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Best-selling author may have conned Oprah

Best-selling author James Frey is under scrutiny for perhaps fabricating his criminal past in the memoir "A Million Little Pieces." NBC's Bob Faw reports.

In his two-fisted, macho memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," author James Frey says he wasn't just an "... alcoholic ... drug addict ... and criminal," but also a notorious outlaw.

"I didn't invent anything," Frey said on the "Today" show in May 2003. "Everything I wrote about happened."

Only, the Web site The Smoking Gun says it painstakingly checked police and court records and found Frey wildly embellished — even fabricated — much of his purported criminal past, suggesting the self-styled renegade is a con man.

"If you can't believe this stuff for which there is a paper trail attached to it," says The Smoking Gun's William Bastone, "Why should you believe anything else where it falls on his word?"

Frey says he's sticking by his story. But Tuesday he refused to say anything about it; nor would his biggest benefactor, Oprah Winfrey, who once said, "I've never read a book like this" and gushed that his raw, unvarnished account made her weep.

Frey is hardly the first public figure to massage the truth:

  • President Bill Clinton is known for insisting, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
  • Disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff once described himself as "a Talmudic scholar."
  • New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he'd been drafted by a pro baseball team.
  • Actor Brian Dennehy said he'd served in Vietnam.  

Each, falsely, was trying to burnish his credentials.

Or as Frey says, "People tend to romanticize it and glamorize it and make it seem exciting and cool."

It can bring fame, even riches; but how to measure the cost when a Jayson Blair is exposed at The New York Times, when a Doris Kearns Goodwin is found plagiarizing or James Frey is scrutinized?

'It turns out he's a well-to-do frat boy who isn't the kind of desperado that he would like people to think he is," says Bastone.

And that leaves his many readers to decide whether poetic license has left his so-called "fearless candor" in "a million little pieces."