Oprah haters everywhere are just delighted that the talk show queen has been tricked for the third time with a phony memoir. But is it fair?
She was taken for a ride in 2006 by author James Frey with his greatly embellished “inspirational” memoir, A Million Little Pieces, about his triumph over addiction. Oprah initially went to bat for Frey, then got him back on her show to make a public apology. The Smoking Gun exposed Frey.
Earlier this year, a woman named Margaret Seltzer was exposed after passing herself off as a former member of the street gang, The Bloods. In her book, Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival, she clamed to be a half white, half Native American child, shuffled through the foster care system, who landed in the South Central Los Angeles ghetto. Seltzer actually grew up in Oregon in a well-to-do white family where she attended private school. Ms. Seltzer’s sister exposed her.
Now, Herman Rosenblat, the author of Angel at the Fence, has admitted that the “greatest single love story ever told” was a fabrication. Elements of his story are true. He is a Holocaust survivor. He did meet his wife on a blind date. But, his wife was not throwing apples over the fence to him when he was in the concentration camp. Rosenblat was exposed by the New Republic magazine.
You can readily deduce from this litany that it is not Oprah’s job to expose fraudelent memoirs. It seems fairly obvious that by the time the books are even considered by Oprah Winfrey as worthy of her stamp of approval, someone should have gone to the trouble of a little fact checking, suggesting a lie detector test or administering some truth serum.
In the case of Ms. Seltzer, there clearly wasn’t a whole lot of checking done. Seltzer provided photographs of fake foster siblings and introduced her literary agent to someone claiming to be a foster sister. Seltzer also had a letter from a former gang leader attesting to her veracity. They were aware of her real name, but she claimed she needed to use the name “Margaret B. Jones” so as not to complicate her search for her birth mother. In short, she was a glib and convincing poser with no qualms about falsifying documents. Nevertheless, when you realize her agent and publisher knew her real name all along, it tells you that they just didn’t run a good background check on her by any stretch of the imagination.
The same holds true for the Frey scandal. A good background check would have discredited him long before the Smoking Gun.
Certainly, it is rather embarrassing for Oprah to have her name connected to this type of scandal not just once, but three times. At this point, it would undoubtedly be wise for Oprah to avoid memoirs altogether for a few years. However, if another true life story does blow her away, she needs to get some people in her research department to do a little digging. Even if it’s not her job, by this time, it seems ludicrous to believe that the publishers are verifying anything.
Oprah Tricked by Phony Book Tale Again, Celebrity Names, 12-28-08
Is Oprah’s Golden Touch Tarnished?, ABC News, Emily Friedman, 12-28-08