Joining the chorus of a million big skeptics, Oprah Winfrey has withdrawn her support for embattled memoirist James Frey.
Winfrey confronted the A Million Little Pieces author during a live taping of her show on Thursday, stating that she was "really embarrassed" by her initial decision to stand up for him in the face of allegations that he fabricated large chunks of his book.
"It is difficult for me to talk to you because I feel duped. I really feel duped," Winfrey said to Frey.
The Queen of Daytime catapulted A Million Little Pieces to best-seller status after she selected the so-called memoir for her book club.
Thanks in large part to Winfrey's endorsement, Frey's supposedly true tale of his struggles with addiction and stint in rehab sold 1.77 million copies last year, making it the number-two-selling book of the year behind Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
However, after an in-depth investigation by the Smoking Gun Website called major events and details of the book into question, Frey's claims of everything from the amount of time he spent behind bars to undergoing dental surgery without the benefit of Novocain were discounted.
After finding himself at the center of a media firestorm, Frey began admitting in interviews that he had embellished elements of his tale for dramatic effect, but clung to his mantra that the book represented "the essential truth of my life."
But the staggering discrepancies between the events depicted in Frey's Pieces and the Smoking Gun's report seemed to suggest that the writer was guilty of more than mere embellishment.
As the accusations against him continued to build, Frey appeared on Larry King Live earlier this month in an effort to defend himself and his book. During the interview, King took an on-air phone call from Winfrey, who had not yet spoken publicly about the controversy.
Taking a stance that likely relieved the embattled author, Winfrey dismissed the Smoking Gun's findings as "irrelevant," and called the resulting backlash against Frey "much ado about nothing."
"What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil, from the time he was 10 years old, drinking and--and tormenting himself and his parents," Winfrey said at the time.
"And out of that, stepped out of that history to be the man that he is today, and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves. That's what's important about this book and his story."
On Thursday, Winfrey had changed her tune, telling Frey she felt he "betrayed millions of readers" with his lies and that she regretted calling into King's show to express her support, especially after receiving harsh criticism from viewers disenchanted by her dismissive attitude toward Frey's fabrications.
"I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter," Winfrey said. "And I am deeply sorry. Because that is not what I believe."
In the face of Winfrey's angry interrogation, Frey admitted that the Smoking Gun's version of events "was pretty accurate," and even said the site "did a good job" in exposing his lies.
He confessed that he did not spend 87 days behind jail as he claimed in the book, but only a few hours as the Smoking Gun had suggested, and he admitted that he did not remember whether he had actually undergone two root canals without pain medication as he described in a searing scene.
The audience in Winfrey's Chicago studio gasped, groaned and even booed Frey as he stuttered through admissions about facts and characters he had "altered" in order to make his story a better read.
Winfrey also took Frey's publisher, Nan Talese of Doubleday, to task over failing to red-flag the book as less than truthful. She said that her staff had contacted Doubleday after being alerted to possible discrepancies, but were reassured by the publisher that the book lived up to its claims.
"I'm trusting you, the publisher, to categorize this book whether as fiction or autobiographical or memoir," Winfrey scolded Talese, who admitted the book had not been fact-checked.
Doubleday, which initially backed Frey, said in a statement Thursday that it had "sadly come to the realization that a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished."
Talese stated that a publisher's note was being prepared to send to booksellers to insert into copies and that any future printings would be delayed until the note could be included. She tried to soothe Winfrey, claiming that the revelations about Pieces, were "very sad" for all those involved.
"It's not sad for me, it's embarassing and disappointing for me," Winfrey snapped back.
Despite admitting to penning numerous lies in his account, Frey still refused to reclassify his work as fiction.
"I don't think it is a novel," he said Thursday. "I still think it's a memoir."
Winfrey disagreed. "It needs to say 'based on a true story,' " she said, as her audience applauded.
Truthful or not, there's no doubt that people are still eagerly devouring Frey's writing.
As of Thursday evening, Pieces remained in the top five on Amazon.com, while Frey's follow-up work, My Friend Leonard, was in the top 20.