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28 March 2007

A little something I wrote a while ago.

Yes. Cause love it or hate it (and there are plenty on either side of that particular fence) Oprah is Queen of America. She is certainly the most influential woman and possibly the most influential person in the United States. Personally, I go back and forth on whether to love her, hate her or forget her. But anyone who can get America reading Faulkner! and Tolstoy! forever wins a place in my heart.

The brouhaha over James Frey illustrates the peril faced by by public figures for whom the perception of the line between public persona and private become blurred. I'm talking about Professional Personalities, not actors. Feeling as though we have the right to know whether Brad Pitt prefers boxers or briefs does not make him a Professional Personality (though I do have concerns about what that feeling makes us). Pitt does not use his personal life as fodder for his public career. It's those people who come into our homes over the television screen every morning or afternoon with stories about their husbands, children, pets and what they did over the weekend, who earn the designation Professional Personality.

When the Oprah expressed her support via telephone during Frey's appearance on the Larry King show saying among other things that the 'emotional truth' was what was important. I think she was speaking for herself, the private individual who was unutterably moved by the experience of reading Frey's book; and that this assessment, gauging the book by the impact of its emotional truth is perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, making that statement in a public forum is problematic; because she's not merely a private individual. Her Professional Personality has standards and an image associated with it that may have little to do with how she feels about herself privately. Her PP is bigger; living in corporations, brands, on the air waves and is owned by us 'we the people'. Years ago, we decided that we liked Oprah and as we do when we like people we conferred upon her certain rights and privileges and demand of her certain standards and practices. This is why it is that when she likes a book, it becomes a bestseller, when she makes a call to the Larry King Show it makes headlines. As a PP she doesn't have the luxury, as I do, of calling and expressing her private opinions without hearing from thousands of people about violations of certain of the standards and practices.

Rather like the CEO of a candy bar company sitting at his desk, happily munching a chocolate bar he's just removed from a taffy bar wrapper. He is perfectly within his rights to enjoy eating the irregulars. It's just going to get thrown away and the candy is perfectly good. What he can't do is sell these mislabeled bars to Raley's and sell them to us as taffy bars.

In Oprah's case, a person can understand her wish to withdraw the public statement of a private sentiment, without calling into question her sincerity. It's the way in which it was done. To take Frey apart on national television was an unnecessary cruelty. It isn't Frey's fault that instead of lacing her fingers in her lap, she chose to dial the Larry King Show. But for that phone call, she would not have tried clean up her public (and again, voluntary) comments, by ripping Frey a new one in front of millions of people. But once she did choose to speak up for Frey, I can't help thinking, the correct and even-handed thing would have been to make a statement on the show making her apologies to the public and retracting her words of the previous week.

As for Frey, he was drug addict, what a shock that an addict would lie. Why is everyone getting so hysterical? In fact, the only people who rival drug addicts for mendacity is the writer of an autobiography. Imagine the number of lies that have gone into memoirs of some of the most notable figures of our time. Fiction? Science fiction some of it. It is nearly impossible for any one person to tell the truth about themselves.

It's impossible not to feel for Frey. He did the back-breaking, heart-rending work of coming out the right side of addiction alive. He wrote a book. When he wrote it, there is no way he could have imagined his life or his 'life' would end up under such an enormous microscope. According to some reports he first submitted his manuscript to publishers as a work of fiction and had it rejected, he then resubmitted as a memoir without changing anything, and Doubleday chose to publish. Whose fault is that? My opinion...Frey might be cashing a check, but he's also taking most of the fire. Considering the many demons he already wrestles with...well let's just say many a man has been broken by far less. The only one who really makes out in this fire storm is the publisher...they are laughing all the way to the bank.

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