Here's a not-so-hypothetical question: If you had an incredible life story of dizzying drug abuse, self-destruction, near-death experiences, and redemption, why would you feel compelled to embellish it?
Answer: Because your real life story wasn't so cool after all.
We're talking, of course, about overexposed crackhead-turned-Oprah-boy-toy, James Frey, the author of A Million Little Pieces. The (supposed) memoir became one of the most popular books in America after Oprah chose it for her book club, but an investigation by The Smoking Gun website last week revealed that Frey may have made up portions of the book to make himself appear like more of a badass than he is. For instance, he claims he spent three months in jail when Smoking Gun says it was just a night.
Frey, even when he's sober, is given to writing things like, "If anyone were to ever watch me write, they'd probably think I was either an idiot or lunatic or both... Sometimes I cry, sometimes I shake, and sometimes I'm sick." Anyone who claims to cry and shake while word processing should have been fingered as a serial ego-inflator a long, long time ago.
Frey's response to the allegations displayed none of the quick thinking he exhibited when he was waking up on planes, drunk, with mysterious holes in his face (chapter one).
"Let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt," Frey wrote in a message posted on his website. "I stand by my book and my life, and I won't dignify this bullshit."
His bumbling reaction to the controversy raises the question: Didn't he learn anything at all as an alcoholic and drug addict? The next time the media comes calling with a scandal, Frey just needs to say, "I really don't remember, man. I was so wasted."
Hamilton Nolan writes PR Play of the Week. He is a New-York based reporter at PRWeek.
3. On the right track