The Real Power of Oprah Winfrey

It's not so amazing that she got James Frey to come back on the show, but I was still rather amazed he agreed to it ("come back Jimbo so we can pillory you LIVE on national television is not a persuasive phrase to me but then...I'm not quite the publicity hound he is).

What's amazing to me is that Nan Talese went. Consider this: she's not an elected official in a position of public trust who needs to account for her actions to the public. She's not going to lose her job, in fact, her company stands to make even MORE money from this "debacle". No one in their right mind is going to refuse an offer from Nan to publish a book even after this. So, why did she do it?

Nan Talese took one for the company today. Show up in Chicago; hankies all around; let Oprah score a few points for the great hoodwinked public. (No matter than any normal person reading that book has to have a few doubts. I mean, I did. You didn't??)

My guess is that if Nan or Doubleday higherups (there aren't that many more up the ladder from her actually) had said "f off Oprah" nary a Doubleday/Anchor book would ever see the light of day in Oprahland again. Indeed, Oprah might have banned all Random House books (Doubleday is owned by Random House).

That is Oprah's real power. If she so much as suggested that the largest publisher in the world would not be able to get books on her show, it becomes a very small sacrifice to send Nan over to do the mea culpa thing.

Too bad Harper didn't publish MLP. I'd give my 15% of next year's sales to see Jane Friedman on Oprah's couch. Two of out three falls, I'm betting on Jane.


I.J.Parker said...

I, for one, would not be thrilled to work with Nan Talese. I am too angry at the industry, the media, Oprah, the book sellers, and the people who rush out to buy the book. Each of them has promoted James Frey over countless other authors far more deserving. And Nan Talese will continue to publish James Frey's works. It's the money that counts. Who wouldn't be willing to spend an hour being publicly humiliated for the allmighty buck?

kitty said...

It's all so whorish.

Stay At Home Writer said...

I'm so bummed that I didn't TIVO that show. I'll have to go to her website and read what was said. It's amazing the power she has in society. If the book had been completely true, then she would've done a good thing exposing the public to his story. But since it's turned out to be rubbish, it's just a shame. Money truely makes the world go round.

Stay At Home Writer said...

Please forgive the misspelling of truly - I was too agitated to notice at first.

Miss Snark said...

Dear Mr/Ms Parker,

Not so. Nan Talese works at Doubleday a division of Random House. James Frey's next works are at Riverhead, a division of Penguin Putnam. Two very different companies. Nan Talese will NOT be publishing his future work; it remains to be seen if Riverhead proceeds as announced.

James Frey followed his editor Sean McDonald to a new job.

I assure you, no one is going to stop sending work to Nan Talese or anyone at Doubleady over this. No one.

Sheila_C said...

I watched the Oprah event--Frey staring like a deer in the headlights (if he was trying to sell on charm alone, he would have failed), Oprah weeping for the cameras, Talese looking all New York editor in black (I could well believe that she had a root canal without Novocain), serious talking heads weighing in...great theater all around. The one question I was waiting to hear was: did Frey try to sell this as a novel and fail? If it's such a wonderful story, why does it have to be "real" in the eyes of the public? And why does the guy get to be rich and famous? Oh my, his reputation might suffer (nothing like being branded a liar in front of millions)--but I'm sure his royalties will go a long way toward soothing his pain. What I resent is the way he used Oprah, who takes her public responsibilities seriously.

Bernita said...

I am not "angry" at the industry. That's the same thing as calling all cops corrupt because one has let the mayor off on a speeding ticket.
The "industry" is made up of people.
Sometimes people screw up - whether by misfeasance, malfeasance.
And I don't buy for this simplistic, entitlement argument of Frey being promoted over countless other authors "more deserving."
The profits from Frey might encourage the publisher to take on more deserving young authors.
The business is a business. It is about money.It is basically amoral.
If you think you are more "deserving" because you have a superior "message" for the great uneducated and unwashed who have been denied your words of wisdom, get your own cult.

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

Here’s what I’ve learned from Variety columnist Michael Wolff:

-Fiction is dead.

-You have to market true(ish) stories if you want your book to sell/exist.

-You can only sell fiction if you lie.

-Lying is an acceptable part of business.

-You can call fiction non-fiction if the market forces you to.

This is the kind of logic businesses use to rip-off employee pension funds and poison groundwater.

And the sad thing is they will continue to get away with it and prosper, just like Frey will with AMLP.

But that’s business right?


For the last few weeks I thought there was nothing people like you and me could do about the Frey debacle.

But there is.

If Frey pisses you off support independent publishers.

Mainstream publishing has flaws the indies are countering.

But they can’t grow unless they have more readers.

Don't get me wrong.

I like a lot titles from the big publishers and won’t be giving them up any time soon (and neither should you).

But maybe its time to look at an alternative.

Anonymous said...

nan talese flew back to new york fisrt class drinking gibsons and laughing her a** off. what is it they say in hollywood? there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Susan said...

For those of you who didn't Tivo, the juiciest clips are available to watch on www.salon.com. It's really amazing.

lady t said...

Well,that Oprah show was one of the most amazing hours of live TV that I've ever seen. I turned the show on,figuring that it would be the Larry King Interview,Part II but nooooo!

It's obvious that Frey had no idea Oprah was going to confront him openly on the whole MLP deal. Talese did take one for the team,I agree on that. One thing that Frey kept saying(that Oprah called him on)was referring to the people in the book as"characters"-novels have characters,nonfiction doesn't.

I have to say that I have more respect for Oprah now that she's
done this and also admitted she was wrong about the whole thing. Now that's a proper use of power,IMO

Millenia Black said...

Let's face it. If Oprah Winfrey decided she wanted to run for president - she'd win. You'd have two firsts. 1st black president. 1st female president. Two birds with one stone.

That's the real power of Oprah. Gotta love her. :)

December Quinn said...

Oprah did this because the story wouldn't go away and people were pissed that she was supporting a liar. End of story. If she cared so much about the truth, she would have checked out the book before featuring it, and not called Larry King to support Frey in the first place.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Frey cashed in on the phenom of the "Real-Life Media," a culture which Oprah herself played a huge part in building, and now she's mad that she got played like the rest of the morons who believe everything media marketing departments tell us.

God I hate Oprah. She epitomizes so much of what is wrong in the world today.

K. Thanks. I feel better.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think Oprah learned a lesson...Don't depend on someone else to factcheck....have your own people do it.

And I think she was so pissed at being made a fool of twice, that Random/Doubleday books will never grace her BookClub again!

I've known twenty years of Oprah, when you cross her...you're done!

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I was bitterly disappointed that Nan didn't have bigger nads but public speaking is not her job. Think I'll go to her next public bashing as her understudy.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

The question is:

Does this fiacso actually change anything, or is the new M.O.

"Just DON'T get caught."

What the public continues to buy will determine that.

Feisty said...

It's good TV. It's good for Oprah. She gets to clear her name and regain her power. It's good for Nan because she gets whipped a bit and then goes back and publishes more books. It's good for the critics because they get to tell the "truth" and tell us what is wrong with America and Oprah can agree and be the great example.

What's bad is that being a liar in America pays off. And what's sad is that some writers will do whatever it takes to sell a book. Talk about obsession.

James Frey looked like a little boy who had been reprimanded. That is, until the guy in the audience from the journalists society (or whatever) spoke and then James eyes went to hatred and loathing. It was as if he had had enough of being told what an idiot and a liar he is.

It's all good theater. But what does it really mean? Probably nothing. There's always a James Frey looking to step up to bat. And people like Nan willing to let him swing. As long as the buck rules, which it always will, there will always be players. Some better than others, some criminal, some idiots, some party honest, some deluded, some deceived.

bonniers said...

If we have a show like Survivor and call it "reality" TV, how much respect do we, the general public, really have for the truth? I think Frey sucks mud through a straw, to borrow a phrase, but most of the people who are stomping on him are flaming hypocrites.

JodyTresidder said...

The only impressively highbrow thing about Nan Talese on "Oprah" was her facelift.

Sorry, that was inexcusable. Probably not that funny either. I just thought she was insufferable, tone-deaf to the requirements of the show and I wanted to shout at her.

Personally, I can't get enough of this whole fascinating mess.

However, if you DON'T wish to be further depressed about memoirs, then please don't read the mordantly brilliant article (via Bookslut) at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2006/01/22/boprodger.xml

Shesawriter said...

Oprah's "outrage" yesterday was as genuine as her previous Larry King performance.


fundanovelist said...

I agree with you, Jody. Regarding Nan Talese: "I just thought she was insufferable, tone-deaf to the requirements of the show and I wanted to shout at her."

While I cringed through most of the schadenfreude-fest, I found myself thoroughly annoyed with Nan. She made no apologies (fine, her prerogative) and didn't seem to understand why an apology was expected--from her. It's obvious she wants us to believe she was duped too. Meeee tooo Oooprah. Her bizarre behavior, her creepy smile at inopportune moments (like when her journo "friend" was crucifying Frey), her inability to answer pointed questions. It was all just freaky.

Prior to all this hoo-ha, I was a huge James Frey fan. I emailed him a few times (pre-Oprah days), he emailed me. I was thrilled; he was my literary it-boy crush. He encouraged me to remain optimistic while my agent shopped my manuscript. He was gracious and kind.

After weeks and weeks of all this stuff, I've come to my own conclusion: James Frey is a wildly talented writer. He gave everybody what they wanted--his agent, editor, publisher, readers, Oprah. I personally know a few writers who are more than willing to change their memoirs into fiction or vice versa just to get published. I believe that's what happened here--that James shopped a novel based on his story. It wasn't selling. In time, his story got away from him and he did what he had to for a book deal. I don't think Frey made the decisions he did without some assistance. But, in the end, he seems to be the only one taking the lashings.

Can we stop the rubbernecking now?

oh and, shameless plug: www.fundanovelist.blogspot.com

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

Well fundanovelist, JT Leroy was my literary it-boy crush.

And I got over it.

Now so do you.

They both lied to us.

They may be good writers (I haven’t read Frey and have no intention of doing so after all of this)

But that isn’t why they made the bestseller lists.

They made it because of the hype.

That’s what’s bothering me.

The lies mean the system is broken.

I hate facing that.

C.E. Petit said...

Those complaining that "the hype means publishing is broken" or some such haven't been paying attention. It isn't just publishing; it isn't just the entertainment industry; it isn't even just American industry. Ever heard of a "patent medicine"? Believe me, the concept wasn't invented over here!

The real problem with so much of what happens in publishing and the entertainment industry is that there a multiple standards used to evaluate "success" that are seldom consistent with each other. Readers want a good, readable book that doesn't make them feel like they've wasted their time. The subset of academic and serious readers wants that book to be as good as, or better than, what they've been reading in the same field. Some financial parts of the company want long-term success (they'd rather have The Hobbit than The DaVinci Code), while most would rather have a quick buck. And so on.

If Oprah, through her efforts, convinces more people to read, or those who already read to read more, that's great. A larger book market means more publishers, more editors, more opportunities for someone to take a chance on a less-obvious manuscript. It would be even better if Oprah were somehow doing so for exactly the kinds of books I want to read; but you might not agree with my taste in books.

Conversely, I do think there will be negative consequences for Nan Talese (et al.) down the road; they just might not be easy to spot, or to measure, and therefore will be missed. For example, consider the textbook adoption market. Some professors will hesitate to adopt books from that imprint for their courses. Others won't. However, it's impossible to actually measure this effect, even if trade publishers cared about it.

I.J.Parker said...

I stand corrected about Frey's next book not being handled by Nan Talese. On Oprah, she spoke about the fact that he has other books coming out, and I assumed that he would not change publishers after such a phenomenal success. Now, of course, I wonder when and why the switch to Riverhead was made. Sorry, I'm naturally suspicious of such deals.

countessolenska said...

I gotta respectfully disagree, Miss Snark. I don't think Nan Talese appeared on Oprah to take one for the team. I think she showed up because she actually adores the spotlight. That way she can pretend to be Hollywood famous instead of just bookfolks famous. Granted, my opinion has been influenced by the dueling quotes from her and her husband, Gay Talese, in that New York Times article. That seemed orchestrated purely for attention, not clarification.

And I'm curious to know whether anyone who first read MLP as a memoir has re-read it as a novel. I picked it up again after the 7pm Oprah, read it like I'd read a novel, laughed and laughed at every page. "Hey, Fat Otter. He stares at me. You want what I got?" Ahahahahaha! Frey may not be a bad, bad man but I still think he's a bad, bad writer. Memoir or novel, MLP is a bad, bad book. But it didn't seem right to point and scoff when I thought it was his life story, no matter how puny his talent.

Existential Man said...

Astute of you to see Talese's delight in being in the limelight, dear countess.

I would say it isn't one or the other but a nice combination plate>> she "took one for the team" and enjoyed being in the limelight, which makes the bitch-slapping from O
more than tolerable. She seemed to me to be having a bit too much fun given what she was there for.

JodyTresidder said...

Yep, Nan sure wasn't there for our illumination, was she?

As one of the fools who paid good money for the stupid book long before Oprah's boost, I have indeed revisited it as a "fictional Text" - with Odd capitals ThroughOut.

What a hoot! Not.

But I am soothing myself with the amateur Freudian "insight" that Frey's con-job is all about his father.

I am convinced that the chief purpose of Frey assuming the disguise of a super-duper Criminal Bad Boy was to stick it shockingly to a remote, disappointed, successful middle-class dad who refused to notice his son's "pain".

If you re-read the 'MLP-The Novel' with this in mind, some sort of consistent psychological logic emerges.

Possibly this is total nonsense. But at least, for once, the false blame (since Frey, of course, was never more than averagely delinquent) doesn't fall on the mother!

Leslea said...

But did any of them declare their love for Katie Holmes and jump on the couch? For Pete's sake, people, priorities!

JodyTresidder said...

And the title of this thread, Leslea, is....?

Captain Canard said...

Frey describes what happened on Oprah.
My Friend Frey in a Million Little Pieces

melissa said...

thank dog it's frey-day.

i found the holy grail of blurbs. . .

check it:


Anonymous said...

I'm finding this whole thing depressing. I feel like Oprah only did the follow-up show because of public pressure. She's a woman who can't stand not being liked. I think the whole Frey-bullshit-memoir genre is so wrong yet he's still selling like hot-cakes. And even though people seem to be condemning it, people are still lining up to buy the f**ker.

But I also have to agree with Leslea. At least he didn't get up on the coach.

Kelly G said...

I think Oprah's got two things going on: she's obviously been set up (and whether or not she should have fact-checked is a different story); and she was, possibly overwhelmingly, focused on the book as a recovery tool.
So when Larry King asks her would she recommend the book, her mind wavers (you can hear the hesitation in her voice) between "I'm gonna take a pasting on this" and "What about all those vulnerable people out there with their recovery hopes pinned on this book?".
The self-help queen in her came to the fore. I can't blame her for that. It was, in that sense, possibly a responsible thing to do. Tricky. But the journalist (or maybe just the pissed-off hostess)in her has taken over now. Good thing too.
I love a juicy literary scandal, but this one's more than that - millions of people believed him and used his "experiences" to help assure themselves that they, too, could climb out of addiction.
What's interesting is that scandals and hoaxes are so often tied up in these emotional themes (addiction, abuse, racism, the Holocaust, illness). It's not the same as a writer sending up modernism by writing daft poems, or even a public figure exaggerating their achievements.
The cynicism, arrogance, and possibly greed in this case are remarkable - and therefore the betrayal is just that much worse. That there's no remorse is almost criminal (and such bad PR).