Oprah Winfrey broke her silence about James Frey's disputed memoir of addiction, "A Million Little Pieces," dismissing allegations of falsehoods as "much ado about nothing" and urging readers who have been inspired by the book to "Keep holding on."
"What is relevant is that he was a drug addict ... and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves," Winfrey said Wednesday night in a surprise phone call to CNN's Larry King, who was interviewing Frey on his live television program.
Frey has been under intense scrutiny since The Smoking Gun, an investigative Web site, posted a story last Sunday alleging the author had substantially fabricated his criminal record and other aspects of his past.
Publishers, writers and readers have offered their opinions, but none mattered so much as Winfrey's. Her selection last fall of "A Million Little Pieces" for her book club made the memoir a million seller and Frey a hero among recovering addicts. She might have fatally ruined Frey's reputation by condemning him.
Frey, in his first interview since The Smoking Gun story came out, acknowledged he had embellished parts of the book but said that was common for memoirs and defended "the essential truth" of "A Million Little Pieces."
"The book is about drug addiction and alcoholism," he said. "The emotional truth is there."
Frey received another endorsement Wednesday night, from his mother, Lynne, who appeared with him during the latter part of the program.
"I believe in James," she said. "The book stands on its own."
Frey's book continues to top the best seller list on Amazon.com, as it has much of the time since Winfrey endorsed it. His publisher, Doubleday, said Wednesday that it had received a small number of calls to its customer service line about "A Million Little Pieces."
Frey's book was first published in 2003. He has been challenged before about passages describing such things as him receiving root canal surgery without anesthesia and boarding a commercial plane covered in blood and vomit.
But The Smoking Gun's story was by far the most thorough. Relying on extensive documentation, The Smoking Gun disputed everything from Frey's claim to having served three months in jail to being blamed for a car crash that killed two fellow students while he was in high school.
"Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's book," according to the article that appeared on https://www.thesmokinggun.com.
Wednesday night, Frey said that only a small percentage of his 430-page book had been challenged and offered a defense similar to that of his publisher: Memoirs are by nature imperfect and subjective and should not be held to the standards as other nonfiction books.
"In the memoir genre, the writer usually takes liberties," he said.
On Tuesday, Doubleday issued a statement that "in publishing Mr. Frey, we decided 'A Million Little Pieces' was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections."
Winfrey herself acknowledged the vagaries of memoirs, saying Wednesday night she knows that maybe "the names and the dates and times have been compressed." She said she hoped the controversy would inspire further debate.
"I rely on the publishers to define the category that a book falls within, and also (for) the authenticity of the work," she said.