“A Million Little Pieces” breaks into a million little pieces. The Oprah Winfrey-endorsed memoir by James Frey about addiction, recovery, violence, regret the first nonfiction book she ever picked may have a lot of fiction in it.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST 'COUNTDOWN': Let‘s call in the editor of thesmokinggun.com, featured prominently in Bob Faw‘s report, William Bastone. Thanks for your time tonight, sir?
WILLIAM BASTONE, EDITOR, THE SMOKING GUN: You are welcome, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It‘s rare that somebody would lie about a criminal record to make it worse. But what did you find here, or, more correctly, what did you not find here?
BASTONE: Well, I mean, the book, one of the incantations that he repeats in the book is that he was alcoholic, a drug addict and a criminal. And the criminal part of his past plays a very important role in the book.
And we decided to take a look at, you know, whether that actually happened and what he did was he blew out of proportion small incidents, especially the kind of single most important arrest described in the book into kind of full-blown fights with police, possession of crack, hitting a cop with a car.
When, in fact, it ended up being about the most vanilla, sort of minor misdemeanor drunk driving thing you could ever come across. And the importance of it is that it serves as kind of almost like a maypole around which a lot of other threads in the book revolve. The fear that he is going to go to prison for three years. These tense confrontations with his parents at a drug rehab center and finally the amazing outcome that he basically attributes to kind of almost a fix that is done on the case.
So it‘s kind of like, I think he needed to burnish what was kind of a run of the mill college boy‘s wrap sheet into this thing where he is bad. I‘m a bad guy. I was a bad guy. I was capital C criminal.
OLBERMANN: A couple of particulars here. How long was he in rehab as opposed to what it says in the book?
BASTONE: We didn‘t look at the rehab stuff. The prison time is what we looked at.
OLBERMANN: Right, the prison time.
BASTONE: He said he initially was looking at three years in an Ohio state facility and then magically the case somehow fell apart against him. But he did three months. We went to the sheriff. The sheriff checked the records. He never was in the facility. Basically it came down—and we confronted him.
He admitted he was in jail for a lot less time than three months and we said well, was it more like one or two days? He said yes, it was something along the lines of that. In reality, we think it was no more than five hours that he would have been in custody in a small Ohio police headquarters that didn‘t even have a secured holding facility, so he was like in a room until someone posted his bail.
OLBERMANN: And this moving story of the death of a girlfriend. I know it‘s a very intricate thing but that doesn‘t hold up to inspection, either?
BASTONE: No. He tells this very detailed story of the death of someone who he portrays as almost kind of his high school sweetheart who gets hit by a train at some point and he creates an entire alternate reality with what happened.
Actually what happened, placing himself in the midst of it. Not that he was driving the car or anything but that he helped facilitate this girl‘s—basically getting hit by the train and how the town turns on him after the fact and he becomes the bad guy, not the guy who drove the car and tried to get past the train. But he was the bad guy. Little Jimmy Frey took a licking for that.
OLBERMANN: Is this a scam? Or is this a man who is exaggerating to sell a book or are those actually one in the same thing?
BASTONE: I would say it‘s a twofer there. I think that he has admitted, you know, when the book came out he told The New York Observer that, you know, he pitched the book to 17 publishers who said no. He pitched it as a fictional work and then Doubleday said yes, but they wouldn‘t publish it as fiction. It came out as fiction.
The fact is, if you read these kind of melodramatic pulp fiction kind of tales from a guy who just made it up, the book—a, you are not going to get it published, and, b, if you get it published, if you sold one percent.
The importance as Oprah said was she kept looking at the back cover of the book because she wanted to make sure that the guy was still alive. And I guess looking at that author‘s photograph confirmed to her that, you know, this happened to someone. All these terrible things happened to James Frey and he made it through. You know it‘s like a redemption tale and that‘s why people have flocked to the book with her seal of approval.
OLBERMANN: Or, as they say, he dreamt it. William Bastone, the editor of The Smoking Gun. Good investigative work here. Thanks for your time.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.