I thought watching American Idol tryouts would be the biggest public shaming highlight of the week. Skating With Celebrities came close. But neither could top what happened on Oprah this week.
The daytime queen and Book Club tastemaker didn't just expose the lies in James Frey's "memoir." She publicly shamed him -- and it was the right thing to do. If there is one thing Oprah Winfrey protects, it's her credibility. Her audience has high expectations of her because she keeps her own standards exceptional high.
So, good for her acknowledging what happened. Literally, it was a modern version of public flogging. And America got to watch.
Oprah found herself in a position she has never been in before on her show: having to apologize to her audience. "I regret that phone call," she said during a live taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in Chicago. She was referring to her Jan. 11 phone-in to Larry King, during which the daytime queen expressed support for Oprah's Book Club author James Frey, who was under the initial round of fire for having fabricated parts of his mega-selling memoir "A Million Little Pieces." "I left the impression that the truth does not matter," she said. "To everyone who has challenged me about this book -- you are absolutely right."
How often do we ever hear any famous person on TV ever apologize? We certainly don't hear it on the news, on the talk shows or from the White House. Maybe the occasional apology after a drug "incident"...but not really. We're in a victim society and someone else is to blame.
Admitting being wrong (such a breath of fresh air), as Oprah has no doubt counseled guests on her show many times, isn't an easy thing to do, especially in front of millions of people. Yet, in the wake of this week's New York Times reports casting even wider doubts on the veracity of Frey's memoir, she didn't have much of a choice. Besides the Smoking Gun's initial investigation showing that Frey lied about time he spent in jail and various run-ins with the law, some employees at the rehab center Frey attended have come forward to dispute his portrait of life there. No doubt her many, many followers have been waiting for Oprah to finally pronounce James Frey a fraud, and to distance herself both from the flimsy book that she made into a phenomenon, and from the lying man she made into a hero.
She did. First, she admitted her mistakes. And then took it to Frey, who wimpered and sounded like an 8-year old being punished for doing something bad. Oprah could have let the issue die on a vine; instead, she corrected the situation.
This is a case where public shaming actually was a good thing, not just an entertaining one.
referenced Salon.com story
posted by Chris Kennedy @ Friday, January 27, 2006,
- At 5:53 PM, said...
Oprah HAD to do what she did to save face and her reputation and she resented having to do it - hence her bitter, overly dramatic demeanor. I thought it was very obnoxious of her to criticize Nan Talese for believing Frey's story and being emotionally touched by it when she reacted in the same manner. Hindsight is 20/20, Ms. Winfrey, get off your high horse.
The only solid thing I took away from the whole mess was that companies should outsource their fact-checking to thesmokinggun.com
- At 4:11 PM, Steve said...
I agree-- what's the point of blaming any particular person when everyone believed the story. The whole fiasco should be a work of fiction in itself. www.seenontvnow.com