January 26, 2006

truthiness hits the couch

so you thought that the american dialect society was off in choosing thruthiness as their word of the year? the word would not really catch on? well, along came james frey, "the man who conned oprah".

let's look at some recent headlines:
  • Oprah strikes a blow for truthiness [msnbc.com, 1/26/06]
  • The truthiness hurts [Chicago Tribune, 1/16/06]
  • Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito [The New York Times, 1/22/06]
here's an excerpt from the chicago tribune's article:
Just as a media uproar erupts over fabrications in James Frey's best-selling memoir about his drug habit, along comes a new word that fits the situation perfectly. Truthiness is the invention of Stephen Colbert, host of the nightly Colbert Report (that's Col-bear Re-pore, for the unrefined) on Comedy Central. The show is a dead-on parody of smug and self-absorbed cable news commentators whose opinions aren't always constrained by facts.

Colbert used the word "truthiness" to describe an impression of truth not necessarily constrained by those pesky little facts, which can just get in the way. The more formal definition, provided by the American Dialect Society: "the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts."

That pretty much sums up the controversy over Frey's "A Million Little Pieces." The pesky little facts of his own life have intruded on his truthiness. Badgered by the investigative Web site The Smoking Gun, Frey acknowledged last week that his tale of violence, addiction and recovery is not all fact.

Frey said he made up "a handful" of details. His critics say there's no evidence that he spent three months in jail, registered 0.36 on a blood alcohol test, or was charged with felony DUI after striking a police officer with his car, to name just a few of the very, very many disputed points. All of that is irrelevant, Frey protests, because it is the essence of the story that matters.

In other words, the truthiness.

It's what Frey's publishers, Anchor Books and Doubleday, were talking about when they said they stand behind the book because the embellishments are outweighed by "the power of the overall reading experience." [...] So where's the harm?
in the meantime, oprah winfrey has become less supportive of mr. frey. yesterday, she confronted him and his publisher in her talk show. video dog has clips from the show. it made for a "remarkable moment of television". in an editorial, the new york times writes:
In a remarkable moment of television, Ms. Winfrey did what we have so often waited for public figures to do: she admitted openly that she had made a mistake in supporting Mr. Frey. Then she did her best to force him, and Ms. Talese [the publisher], to admit the extent of his deception and the publisher's failure. [...] Ms. Winfrey gave the audience, including us, what it was hoping for: a demand to hear the truth.
and yet, truthiness is here to stay.

No comments: