If The Smoking Gun has it right then James Frey is a dirtbag.
Worse, a dirtbag who hurt people - people are the least equipped to withstand his harm.
He's the guy who apparently hoodwinked me and a few million others who bought his book, A Million Little Pieces. It is marketed as an autobiographical, non-fiction account of his successful battle against addiction. The book is arguably the hottest read in the country, largely due to Oprah having featured it on her Book Club.
My wife read it and recommended it to me. I read it and recommended it to my radio audience. We both recommended it to our 17-year-old who recommended it to her friends, which I thought was great, because the book is a stunning portrayal of the ravages of drugs and alcohol.
Now thesmokinggun.com is casting serious doubt as to whether Frey's story is true. Frey himself must be off in the witness protection program because his only response is what he posted on his web site: "This is the latest investigation into my past, and the latest attempt to discredit me. So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book and my life."
Funny, Andrew Goldberg doesn't strike me as a hater of James Frey.
He is one of three brains behind The Smoking Gun who told me he met Frey years ago when they shared a cab. He didn't go looking to bring Frey down. It just happened.
As Goldberg explained to me, somebody requested that The Smoking Gun post Frey's mug shot from one of his alleged arrests. In the book, Frey talks of his many brushes with the law in Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina. Goldberg tried to oblige the photo-posting request. He went looking for the mug shot that should have accompanied an incident given great notoriety in the book, an October 1992 altercation with a cop. But when he could not find that mug shot, it raised Goldberg's suspicion.
"I started making some phone calls but kept coming up with nothing. I've been doing this site for many years now and that's not natural to come up with nothing. That should be something I could turn over in an hour, maximum. So we started to say, hey, maybe we should actually read this book...things just started not to ring true to us given what we know about law enforcement."
That's when the million little pieces of Frey's book began to unravel. Goldberg found the cop who interacted with Frey in 1992, but not in the manner Frey described.
"I was able to, for the 5th time, go back to the Granville County (Ohio) police and they went through a mug shot book because they couldn't find anything under his name, but they found his picture and from the number on the back they found they report...the sergeant I was working with said, 'I have some kind of funny information for you, I was the arresting officer on the case back then.'" Goldberg told me.
"I said 'How you doing, how was the car accident, how did you forget about it?' And he laughed and he said, 'Actually, I was on foot patrol and saw a car pull out and try and park in a non-parking zone and just miss an electric pole. So I walked over, the guy shut off the engine, there was half a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon between the seats, and he didn't have a driver's license.' So he was given some minor misdemeanors and was transported downtown where he sat there and was photographed and in the police report it listed him as 'polite and cooperative.'"
In other words, contrary to what Frey wrote, no patrolman was struck with a car. There was no urgent call for back up. There was no rebuffed request to exit the car. Frey never said, "You want me out, then get me out". He did not taunt the police by calling them "f___ing pigs". He took no swing at cops. There was no kicking, no screaming, no mayhem, no attempted rioting, no 30 witnesses, no .29 blood alcohol test, and no crack.
He made up all of those details and many more. And, I think it is about to get worse for Frey. Goldberg told me:
"We started to hear from people that really know him who personally went to college with him and are referenced in the book and not one person has disputed anything [from The Smoking Gun] and most people said it's about time it's been done and they can't believe it wasn't done sooner."
Much of the stuff Frey wrote about appears embellished, or totally the product of his sick mind. Worse, according to thesmokinggun.com, he appears to have "invented a role for himself in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students. In what may be the book's most crass flight from reality, Frey remarkably appropriates and manipulates details of the incident so he can falsely portray himself as the tragedy's third victim."
But the great indiscretion of Frey is that he gave hope to those fighting real demons. He made them think that they too could overcome their addictions by a means other than that prescribed by whomever was in charge of their care.
It is one thing for Oprah and me to feel like schmucks, but there is also the very real possibility that addicts accepted his story as truthful, and abandoned an Alcoholic's Anonymous 12-step program or something similar, because after all, James Frey did so and succeeded.
Jayson Blair was a fraud. But I am hard pressed to come up with circumstances where his bogus reporting at The New York Times hurt people. This is different. This is life and death.
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