied. “They did a good job.”
When asked by Winfrey how much of the book is fabricated, Frey said, “Not very much. All of the people in the book are real,” though he admitted he “altered things about all of them.”
Frey confirmed that he exaggerated his jail time. (He spent a few hours, not nearly three months there.) Frey also said that he changed the means of how the character Lily killed herself. (She committed suicide by cutting her wrists not hanging herself.) He waffled on whether he’d had novocaine when a dentist repaired four of his teeth (the book says he did not).
“I’ve struggled with the idea of it,” he said of his account in the dentist’s chair. “No,” Winfrey shot back. “Not the ‘idea’ of it. The ‘lie’ of it.”
Frey’s publisher, Nan Talese, said on the show that Frey’s story of root-canal work did not send up a red flag because she herself has had the dental surgery without benefit of anesthetic.
When Talese suggested that the turn of events about the book have been “sad” for everyone involved, including Winfrey, the TV host interjected: “It’s not sad for me, it’s disappointing and embarrassing for me.”
Earlier this month, while Frey was a guest on Larry King Live, Winfrey called into the show to defend the author. “What is relevant is that he was a drug addict … and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves.”
But Winfrey now says she regrets making that call. “I left the impression that the truth is not important,” she said Thursday. “I am deeply sorry about that because that is not what I believe.”