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January 30, 2006

Oprah and Fact-Checking

I watched Oprah grill James Frey, the author of the alleged memoir A Million Little Pieces, which turned out to be partly (largely?) fabricated, and was pretty annoyed. Basically, Oprah was embarrassed that she'd selected the book as one of her book club selections and then continued defending it even when cases of invention were pointed out, saying on Larry King that the "essence" of the story -- something about redemption -- remained true.

It was just an annoying exercise in brand-protection as Oprah got on her high horse and attempted to undo the damage Frey, and she herself, had caused to her reputation. More annoying was when she grilled the book's publisher, Nan Talese, demanding to know why it hadn't been more thoroughly fact-checked.

This is an okay point, but first of all, it's no big secret that these books are vetted for libel, not for accuracy, largely, and as long as you're lying about someone with a fictitious name or yourself no one's really checking. Oprah was either playing dumb or actually being dumb to not know this.

And she also wanted to know why these big publishing houses didn't just hire someone "for thirty thousand dollars a year" to fact-check. Fair point, right? Except Oprah is herself head of huge corporation, one of the most profitable in the world, and her corporation had chosen the book as a book of the month club entry -- and then marketed it through the club. Couldn't Oprah have hired a fact-checker "for thirty-thousand dollars a year," too? So long as we're passing out blame-- why should it stop with Frey and Talese?

Frey is a liar, but at least he admitted it. Talese just puts books out as nonfiction without checking to make sure they're true, but at least she admitted it. And what did Oprah admit? No real mistakes, except for loving the book so much she... didn't have a fact-checker on the payroll already. And then she had a bunch of "journalists" (actually liberal opinion columnists) like Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich and Richard Cohen tell her how "brave" she was for, well, engaging in PR.

At the American Thinker, Lona Manning notes that Oprah has had on guests who wrote fakey "memoirs" about devil-worship and sacrifice, again without fact-checking. And a lot of women have read those books and become deluded into believing they were "ritually abused" as children.

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posted by Ace at 10:30 AM

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