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ENTERTAINMENT

Oprah to author: 'You conned us all'

Talk show host challenges 'Million Little Pieces' writer

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At one point, Oprah Winfrey asked James Frey: "Why would you lie?"

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Oprah Winfrey
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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Author James Frey on Thursday admitted he lied and embellished events about himself and other characters in his best-selling book about substance abuse and recovery.

"I made a mistake," he told Oprah Winfrey during Thursday's show. "I made a lot of mistakes in writing the book and promoting the book."

Pressed if he lied or made a mistake, Frey acknowledged more.

"I think probably both," he said.

Winfrey, whose endorsement of "A Million Little Pieces" turned it into one of the top-selling books of 2005, retracted her support of the author, saying she felt "conned" by him. "It's embarrassing and disappointing for me," she said.( Watch what makes Oprah's 'sorry' a good one -- 2:36)

And even while Frey admitted altering information that he presented as facts, he maintained his book is a memoir.

"I don't think it's a novel. I still think it's a memoir," he said. "I don't feel like I conned you. I still think the book is about drug addiction and alcoholism and no one is disputing that I was a drug addict and an alcoholic, and it's about the battle to overcome that."

Among the facts he admitted to embellishing: he was jailed for only a few hours, not 87 days; and each character in the book wasn't wholly represented.

"Every one of the people in the book existed. I altered things about all of them," he said.

"And you altered things about yourself," Winfrey said.

She pressed: "Why would you lie about the time you spent in jail?"

"I think part of what happened with a number of the things in the book, is when you go through an experience like the one I went through you develop different coping mechanisms. I think one of the coping mechanisms I developed was this image of myself that was greater than what I was," he said.

"In order to get through the experience of an addiction, I thought of myself as being tougher than I was, badder than I was. It helped me cope. When I was writing the book, instead of being as introspective as I should have been, I clung to that image."

Winfrey said: "Did you cling to that image because that's how you wanted to see yourself or because that would make a better book?"

"Probably both," he responded.

Winfrey made the paperback version of the book a best-seller after picking it for her coveted book club last September. Frey was a guest on her October 26 show, titled "The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake at Night."

However, according to the investigative Web site The Smoking Gun (www.thesmokinggun.com), a six-week investigation showed Frey's life was far less exciting than he made it out to be in the memoir, which has sold more than 3.5 million copies and remains atop The New York Times' nonfiction paperback best-seller list.

According to the Web site's account, "When we asked Frey if his reporting of the laundry list of juvenile crimes and arrests was accurate, he answered, 'Yeah, some of 'em are, some of 'em aren't. I mean I just sorta tried to play off memory for that stuff.' "

On Thursday's show, Frey acknowledged the Web site's story "was pretty accurate, absolutely."

"They did a good job detailing some of the discrepancies between some of the actual facts of the events," he said.

Winfrey also apologized to viewers for calling CNN's Larry King two weeks ago and lending her support to Frey.

"I regret that phone call," she said. "I made a mistake. I left the impression that the truth does not matter, and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe.

"I called in because I loved the message of his book. At the time, every day, I was reading e-mail after e-mail from people who were inspired by his story. And I have to say I allowed that to cloud my judgment. To everyone who has challenged my position, you are absolutely right."

Nan Talese of Doubleday, the book's publisher, said she learned of the fabrications at the same time everyone else did -- when The Smoking Gun published its report.

"I was dismayed to know that," she said, adding that she never approached the author on whether The Smoking Gun's report was true.

"As an editor, do you ask someone, 'Are you really as bad as you are?' " Talese said.

"Yes, yes, yes! Yes, you do," Winfrey said to loud applause.

Talese said Frey has written an author's note, describing to the reader "parts of the book that have been changed."

As for Frey, he's hoping to learn from the whole ordeal.

"I feel like I came here and (have) been honest with you, and essentially admitted to lying. It's not an easy thing to do in front of an audience full of people and a lot of others watching on TV," he told Winfrey.

"If I come out of this with anything, it's being a better person and learning from my mistakes and making sure I don't repeat them."

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