Teetering on the Edge of Falsehood

Probably by now most of you have heard about the controversy surrounding James Frey’s number one bestseller, “A Million Little Pieces.” It turns out that Mr. Frey’s book, purported to be a memoir detailing his colorful drug and alcohol-addicted past, has been exposed by The Smoking Gun as being more fiction than fact.

Oprah Winfrey, who featured the book in her Book Club and conducted an emotional interview with Frey on her show, has come to his defense. Calling in while Frey was being interviewed by Larry King, Oprah said fabrications notwithstanding that the story still “resonates” with her and her legions of fans.

Needless to say, this controversy has set off a firestorm of commentary in the blogosphere and MSM. Both Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal have written excellent pieces. Here is a sample from Henninger’s article:

“What’s a fraud now–and what’s something else–has become a question worth considering. We live in a world of reality TV shows, of newspaper photographs and fashion photos routinely “improved” by the computer program Photoshop, of nightly news that pumps more emotion than fact into its version of public events such as Hurricane Katrina, hyper-real TV commercials manipulated with computers, the rise of “interpretive” news, fake singers, fake breasts, fake memoirs. Morris Dickstein of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York described this world as “always at the edge of falsehood” and so people come to tolerate it “as part of the overall media buzz of their lives.”

With this latest example, it does appear to me that we are indeed increasingly teetering on “the edge of falsehood.”

  1. Hal

    I like your piece. However, I think that our society has gone beyond the edge of falsehood and is already on it’s way down the slipery slope of the bald faced lie. I have no problem with Mr. Frey’s book as long as it is sold as fiction. The basic problem here is that it was not marketed as fiction. That was an outright lie, only to increase sales.

    James 5:12b says, “Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.”

    PS – Oprah can like it all she wants. I have not found any of her recommended books enjoyable to read; therefore I use her list as a “don’t read” list. And I’m thankful for it.

  2. mike


    It does look pretty bleak, I agree. But the reason I think we are still “teetering” as opposed to falling down the slope is because this sort of story still produces some kind of reaction in the media and culture at large. The fact that you and I are having this exchange is further proof that there is some resistance left. That’s why I picture this as a bus perched on the edge, with some leaning toward the back and others toward the front. Perhaps it will be left to our children and grandchildren to comment on whether or not the bus slips completely over the edge.

    As for Oprah, the only time I watch her is when I’m at the gym. When you’re working out on the elliptical trainer and you’re surrounded by middle-aged women, you don’t dare change the channel to ESPN. 😉

  3. Hal

    Good point. I hope that we are still teetering, as you say, and that those of us who are offended by the lies can make a difference in the lives of those on the other side of the bus.

    I realize that your mention of Oprah was mostly to demonstrate society’s acceptance of the lies. I didn’t picture you lying on your couch, curled up with a box of tissues, watching her show. I, too, have watched her show while burning the calories on the elliptical trainer.

  4. mike

    Hehe. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  5. contratimes

    The image of the teetering bus brings to mind the original and far better “Italian Job” (no, that is not a reference to the Italian Old Testament hero or his distant relation, Malachi). Have you ever seen it? The ending is classic.

    I enjoyed all your Frey pieces.


  6. mike

    I’ve seen the updated version of “Italian Job” (you gotta admit those Mini Coopers were awesome!), but not the original–I must remedy that, along with several other classics which I have too long neglected.

    Thanks for the compliment. Writer’s block is not a problem these days–all you have to do is keep your eyes open.

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