A Piece of My Mind: How the
Frey Affair Affects You
A liar needs a good memory ~ Quantilan
This is the punishment for a liar. He is not believed even when he
speaks the truth ~ The Talmud
Ever saw those Lifetime TV movies where it says 'based upon a true
story'? Well since James Frey's so-called memoirs, A Million Little
Pieces, we as writers may need to do this with a lot of our nonfiction
Frey was not the first to fabricate, just the most recent. We may
need to step back and rethink our facts to the Nth degree because editors
and publishers will do so more than ever now. The idea of creditability in
journalism is on the line recently.
If you have been hiding under a rock for the last month, let me do a
slight recap of the events:
James Frey wrote a book A Million Little Pieces. He originally
claimed that this was a memoir of his drug rehab and his life. Oprah Winfrey
said this book was great. She placed it in her "Oprah Book Club" and
This endorsement gave Frey's Pieces more nobility, press, and
better book sales. The Smoking Gun website pointed out the real
public records of Frey . . . items like Frey's spending two hours in jail,
not 87 days as his memoir stated. With the facts showing that this book was
not as true as Frey claimed, some people were irked.
Many called his Million Little Pieces more like a million lies (not
my quote, but I liked it). At first, Ms O defended Frey via a phone
interview, when he made an appearance on Larry King Live.
A week later, after the flack became overwhelming that this memoir was
proven to be not so true, Oprah was not happy when the true facts came to
light. She raked Frey over the coals and ripped him a new tail on her talk
show. He admitted parts of the book were not true . . . using that over-used
term "literary license" as an excuse. Then he raked Frey's editor over the
coals as well.
In her anger, Oprah claimed that she made a mistake in putting this
so-called autobiography in her book club. She said she was wrong to defend
Frey in the press. This did not put Frey in a great light with his publisher
Random House, who dropped his three book deal with them.
Fabrication is happening more and more in nonfiction journalism. In my
humble opinion, it shouldn't be happening at all. It isn't right and it does
not just affect the writer, but also the editors, the staff and the
publication or book.
In the late 1990's Stephen Glass worked at The New Republic
magazine as a staff writer. He also worked for many other publications like
Rolling Stone. He wrote an article in May of '98, which was found to
be totally fiction. Later it was found out that he'd made up a few other
articles during his stay working at The New Republic
this one.) He was fired because of his
prefab nonfiction work.
His story was told in the film Broken Glass. One of the best
insights into the real and the reel Glass is
article by David Plotz. When asked why in a 60 Minutes
interview, Glass said this: "Like a stock graph, there's going to be
exceptions in this. But the general trend of the stories is that they
started out with a few made up details and quotes. Granted a few too many,
of course. But a few. And then they progressed into stories that were
completely fabricated. Just completely made up out of whole cloth." (Read
60 Minutes article.)
Lets not even get into Jayson Blair . . . In the spring of 2003, this
New York Times reporter plagiarized quotes, and fabricated notes and
sources in more than 35 of his articles. Then, he had the gall to write how
and why he prefabbed his work at the Times in his book, Burning
Down My Master's House. He blamed his actions on being a severe manic
web site). There were a few great writers who were manic
depressives, Hemingway was one of them... And Blair is NO Hemingway!
So how will this affect you the writer? As I said before, people will be
checking up more and more . . . checking notes, references, contacts. For
every Frey, Glass or Blair, there are a million good writers out there doing
their reporting and journalism careers correctly - and now they will have to
take the fall for these idiots who have to fabricate to succeed.
That is my opinion on this subject, I welcome your comments at
[email protected]. I do welcome comments
from anyone...And if Frey, Glass or Blair wants to comment on what I said in
this article, I think the editor of this magazine would love their rebuttal.
Until next time, Reach for the Stars.
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