Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Larry King's guest tonight was James Frey, an author whose best-selling autobiography was featured on Oprah's Book Club. The book apparently paints Frey as an alcoholic, drug-addicted badass who spent considerable time in jail, who tried to run down an Ohio cop, who was the focus of an FBI investigation — all of which, according to the Smoking Gun, are lies.

The site's exposé was the result of a six-week investigation and is supported by specific evidence and copies of court documents. King's interview was a typical softball; he only asked Frey about two of the article's allegations, and Frey ducked both. In fact, Frey avoided answering any direct questions whatsoever; his appearance on CNN was a sham, a ploy to look like he was addressing the controversy without actually commenting.

Frey does admit to "embellishing" select portions of his book. The book apparently relates a story about aiming his car toward a police officer while he was high on crack; subsequent investigation reports that he bumped his tire on a curb while intoxicated, and that he was polite and respectful toward the police who responded. Frey claims he spent three months in jail; the Smoking Gun reports that Frey waited several hours in a cell while a friend bailed him out. Asked whether these constitute embellishments or outright lies, Frey answered, "Everyone's memory is subjective."

Ultimately, Frey's strategy was to hide behind the word memoir as if it were some obscure term. King repeatedly asked (albeit generally) about the accuracy of Frey's book versus the accuracy of the exposé article; he reminded Frey that a memoir was an autobiography, and that readers expect a memoir will at least attempt to be factual. Frey responded:
The genre of memoir is very new, and the boundaries of it have not been established yet.
I haven't read Frey's book. I can't speak about the stories he tells or the impressions they create. He claims only 18 pages from 432 have been contested; and I can't say whether those 18 pages are key, or to what degree these apparently false stories establish the tone of Frey's character in his book. But tonight's interview established that he's a liar and a coward.

Frey insisted that "memory is subjective." That may be true; but when you tell someone that you spent three months in jail and it turns out you cooled your heels for a few hours in a holding cell, we're not talking about subjectivity. We're talking about deliberate falsehood. The Smoking Gun cites several interviews where Frey claimed the events depicted in his book were completely true, interviews where Frey said nothing about embellishment or subjectivity. Obviously, he's changed his tune now that someone pulled back the curtain.

But he's still singing. Rather than admit he made a mistake and simply apologizing, he acted like a man who hadn't been caught. He sat on national television, with his mother sitting in the next chair, and repeatedly dodged King's questions. He treated his readers like idiots. He behaved like a coward. And his mother was clearly proud of him.

Maybe that's the difference between his family and mine. If I were in his situation, my mother wouldn't hold my hand while I dodged questions and tried to worm myself on national television. Of course, I wouldn't have subjected her to that humiliation; but if I tried, she certainly wouldn't have been proud. And maybe that's why I didn't end up like Frey, a hopeless junkie crumpled in a gutter, and a liar without apparent ethics or shame — because I didn't have a mother like his.


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