What's the one thing nearly every fake memoir scandal seems to have in common? From James Frey to Angel at the Fence, if a story is bullshit, chances are Oprah was there first.
The pattern is pretty clear: lying writer comes up with too-good-to-be-true tale; Oprah books them on her show; lying writer is showered with publisher money; lying writer is exposed as liar; and finally Oprah is shocked, shocked that a writer would dare lie to her. But after awhile, we're forced to wonder if she's the victim or part of the problem.
James Frey: From Idol to Intern
You all know this story, it's the granddaddy of Oprah embarrassments-turned-to-smackdowns. In his book A Million Little Pieces, Frey made some outlandish claims about waking up on an airplane (destination unknown) with all of his teeth broken and spending hard time in jail. Well as it turned out, the whole thing was just slightly exaggerated. The terrible thing is that—perhaps thinking that liking a story about drugs and swearing makes her seem cooler and hipper than fact-checking does— Oprah had made this her book of the month, which in the book world is the equivalent of the Pope farting into a nun's lady parts and creating an immaculately conceived religion robot. I mean, it's that big. So yeah Oprah was mad as hell and demanded that Frey come on her show so she could berate him for a decision that was, it's most likely, mainly made by his editors. Ah well. It all worked out in the end, though. Frey wrote another book and then became our dutiful
intern. Oprah was never embarrassed again. Oh. Wait.
Misha Defonseca: Not Actually Raised By Wolves
As we learned back in March, the book Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years turned out to be a fake. Imagine that! A story in which a little girl flees the Nazis (but manages to kill one) and is raised by wolves in the forest turns out to be untrue. Unbelievable. Because she and her viewers seem to really love the Holocaust, Oprah had taped a segment with Defonseca, whose real name is Monique De Wael and is not actually Jewish, but the lie was uncovered before the episode aired. Had the show actually gone to air and Oprah been publicly embarrassed, she would have fed Defonseca to the wolves that roam the North Country of Minnesota. A state she bought six months ago.
Margaret Seltzer: Defizzed
Margaret Jones was the pen name for a private school-educated white lady named Margaret Seltzer, who wrote a book called Love & Consequences about growing up tough in the sunshine-stained ghettos of Los Angeles. Trouble is, all was lies. Ratted out by her own sister. Brutal. She just made it up to be, I dunno, cool or something (or she had some sort of massive psychic break, who knows.) Thankfully Oprah didn't invite Seltzer Shakur onto her variety show, but her magazine O: A Magazine About Oprah did call it "[a] startlingly tender memoir." Maybe because it's street enough to remind people that Oprah is black, but white enough to remind Oprah fans that they are white and so is she, sort of. There was no official Oprah retaliation, but in private she probably did something. Something involving best friend Gayle. Something involving gardening shears and the Howdy Doody soundtrack. Something unpleasant.
Herman Rosenblat: When I Said 'Apple' I Meant 'Sandwich,' and When I Said 'Death Camp Fence' I Meant 'Deli Counter'
Again, Oprah is just a sucker for a wildly implausible story about the damn Holocaust. All the way back in 1996, Herman and his lady had a gushy segment on Oprah's show, and their tale was deemed "the greatest love story ever told." Trouble is, the romance at the heart of Rosenblat's story (which was turned into the now-canceled memoir Angel at the Fence)—about a young man in a concentration camp who was thrown an apple a day (to keep Dr. Mengele away) by a young woman across the fence; later they met in Brooklyn and fell in love—turns out to be completely fake, and everyone's sad because why would these nice old people lie? And about something so terrible. Ah well. Oprah hasn't spoken out yet, but when she does... Oh lord help us. She has been jilted one too many times, this book-loving Patron Saint of Sad, Lonely, and/or Awful People.