What did Oprah know?

As more questions over James Frey's past surface, Broadsheet wonders what Oprah is thinking.

Published January 24, 2006 6:42PM (EST)

Broadsheet lost a little bit of love for Oprah Winfrey the other week when she called in to the "Larry King" show to weigh in on the controversy over James Frey's mega-bestseller book club pick, "A Million Little Pieces." Still, we weren't all that surprised when she stood by the book and blamed the publisher for any confusion over whether "AMLP" should qualify as nonfiction. What else could Oprah do?

However, in light of a new report from the New York Times today, we'd like to hear from Oprah again. Intrepid reporter Edward Wyatt has uncovered evidence that Oprah might have known there were problems with Frey's book from the beginning -- not just with the question about jail time raised by the Smoking Gun, but with the actual meat of his story: his horrifying rehab experience.

Indeed, several addiction counselors who worked for Hazelden, where Frey is assumed to have done his rehab, have come forward to claim that Frey has greatly distorted any time he spent there. Most damningly, Debra Jay, an addiction counselor who has appeared on Oprah's show, tells the Times that before Frey was ever a guest on "Oprah," she informed producers there that Frey's experience seemed greatly exaggerated.

"His description of treatment at Hazelden is almost entirely false," says Jay. "He describes a level of medical care that would not occur at Hazelden  He would have been taken to an emergency room, and any violent behavior would have been met with a discharge."

Moreover, beyond worrying about the veracity of Frey's story, addiction counselors have long been concerned about the effects that a harrowing story like "A Million Little Pieces" might have on people truly in need of help. Carol Colleran, an addiction professional who worked in the Hazelden system for 17 years, told the Times: "I have had young people say to me that if they had a child who was having problems, they would never send them to treatment after reading that book."

At this time, neither Oprah nor her producers have commented on the Times story. Broadsheet hopes the talk show maven will speak up soon, though. Did she know? Did she not care? At the very least, if she was in the dark, now that the famous "emotional truth" of Frey's book has also been called into question we think Oprah should reevaluate the "underlying message of redemption" she cherished so much in "AMLP." Frey might have triumphed over his alleged addictions, but it's becoming more and more clear that the guy is not who he says he is. Please, Oprah, tell us what's on your mind!

By Hillary Frey

Hillary Frey is the Books editor at Salon.

MORE FROM Hillary Frey

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