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Oprah Says Author 'Betrayed Millions'

This photo provided by Harpo Productions shows Oprah Winfrey, right, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006, during her live television interview with James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces," in Chicago.
AP Photo/Harpo Productions
In a stunning switch from dismissive to disgusted, Oprah Winfrey took on one of her chosen authors, James Frey, accusing him on live television of lying about "A Million Little Pieces" and letting down the many fans of his memoir of addiction and recovery.

"I feel duped," she said Thursday on her syndicated talk show. "But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers."

It's the first time Winfrey has admitted making a bad book club selection, CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports.

Frey, 36, who found himself booed in the same Chicago studio where he had been embraced not long ago, acknowledged that he had lied.

A sometimes angry, sometimes tearful Winfrey asked Frey why he "felt the need to lie." The mood on the set was "very intense," Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a guest on the segment, tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. Audience members often groaned and gasped at Frey's halting, stuttered admissions that certain facts and characters had been "altered" but that the essence of his memoir was real.

"I don't think it is a novel," Frey said of his book, which had initially been offered to publishers, and rejected by many, as fiction. "I still think it's a memoir."

"… Here's a guy who tried to peddle a novel and someone came and said, 'Don't make it a novel, make it a memoir.' He took the novel and sold it as a memoir…(His agent) clearly knew what she was dealing with," Cohen, a critic of Frey's book, tells The Early Show.

Thursday's broadcast, rare proof that the fact checking of a book can make for great tabloid TV, marked an abrupt reversal from the cozy chat two weeks ago on "Larry King Live," when Winfrey phoned in to support Frey and label alleged fabrications as "much ado about nothing."

Winfrey was responding to a Jan. 8 report on The Smoking Gun Web site, which revealed "glaring inaccuracies in Frey's memoir, Pinkston reports. The site indicated Frey had embellished, and even invented, some of the material in his memoir.

"I left the impression that the truth does not matter," Winfrey said Thursday of last week's call, saying that "e-mail after e-mail" from supporters of the book had cast a "cloud" over her judgment.

On a segment that also featured the book's publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday, Frey was questioned about various parts of his book, from the three-month jail sentence he now says he never served to undergoing dental surgery without Novocain, a story he no longer clearly recalls.

Winfrey, whose apparent indifference to the memoir's accuracy led to intense criticism, including angry e-mails on her Web site, subjected Frey to a virtual page-by-page interrogation. No longer, as she told King, was she saying that emotional truth mattered more than the facts. "Mr. Bravado Tough Guy," she mockingly called the author whose book she had enshrined last fall and whose reputation she had recently saved.

Talese and Doubleday were not spared. Winfrey noted that her staff had been alerted to possible discrepancies in Frey's book, only to be assured by the publisher. She lectured Talese on her responsibilities: "I'm trusting you, the publisher, to categorize this book whether as fiction or autobiographical or memoir."

Talese, an industry veteran whose many authors have included Ian McEwan, George Plimpton and Thomas Cahill, told Winfrey that editors who saw the book raised no questions and that "A Million Little Pieces" received a legal vetting. She acknowledged that the book had not been fact-checked, something many publishers say they have little time to do.