A Piece of My Mind: How the Frey Affair Affects You
Bennet Pomerantz

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 work.

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 promoted it.

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 (including 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 an 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 the 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 depressive (his 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.

This article is the sole property of the author. It is produced here with the author's permission.  The unauthorized use or reprinting of an article is illegal, and will be prosecuted at the discretion of the author.

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About the Writer:

Bennet Pomerantz is a media review columnist in 175 newspapers with his weekly column AUDIOWORLD. His fiction and reviews have appeared in the pages of Affaire De Coeur, Gateways, Mystery Scene, Power Star, The Hot Corner, Washington Entertainment Magazine, and many others. He is also known for his review appearances on the MCN Forum. View his web site at Audioworld.