James Frey and Oprah

Oprah: James Frey is here and I have to say it is difficult for me to talk to you because I feel really duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers. I think it's such a gift to have millions of people to read your work and that bothers me greatly. So now, as I sit here today I don't know what is true and I don't know what isn't. So first of all, I wanted to start with The Smoking Gun report titled, "The Man Who Conned Oprah" and I want to know—were they right?

James: I think most of what they wrote was pretty accurate. Absolutely.

Oprah: Okay.

James: I think they did a good job detailing some of the discrepancies between some of the actual facts of the events...

Oprah: What [The Smoking Gun] said was that you lied about the length of time that you spent in jail. How long were you in jail?

James: [The Smoking Gun was] right about that. I was in [jail] for a few hours.

Oprah: Not 87 days?

James: Correct.

Oprah: Was there a Lilly?

James: Absolutely. Absolutely.
James Frey and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah: When I was reading the book and I got to the last page and Lilly has hung herself and you arrived the day that she was hung. I couldn't even believe it. I'm like gasping. I'm calling people, like 'Oh my God. This happened!' So if you weren't in jail all that time and you're telling her to hold on, why couldn't you get to her?

James: I mean, what actually happened was...I went through Ohio. I was there briefly, [then] I went down to North Carolina where I was living at the time.

Oprah: Uh huh.

James: And I was closing up my life there. The process was vastly accelerated from what I wrote in the book.

Oprah: I don't know what that means. What does that mean, vastly accelerated?

James: I mean it happened in a much shorter period of time. And we were planning on meeting up with each other and she committed suicide before we met up.
James Frey and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah: Was your description of how she died true?

James: She committed suicide, yes.

Oprah: She hung herself?

James: I mean, that was one of the details I altered about her.

Oprah: Okay. And why?

James: Because all the way through the book I altered details about every single one of the characters to render them unidentifiable.

Oprah: So how did she die?

James: She cut her wrists.

Oprah: Hanging is more dramatic than cutting your wrists? Is that why you chose hanging?

James: I don't think either [is] more dramatic than [the other].
James Frey

Oprah: Why did you lie? Why did you have to lie about the time you spent in jail? Why did you do that?

James: I think one of the coping mechanisms I developed was sort of this image of myself that was greater, probably, than—not probably—that was greater than what I actually was. In order to get through the experience of the addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was and badder than I was—and it helped me cope. When I was writing the book ... instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image.

Oprah: And did you cling to that image because that's how you wanted to see yourself? Or did you cling to that image because that would make a better book?

James: Probably both.
James Frey and Oprah

Oprah: How much of the book is fabricated?

James: Not very much. I mean, all the people in the book are real. Since The Smoking Gun report came out, two people who were in the facility with me have come forward.

Oprah: Yes, they came forward. I saw that New York Times report where they say many of the things that you describe did happen, but maybe they didn't happen the way you said they happened—that there were encounters with counselors, but not a knock-down drag out.

So all of those encounters where there are the big fights and the chairs and you're Mr. Bravado tough guy, were you making that up or was that your idea of who you are?

James: I don't think I describe at any point a knock-down drag out fight at any point in the book. The two confrontations that occur in the book, neither one of them is described as lasting longer than ten seconds. I mean, I think if you put 25 to 30 drug addicted and alcoholic men in a confined space, there are going to be confrontations.

Oprah: So you're saying ... that your description of those confrontations were true?

James: Yeah.
James Frey

Oprah: I acted in defense of you and as I said, my judgment was clouded because so many people seemed to have gotten so much out of it. But now I feel that you conned us all. Do you?

James: I don't feel like I conned everyone.

Oprah: You don't.

James: No.

Oprah: Why?

James: Because I still think the book is about drug addiction and alcoholism and nobody's disputing that I was a drug addict and an alcoholic. And it's about the battle to overcome that.

Oprah: No, but I remember when you were here the last time in the after show a woman stood up and said, 'You know, after reading this book and seeing you coming through what you came through, the way you did, and you having the attitude that you did makes me feel that I can do it too.' I think you presented a false person.
James Frey

Oprah: So, I want to move on to the dentist story because anybody who's read the book—when you get to the story of him going to the dentist and you describe having two root canals without Novocain or anesthesia, so graphic, so detailed. You say, 'My face is on fire and the veins in my neck are exploding and my brain is white,' and you describe the white, white hot pain. ... And when I first saw you, that's the first thing I asked you about: "That's unbelievable!" Now, you said that that was true. Would you say that today?

James: I...I wrote it from memory. ... I had medical documents that supported it ... About nine months after the book was released, I was speaking to somebody from the facility. They said that they doubted it happened that way, but that there was a chance that it did—that cases like that are reviewed on an individual basis.

Oprah: This is what I don't get. Because when you were here before, you said that there were about 400 pages of documents. You said you kept a journal. You kept pages. That there were documents and reports of everything that you did. Because I said, "How can you remember such detail? And that's how you explained it to me. I don't know how you remember all the detail and you forget Novocain. So what was true about the dentist and what wasn't? You did go to the dentist?

James: Absolutely.

Oprah: You went to the dentist. What's true about the dentist?

James: I mean, I went to the dentist. I had my front four teeth repaired ...as I remember it.

Oprah: With Novocain?

James: I honestly have no idea.

Oprah: Well then why did you say you didn't have Novocain? Because, you know, the last time I went to the dentist, my dentist said that could not have happened. And I said, 'Oh no. It happened. He told me it happened.' ...So, why did you do that?

James: I mean, once I talked to the person at the facility about it, you know, the book had been out for nine months. We'd already done a lot of interviews about it. ... Since that time I've struggled with the idea of it..."

Oprah: No, the lie of it. That's a lie. It's not an idea, James. That's a lie.
James Frey and Oprah

Oprah: Do you now wish you had put a disclaimer in the book, James?

James: I don't know if I wish I had put a disclaimer in it or if I had just written about certain events in a different way. I think that would have been the more appropriate thing to do than putting in a disclaimer."

Note: According to a press release from Doubleday & Anchor Books, a publisher's note and an author's note to the readers will be included in future editions of A Million Little Pieces and available on the RandomHouse.com at a later date.
James Frey

Oprah: I appreciate you being here because I believe the truth can set you free. I realize this has been a difficult time for you ... maybe this is the beginning of another kind of truth for you.

James: I think you're absolutely right. I mean, I think this is obvious, this hasn't been a great day for me. It certainly hasn't been a great couple weeks for me. But I think I come out of it better. I mean, I feel like I came here and I have been honest with you. I have, you know, essentially admitted to...to lying.

Oprah: Which is not an easy thing to do.

James: No, it's not an easy thing to do in front of an audience full of people and a lot of others watching on TV. I mean, if I come out of this experience with anything, it's being a better person and learning from my mistakes and making sure that I don't repeat them.

Oprah: Good.
Nan Talese

Nan Talese is the publisher and editor-in-chief of A Million Little Pieces and the senior vice president of Doubleday, a division of Random House.

Nan, James has admitted that he embellished his memoir. And what responsibility do you take in that?

Nan Talese: Well, I can only tell you how the book came to me and how I read it. And I read the manuscript as a memoir. I thought it was this extraordinary story of a man with drug addiction going through the hell of both the addiction and the recovery and the process. I thought the book was absolutely riveting. And you talked about the Novocain and, you know, you were implying that it perhaps that was a red flag, that the publisher should have said, 'Hey, this couldn't possibly be true.'

Oprah: Yes.

Nan Talese: But in fact, I have had a root canal without Novocain—not particularly because of the choice, but because of an extraordinary inept dentist. And I am here. And I, you know, it's really awful. It's very much as James described it. So I didn't think that. It wasn't a red flag to me.

Oprah: I don't know why that wouldn't be a red flag to anybody, Nan. I'm sorry, even if you'd had it yourself. That whole, the whole book—one of the reasons why we're all so taken with the book is because it feels and reads so sensationally that you can't believe that all of this happened to one person.
Nan Talese

Oprah: When did you realize that James hadn't told the truth in his memoir?

Nan Talese: I learned about the jail, the two things that were on The Smoking Gun, at the same time you did. And I was dismayed to know that, but I had not—I mean, as an editor, do you ask someone, "Are you really as bad as you are?"

Oprah: Yes.
Nan Talese

Oprah: What did you do as the publisher of this book to make sure that what you were printing was true?

Nan Talese: As the publisher of the book, I read the manuscript. I thought this was an absolutely—I would say there was an authenticity in the book. That experience that I responded to, and people have different levels of pain, and I thought, excruciating as the dentistry was, it was not impossible.

Secondly, I shared it with my colleagues. There were no questions. Then what happens with a book is the editor goes over a manuscript with an author and if there's anything that does not seem true, we question the author. Then it goes to a copy editor. All along in the process of this book, in retrospect it might seem, you know, how could everybody be that stupid and that dumb? But in fact, all the way through in the first nine months of the book...

Oprah: That book is so fantastical, I will say, that, really, that's not washing with me. But I just want to know because [this show is] live. So what did you do legally to make sure? Did you vet it?

Nan Talese: The book was vetted legally. It would seem that no one was libeled. But it was not...you do not bring an author...an author brings his book in, says it is true, it is accurate, it's its own.

Oprah: But if you're publishing it as a memoir, I think the publisher has a responsibility because as the consumer, the reader, I am trusting you. I'm trusting you, the publisher, to categorize this book whether as fiction or autobiographical or memoir. I'm trusting you.
Nan Talese, publisher and chief editor of James Frey's 'A Million Little Pieces'

Oprah: You never questioned it? You never questioned it.

Nan: No.

Oprah: Because I'm thinking as a reader, up until this moment sitting on the show, that Lilly hung herself. Well, obviously after all these reports came out I started to think, "Well, if he wasn't in jail, if that's true, and he wasn't in jail all that time, and he was trying to get to Lilly, maybe there wasn't even a Lilly."

Nan: Well, no, I understand that. And I understand the questioning. The tragedy is not in the hanging or slitting her wrists. It's in the suicide. And I'm not excusing it. I'm just saying the effect that it had on me and it had on you.

Oprah: Okay. Then it needs to say "based on a true story." It needs to then say "based on a true story."
Nan Talese, senior vice president of Doubleday

Eight days after Oprah announced A Million Little Pieces as an Oprah's Book Club selection, Harpo was contacted by a former Hazelden counselor challenging the truth of James's memoir. Harpo producers contacted the publisher.

We asked if you, your company, stood behind James's book as a work of non-fiction at the time. And they said, absolutely. And they were also asked if their legal department had checked out the book. And they said yes. So in a press release sent out for the book in 2004, by your company, the book was described as "brutally honest and an altering look at addiction." So how can you say that if you haven't checked it to be sure?

Nan: You know, Oprah, I mean, I think this whole experience is very sad. It's very sad for you. It's very sad for us.

Oprah: It's not sad for me. It's embarrassing and disappointing for me.

Nan: I do not know how you get inside another person's mind.

Oprah: Well, this is my point, Nan. Otherwise then anybody can just walk in off the street with whatever story they have and say this is my story.

Nan: This is absolutely true...

Oprah: That needs to change.

Nan: No, you cannot stop people from making up stories. We learn by stories.

Oprah: You can if you call it a memoir. You can make up stories and call them novels. People have done it for years.

Nan: A novel is something different than a memoir. And a memoir is different from an autobiography. A memoir is an author's remembrance of a certain period in his life. Now, the responsibility, as far as I am concerned, is does it strike me as valid? Does it strike me as authentic? I mean, I'm sent things all the time and I think they're not real. I don't think they're authentic. I don't think they're good. I don't believe them. In this instance, I absolutely believed what I read.

Oprah: So did I.

Leading journalists share their opinions about the controversy.