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It's All About The Oprah

(AP Photo/Harpo Productions)
It should be noted early on that this is not a post that will examine the work of James Frey, the meaning of the word "memoir," or the debate over the obligations of the publishing industry to fact-check authors of non-fiction. Nor will I construct a pun using the phrase "A Million Little Pieces." Promise. I am, however, going to discuss the O.

Many before me have waxed philosophical on the power of Oprah. PE reader sylny posted a comment on our site last week that began with the statement, "Oprah is the Walter Cronkite of our time." A few months ago, Newsday's James Pinkerton wondered if future generations might "conclude that Oprah made more of a contribution" than Edward R. Murrow. One man, however, was still somewhat surprised by the full effect of Oprah after experiencing it firsthand.

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote what ended up being the seminal treatise on the James Frey-Oprah Winfrey debacle. His op-ed (as in Oprah Editorial) "Oprah's Grand Delusion," is credited with playing a role in Oprah's decision to renege on her previous support for James Frey. In that piece, Cohen readily acknowledged the power of Oprah: "Oprah is huge, powerful, akin to no one and nothing else," he wrote. But he didn't fully comprehend the extent of Oprah's influence until he became a sought-after guest for many a media outlet - not following publication of his article itself - but following his appearance on Oprah's show during which she publicly chastised Frey for a full hour. (It was, I'll admit, fascinating television.) In today's edition of the Post, Cohen writes of his experience in the wake of Oprah. In addition to fielding media requests from "Access Hollywood" and "US Weekly," Cohen was being "called by everyone":

Could I go on Larry King, Tucker Carlson, Anderson Cooper? Cooper himself got on the phone. "I love your work," I told him, as if he cared. What he really cared about was getting me on the show. Sorry.

CBS's "The Early Show" called. "Today" called also, but too late. I had already agreed to CBS. National Public Radio wanted me and, of course, I did it because NPR is a civic obligation. My colleague Howard Kurtz wanted me to do his Sunday show on CNN, and Wolf Blitzer wanted me in the "Situation Room" that very night. But I could not do Larry King and Anderson Cooper and Tucker Carlson and Wolf Blitzer in the same evening. I turned them all down.

Cohen, somewhat self-deprecatingly, admits his disappointment that as an experienced writer, it was an appearance on Oprah that garnered his biggest audience. Indeed, he is identified primarily as the guy who wrote the piece that swayed Oprah. An example from the "Early Show":
RENE SYLER: So I watched "Oprah" yesterday. I thought it was incredibly big of her to come out and say at the top of the show that she was wrong. And I, like so many of the readers that she talked about, I read the book and I did feel duped...lied to.

HANNAH STORM, co-host: It couldn't have been easy for her to apologize for sticking up for that author on "Larry King Live"...

SYLER: Yeah.

JULIE CHEN, co-host: She talks about that.

STORM: ...I mean, that had to be a very difficult thing to do.

CHEN: And another person who was on yesterday's program was from The Washington Post...

STORM: Mm-hmm.

CHEN: ...Richard Cohen, who wrote the op-ed page piece...

CHEN: ...that really turned Oprah around.

Perhaps when he retires, Richard Cohen will be remembered for his body of work at the Washington Post. But it's telling that, at the moment, most Ameicans think of him as that dude who changed the mind of the mighty Oprah.