Thursday, January 26, 2006

Frey admits fictions, Oprah apologizes

By Michael Conlon

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Author James Frey confessed to Oprah Winfrey on Thursday that he made up details about every character in his memoir "A Million Little Pieces" and the talk show host apologized to her viewers, saying she felt "duped."

"I really feel duped," Winfrey told Frey on her television show. She said he had betrayed millions of viewers.

Winfrey began by apologizing to viewers for a telephone call she made to CNN's "Larry King Live" show on January 11, while King was interviewing Frey about the controversy. In the call Winfrey said that even though the facts were being questioned, the book "still resonates with me" and called the controversy "much ado about nothing."

In 19 years in television "I've never been in this position before," said Winfrey, whose praise for Frey's book in September helped make it the top-selling book on nonfiction lists in the United States last year.

"I regret that phone call," she told her viewers on Thursday. "I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe."

Sitting with Frey in side-by-side easy chairs, Winfrey quizzed the author point-by-point about his book that described his drug-and-alcohol addiction and the people hurt by it.

"All the way through the book I altered details about every one of the characters," Frey said "Every one of the characters was altered," including himself.

He spent two hours in jail, not 87 days, and the account of his breaking up with a woman who later committed suicide happened in a much shorter period of time, with their separation occurring while he was taking care of personal business in North Carolina, not while he was in jail, he said.

She committed suicide by slashing her wrists, he said, not by hanging herself.

Asked if The Smoking Gun Web site which first questioned the book had accurately characterized the discrepancies, Frey said "I think most of what they wrote was pretty accurate," adding they did "a good job."

The Smoking Gun said it could find no evidence of his having spent that much time in jail and that an auto accident he wrote about consisted of running his car up on a curb.

Frey said he had developed an image of himself for the book as "being tougher than I was, badder than I was" as a "coping mechanism."

Winfrey asked if that was to make a better book or to make him a better person.

"Probably both," he answered.

"To everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right," she said, adding that the inspiration the book brought to so many people had clouded her judgment.

Frey's book had been chosen by Winfrey for her reading club -- an honor which often turns books into best sellers. Published by Random House's Doubleday division, the book sold more than 1.77 million copies last year after being chosen by Winfrey.

On January 17 Winfrey chose Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's "Night" as her latest selection, sending the book, first published in the United States in 1960, to the top of best-seller lists.

Random House is a unit of German media conglomerate Bertelsman AG.

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