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The Million Little Pieces Scandal

abstract:When the public is told a lie in the case of journalism, (Stephen Glass, former Associate Editor at The New Republic) it erodes our sense of trust in the media. When politicians lie, it can bring down a government; Watergate and now the Adscam for Canada's Liberal Government led by Prime Minister Paul Martin. But let's consider the implications of that little prefix, "non," as in fiction, as in A Million Little Pieces.


January 12, 2006
— First let me digress with another example of art imitating life. Do you remember when the Coen Brothers' movie, Fargo came out in 1996? We all read the lines on screen at the beginning of the movie that said, "This is a true story." I watched the whole movie, like everyone else, on the edge of my seat, transfixed by what I believed to be a true story about real people.

A few months after the film's initial release it was disclosed that Fargo was in fact pure fiction—brilliant fiction, brilliant plot, brilliant acting, directing and all the rest. Frances McDormid (wife of Joel Coen) received an Academy Award for Best Actress, and Ethan and Joel earned Best Original Screenplay. But I couldn't help feeling like I'd been manipulated into watching 98 minutes of a gut-wrenchingly violent movie under false pretenses.

That doesn't compare to the fact that a Japanese school girl died of hypothermia trying to find the fictional $1Million burried in the North Dakota snow drifts. To this day, people believe that set of murders occurred in Fargo.

Now when I ponder the whole marketing scheme, which is what that really amounted to, I think it was another twisted stroke of creative genius, but it's still weird.

So Why All The Brouhaha?

When James Frey's memoir was selected by Oprah three months ago it jumped to #1 on the NYT bestseller list and sold 3.5 million copies—you read it, what did you think of Fey's ability to channel addiction into feverish, frenetic prose?

When "The Smoking Gun" website disclosed that Fey, "wholey fabricated or widely embellished" details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as "an outlaw in three states," it became apparent that Oprah was duped in front of millions on prime time —gooing and gushing over his ordeals and his ability to take his readers to that place.

The coronation of "A Million Little Pieces" came in September, when Winfrey told a Chicago studio audience (which included Frey's mother Lynne) that she had chosen a book that she "couldn't put down...a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it's so real..." She would later say that, "After turning the last page...You want to meet the man who lived to tell this tale."

But who here is doing the manipulating and dishonesty? It was Fey's editor, Sean McDonald at DoubleDay, who sent book gallies out to reviewers touting Fey's "fearless candor" with the publicity manager hailing the book's "unprecidented honesty," and before that it was respected Nan Talese who accepted the manuscript offering an advance for $50,000. But when she tried to sell the book as a fiction, it was turned down and sent it back for retooling to presumably remove all the fake stuff and re-market it as memoir.

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