Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Elie Wiesel Subtly Rebukes Oprah and Frey

The backstory: Oprah Winfrey selected a memoir by James Frey, “A Milliion Little Pieces", for her book club. Frey’s book is about his recovery from drug addiction. But it turns out major portions of the book are lies and were made up out of whole cloth. A PR nightmare followed the revelation. Nevermind. On January 12th Oprah went on Larry King’s show and said the lies were unimportant. The "underlying message of redemption” was more important than the truth, she said. Now Oprah has announced that her next book club selection is “Night”, an autobiographical account of life in Nazi death camps by Elie Wiesel. Wiesel is a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose mission in life is to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. And Wiesel has no interest in weighing in on the Frey controversy. As a matter of fact, he says he hasn’t read the book. However, it is very clear how Wiesel feels about a writer’s obligation to be truthful when purporting to use autobiographical material. In an interview yesterday, he said that some reviews (including one in the New York Times) describe his memoir as a novel. “I know the difference,” he said. “It is not a novel at all. It’s a memoir and my experiences in the book - A to Z - must be true…all the people I describe were with me there. I object angrily if someone mentions it as a novel." This morning, WaPo’s columnist Richard Cohen said in his article “Oprah's Grand Delusion” that when Oprah selected "A Million Little Pieces" for her book club, it “literally sent the book flying off bookstore shelves and into the stratosphere. About 2 million sold after her endorsement. Recommending the book was one thing. No one expects Oprah to fact-check every book she urges her audience to read. Sticking by it is quite another matter. Even after the Smoking Gun smoked Frey, Oprah told Larry King that no matter what, the book still retained its 'underlying message of redemption.' Instead of getting a magisterial rebuke, Frey had been pardoned.” Cohen said Oprah is not only wrong but she is deluded and needs a session with Dr. Phil. Cohen says Dr. Phil might tell her “there is no redemption without honesty. Treatment, as one expert told me, begins with ‘owning your life’ and not embellishing it for the sake of others or yourself." “Fame and wealth has lulled her (Oprah) into believing that she possesses something akin to papal infallibility,” Cohen said. “She finds herself incapable of seeing that she has been twice fooled -- once by Frey, a second time by herself.” It’s a memoir and it must be true. Here endeth the lesson.

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