A million little lies create a pitiful portrait

January 31, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Jeepers, Oprah, I didn't think you had it in you. Good girl.

After making a Neddie Nobody into a best-selling author last year and then learning that he'd made up significant chunks of what was supposed to be his nonfiction memoirs, it appeared for a while that Oprah Winfrey would blow it off as no big deal.

Then last week, Oprah got the book-writing chump back on her afternoon talk show and, to the surprise of many, reversed her position and gave the guy a public disemboweling.

"I feel duped; But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers," she said.

Let us see, what is a dignified and erudite wordsmith and connoisseur of the literary arts such as myself supposed to say to a talk show maven is a situation such as this? Ah, yes: "Whoof, whoof, whoof."


For his part, James Frey, the author of "A Million Little Pieces," acknowledged he "made a mistake." Like who does he think he is, Ronald Reagan? Mistakes were made. About a million of them. Little ones, though.

But major props to Oprah for taking a stand for the truth.

Look, no one tells the truth anymore, and worse, no one cares. Or they might care, but they're not surprised. WMD is now part of the lexicon, a virtual synonym for "lie." When a big company reports to Wall Street that it's had a wonderful quarter of luscious profits, no one gets too excited because too many companies have cooked their books. Rafael Clinton did not take steroids with that woman. Ever.

We can't handle the truth? It's hard to tell, because it's been so long since we heard it.

A miraculous new diet? Won't work. Kidnapped woman? She'll probably show up in some Vegas strip club. Spectacular newspaper story in a major publication? Interesting, but wouldn't be shocked if it turned out not to be true. Human finger in the chili? Um hm.

If they tell you they don't have any money, it means they do. If they tell you they do have money, it means they don't. It's a spam world we're living in, we just filter that junk out. We don't necessarily not believe something when we hear it, but we don't buy in at 100 percent either.

It's because people lie, even when it doesn't make sense to lie. In his book, for example, Frey lied about his life. But he didn't lie to make himself look better, he lied to make himself look worse. Go figure that. According to "The Smoking Gun" Web site, he painted himself as a homicidal, crack-fueled, brawling, psychopathic, jail-dwelling, alcoholic, drug-addicted freak.

In fact, outside of a couple of unremarkable brushes with the law, the investigation showed him to be just kind of a normal guy with a normal (nonbest-selling-worthy) life.

Then when The Smoking Gun was about to go public with the revelation, Frey's attorneys threatened to sue. Imagine that. Someone accuses you of being a real pussycat and you threaten to take legal action.

I'm pretty far out there, and this sounds strange even to me. In my own memoir, "Home Detention," I lied plenty of times. But it was always to make myself appear to be LESS of a jerk. Never once did it cross my mind to subtract from my overall merits. I'm not saying I wouldn't have done it, it's just at the time I didn't realize it would sell.

The only parallel to this that I can think of dates back to my high school years when it was not necessarily cool to be accomplished. Every boy wanted to be a motorcycle-hood-junkie, and of course as we all know there are very few motorcycle-hood-junkies who make the honor roll.

I distinctly remember my friends Bryan and Charles getting 99s in Mrs. Effland's high school English test and hiding the incriminating papers all the way back to their desks. In high school hierarchy, nothing got you slaughtered faster than being smart.

Fortunately, this was not my problem, since on the same test I got a 71.

Ah, but wait! I am lying! Lying to make myself look worse, just for the sake of a joke. So you see how insidious this is?

I actually got a 76.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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