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Oprah’s book club falls for fiction

Winfrey's endorsements put credibility at stake

It was just the kind of story to awaken the media from its ‘tween-holiday doldrums.

No, not Herman Rosenblat‘s confession that his supposed Holocaust memoir, “Angel at the Fence,” was a work of make-believe, and Berkley Books’ decision to cancel its publication. (Production on a film version is proceeding, albeit as a fictional tale.) The real 24-point headline was the fact that Rosenblat and his wife, Roma, had not once but twice been guests of honor on Oprah Winfrey‘s show, with the Big O proclaiming their romance (the focus of Rosenblat’s tale) “the single greatest love story” she’d ever featured on the afternoon yakker.

This was less than three years after “Oprah’s Book Club” feted James Frey, who would later admit that his addiction saga “A Million Little Pieces” was more fancy than fact and Winfrey browbeat him on camera for deceiving her.

But wait, there’s more: In early ’08 Winfrey taped a segment with Misha Defonseca, whose book, “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years” would be exposed as a hoax (luckily for the folks at Harpo Prods., before the episode aired).

And oh yeah: Last year O: The Oprah Magazine termed the phony gangbanging opus “Love and Consequences” from Margaret Jones (nee Seltzer) to be a “startlingly tender memoir.” That’s gotta hurt.

No wonder the Rosenblat revelation found journos of all stripes in high dudgeon. “Oprah Picks Another Winner,” smirked the Examiner, while TMZ intoned, “Oprah Fooled Again by Fake Love Tale.” Elsewhere in the blogosphere were descriptions of Winfrey as having been “suckered,” “conned” and “duped.”

There’s the whiff of schadenfreude in reports about her missteps — the kind of glee one gets watching the homecoming queen tumble face-first into a mud puddle. That attitude was there last summer when her show (airing in repeats) took a ratings dive, allegedly due to her vocal support for Barack Obama’s candidacy.

With OWN, her eponymous cable net set to debut in about a year, this is no time for Winfrey’s credibility to sag.

In her most recent ringing endorsement for a film, she gushed over Baz Luhrmann‘s epic “Australia,” which her U.S. fans are not exactly embracing. (After 33 days, it had grossed $44 million domestically.)

The American people can withstand two intransigent wars, an ever-present terror threat and a tanking economy. But when they can no longer march into a bookstore or a multiplex secure in the trust of Oprah’s pop-cult recommendations, well, then, these are dark days indeed.

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