Why Are We Still Talking About Frey?

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

Why do we care about the Frey case? Why do all these gallons of (virtual) ink continue to be spilled as writers grapple with it? Here are seven good reasons we're still talking about what Frey and his enablers have done:

1. It's pimping: Pimping, in the broadest sense, is the act of selling a sacred act for monetary gain - and writing is a sacred act. As Jesse points out, being a writer is a calling and not a career. if you cheapen the currency of the written word you damage the entire spiritual economy of our society.

2. It's betrayal: The memoir, in particular, is a bond of trust between writer and reader. The reader brings an open-hearted compassion toward the author, who in turn promises honesty. To write a memoir on a false premise is a betrayal of that bond.

3. It's fraud: We're not talking about minor changes, like, oh ... Augusten Burroughs saying he ran with scissors after dinner when he really did it before lunch. This book was a deception about the author's entire being. That's not of the same magnitude as re-ordering the sequence of events, or inventing dialog. It's a wholesale falsification of who the author is and what his story means. (The Times, among others, missed this point and lumped Frey's fraud in with other criticisms of the memoir form.)

4. It's harmful: We are not talking about harmless deceptions, but harmful ones. People have no doubt been hurt by Frey's con game, and continue to be - thanks to Frey's publishers and Oprah. I've had some experience in the recovery area, as I alluded to earlier, and I know first-hand the damage this kind of deceit can cause.

5. It's a symptom: Frey, his publisher, and Oprah are more interested in appearance than reality, and are more focused on results (e.g. book sales) than on maintaining integrity of process. That reflects one of our major undiagnosed national diseases - the willingness to trade reality for myth for purposes of expediency. Government lying, mainstream media deceptions, false advertising - we know the symptoms, but have failed to name and combat the underlying cause.

6. Truth must be the goal of both writer and reader: Doing violence to the truth is now a way of life in American letters - whether you're the New York Times minimizing the Judith Miller con game, the Washington Post ombudsman repeating falsehoods,the Regnery Press publishing Swift Boat lies, or James Frey and his backers. Until truth becomes the number one objective of both writer and reader, this trend will continue.

7. It's about the soul: The battle for truth is the struggle for the soul of the nation. The more we tolerate deception in any public matter, great or small, the more we harm our national psyche.

Frey is a symptom of an underlying sickness - the slow disintegration of truth as a core American value. I hope that publisher Nan Talese, Oprah Winfrey, and the rest of them realize that before it's too late and do the right thing.

"Hold on" to that!