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Freyed Oprah

Posted: January 31, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Editor-in-Chief

Last week, daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey summoned disgraced author James Frey to appear on her show so that she could publicly lambaste him for having fabricated details of his best-selling memoir, A Million Little Pieces. See, part of the reason Frey became a best-selling author is because Winfrey had previously lauded the book on her show. Winfrey was so angry on the show last Thursday that she could barely speak.

But only the brainwashed members of her Jim Jones cult believe that she was angry on behalf of the millions of readers she claimed Frey "betrayed." Frey may indeed have betrayed some folks -- including Doubleday, which published his book. Still, the only crime for which he stood trial on Oprah was that of causing Oprah Winfrey some embarrassment -- an inexcusable felony, in Oprah's world.

Of course, if Oprah came out of the whole Frey incident looking foolish, she herself bears some of the blame. When the story of Frey's dishonesty came to light in The New York Times, Oprah called in to Larry King's show to dismiss the whole affair as much ado about nothing. When the story inexplicably (Frey hardly being a household name) maintained its momentum after that -- when it became obvious that Winfrey's call didn't have the desired effect of making the whole thing blow away -- she risked looking like a dupe. So she angrily and imperiously summoned Frey and his publisher, Nan Talese, to endure a very public and humiliating dressing-down for putting her in this position in the first place.

Yes, it's Oprah's show, and if she wants to use her pulpit to call folks to task for making her look bad, that's her right. But having the right doesn't make her any less self-centered or clueless. It'd be easier to grant Winfrey the benefit of the doubt if it weren't for her very public tiff with the Hermes department-store chain last year. You remember: Oprah flew into a tizzy after she was denied entrance to a Hermes store in Paris. The actual details differ depending on which accounts you read, or whom you ask. But one fact is indisputable: The store was closed.

Winfrey, who wanted to dash in just for a moment to buy a gift for her friend Tina Turner, went away empty handed, convinced (or so she says) that she had just been a victim of Gallic racism. But did she really believe that? According to several reports, one member of Winfrey's entourage was quoted as saying, "If it had been Celine Dion or Britney Spears or Barbra Streisand, there is no way they would not be let in that store."

And therein lies the real issue: Good ol' just-folks Oprah, born (as she never tires of pointing out) in dirt-poor Kosciusko, Mississippi, was miffed because she wasn't given the special treatment given to bad singers and movie stars.

Now, Oprah Winfrey is free to be as spoiled a brat as she damn well pleases. That's not a crime, and while it's not pretty, there's nothing inherently stupid in being spoiled rotten. No, the stupidity came in after she decided to go whining to the press that she had been mistreated because she is black. This is where sheer spoiled pique collided with celebrity boneheadedness in a spectacular train wreck of bad judgment.

Anyone with half a brain knows that if Winfrey had called ahead and let the store know she was coming, the red carpet would have been rolled out for her, even if she arrived six hours after closing time. Anyone with even a thimbleful of common sense knows that no high-profile store would turn away a celebrity of Winfrey's stature without damn good reason, for fear of bad publicity.

But the real error of judgment is that Winfrey, who's used to having everyone bow and scrape over her slightest utterance, was apparently so anesthetized to reality that she didn't have a clue how her privileged hissy fit would play in Peoria. Simply put, the plain folk don't much care for it when the rich folk start throwing temper tantrums because they didn't get their way. People who can't just walk into an establishment after closing time -- which is to say, most of us -- have little patience when the powerful start complaining because they've been inconvenienced and treated just like everyone else. We have even less patience when they decide to play the race card in a startlingly misguided bid for sympathy.

Nonetheless, Winfrey managed to summon a cringing Hermes lackey to appear on her show and publicly grovel for forgiveness. And in fine French tradition, he capitulated, because such is the power of Oprah that a discouraging word from her can topple empires, drain oceans and turn brother against keeper. It was as blatant an example of public figure misusing their celebrity for their own petty personal ends as you could ask for, and yet her blank, moon-faced cult members applauded as if she'd just given them all new cars. Hell, who's to say she didn't? (Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but at least his cult has some personality.)

The public immolation of James Frey is just more of the same -- Oprah using her considerably powerful pulpit to settle personal grievances and avenge perceived slights against her royal personage. None of this gives a free pass to Frey or Doubleday or anyone who sells something as something that it isn't. But that's exactly what Oprah Winfrey has gotten away with at least twice now -- passing off her own shame and humiliation as moral outrage, using her Book Club members and an entire race as cards to play in order to get her petty revenge. Even the sheep who run out and buy books based solely on her say-so deserve better than that.

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Archived Editorials
December 03, 2006: Happy Feet
November 22, 2006: Half Decade Anniversary
October 07, 2006: Jessica Simpson
September 30, 2006: New Orleans and SNL
June 2, 2006: Dixie Chicks
May 7, 2006: Are Yahu Serious?
February 16, 2006: Bill O'Reilly & Brokeback Mountain
February 12, 2006: Totally '80s (Grammys)
January 31, 2006: Freyed Oprah
November 27, 2005: To Be Continued... (Bringing back movie serials)
November 21, 2005: Fourth Birthday
November 05, 2005: TV Remakes
August 13, 2005: Ten Commandments of Rock
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