NEW YORK — So was Oprah had?
Investigative Web site the Smoking Gun has taken an elaborate look into the past of James Frey, the author of Oprah Book Club choice “A Million Little Pieces,” and concludes that she was.
The site alleges that the author invented and exaggerated details in his gritty memoir of addiction. Most flagrantly, the site argues, Frey wrote he had spent several months in jail when no records of that time exist.
A Warner Bros. spokesperson said that it’s too early to say whether the controversy will affect the course of the “Million Little Pieces” film and that the project remains in development. Frey also wrote the first draft of the pic’s script.
In a piece titled “The Man Who Conned Oprah” — which opens with the statement that “Oprah Winfrey’s been had” — the Smoking Gun says the author admitted in an interview that “he had embellished central details of his criminal career and purported incarceration for ‘obvious dramatic reasons.’ ”
Oprah Winfrey chose the book in September and featured the author on her program in a tear-stained October show that heralded the return of a book-club focusing on contemporary authors. Book has sold millions of copies since it was chosen.
Random House divisions Doubleday, which published the book in hardcover in 2003, and Anchor, which released it in paperback, issued a statement that did not mention the site’s charges. “We stand in support of our author, James Frey, and his book which has touched the lives of millions of readers,” it read.
Observers said if Warner Bros. went ahead with a film, it could adjust to the controversy in a number of ways, such as by removing the problematic sections or by not positioning the film as a true story.
Controversy has echoes of the Jonathan Franzen debacle four years ago, when Winfrey was drawn into a firestorm because of provocative quotes from an author she chose for her club.
Even if the afternoon host was taken in, it’s unlikely she would be held ethically responsible. Publishers themselves rarely fact-check their books, particularly memoirs, and a TV host could hardly be expected to do the same for a title from a reputable publisher.
But the controversy could still have an effect on the host’s image. “Oprah has this imprimatur of authenticity and trust. I think something like this could break that,” said Kevin Sandler, a professor of media industries at the U. of Arizona, who added that even though any mistake was probably honest, she’d be best served if she went public on the subject with viewers.
“She has a lot more to lose if she doesn’t. It’s her stamp on the book,” Sandler said.
Reps at Winfrey production company Harpo did not return a call.
Around the book biz, some wondered if the kerfuffle may cause her to refrain from choosing nonfiction in the future, which would remove a potentially lucrative source of coin for the category. She is scheduled to make a new pick next week.
Publicists for Frey referred reporters to his publisher, and Jenny Meyer, an agent who handles his foreign sales, declined to comment.