BOTTOM LINE: SHE FELT BETRAYED
The date was January 26, 2006. That's when Oprah Winfrey confronted author James Frey before a live audience about numerous inaccuracies -- lies really -- in his supposedly nonfiction memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Like other writers whose books had been selected for the Oprah Book Club, James Frey had become an overnight success. Oprah herself praised the book as a "raw," "gut-wrenching" memoir that she could not put down. With an endorsement like that, readers lined up by the thousands to have their guts wrenched too. The book sold 1.77 million copies after Oprah's endorsement, more than any other title in the United States and remained on the New York Times paperback bestseller list for 15 weeks. People wanted to believe that Frey had spent 87 days in jail instead of just a few hours. They wanted to think about what it must have been like to have root canals performed without anesthesia. That he had played a role in events surrounding a train wreck that took the lives of two teenage girls. How disappointed these readers were when The Smoking Gun web site checked the facts and revealed these things did not happen.
In the end, Frey lost his agent, and his publisher had to cough up money in a class-action lawsuit brought by readers who felt defrauded by the book. Future editions of the "memoir" were forced to include a disclaimer that parts of the book had been fabricated.
But perhaps no one had more to lose in the "scandal" than Oprah, whose reputation was at stake. In fact, the sub-headline on The Smoking Gun article read, "Oprah Winfrey Has Been Had." An endorser who backs a faulty product can no longer be trusted to endorse. As she admits in the following video clip, she ignored her advisers and told Frey exactly how she felt. Although she and Frey eventually "made up" during a subsequent interview, it was that first confrontation that took the 18th spot in TV Guide's Top 25 TV Moments.
ANGELA DAVIS & ANITA BAKER
Our thoughts turn to the philosopher and the songstress on this day because each celebrates a birthday on January 26. Dr. Angela Davis, who was born in 1944, is an iconic figure in American history. Although she was eventually acquitted of conspiracy-to-commit-murder charges brought against her after a deadly shooting at the Marin County Courthouse in 1970, her freedom came only after being named to the FBI's Most Wanted List, subjected to a nationwide "manhunt," and routinely referred to in daily newspaper reports as "Black Militant Angela Davis." A severely unflattering photograph that showed her tugging awkwardly on her necklace often ran alongside the newspaper stories, which seemed to have convicted her in the public mind many months before her case ever went to trial.
Her life is the subject of a documentary film, an autobiography, and numerous other accounts. Because she is a self-avowed Communist, a case can be made that she was persecuted for her political beliefs. There is a wealth of information about her both online and in public libraries. However, the commencement address she gave at Pitzer College in 2012 (and the introduction leading up to it) will provide some insight into who she is, what happened to her, and why she remains a significant figure to this day.
This "songstress" arrived on the planet on January 26, 1958, and has been performing since the 1970's. Her contributions to music as both singer and songwriter have won her eight Grammy Awards. Four of her albums went platinum and a fifth went gold. Of her many hits, the one below seemed most appropriate for a post that includes such titanic figures as Angela Davis and Oprah Winfrey. "Giving You the Best That I Got" is a romantic love song. But when listened to in a historical context, it might very well serve as a kind of anthem for the African-American woman as a class. Consider everything she has endured since those first slave-ships brought her to this continent. Look at what she has achieved in the face of continued suffering, and you find a fitting lyric in Anita Baker's beautifully passionate song. It's not just a love song meant for a romantic partner, it's a love song to life itself.
Why Oprah's Anger Made TV Guide's Top 25 Moments & Two Good Reasons to Remember Angela Davis & Anita Baker
I'm a storyteller whose background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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