AS THE JAMES FREY FIASCO fades, finally, from the national gaze, there remains a last, lingering damage assessment to be done. Not for Mr. Frey, who is, after all, still a bestselling author despite getting caught making up parts of "A Million Little Pieces," but for the one who helped propel him to fame: Oprah Winfrey.
By more than a 2-to-1 margin, AdAge.com voters said they believed that her brand survived undiminished. "Oprah's brand was not damaged, due to her integrity-her willingness to admit that she made a mistake," said Michael Angelovich, senior VP-global planning director, Publicis New York. "We all make mistakes; it is how we handle them that affects us the most and impacts how others feel about us."
Kerry Hansen, exec VP at Wynonna in Nashville, Tenn., said that "even Oprah" is susceptible to the occasional scam. "One of the amazing things about her is that she has so much interest and faith in the human journey," Ms. Hansen said. "One can certainly understand why she would have wholeheartedly supported James Frey in what seemed to be a remarkable story of pain and triumph. In my opinion, it's how she handled the situation once she discovered the lies-with class, honesty, dignity and honor."
Both Oprah and Mr. Frey may have actually come out ahead, said Katie Bernasek, marketing manager at Pacific Construction Services in Chicago. "It was a humanizing exchange," she said. "It just shows that she is a genuine person who believes people when they say they are telling the truth. Frey is the one who should be ashamed of himself. It's sad to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if this incident contributes to higher book sales."
The dissenters didn't let Oprah off the hook so easily, arguing that she revealed a lack of rigor by recommending "A Million Little Pieces" for her book club in the first place. But some respondents essentially chose a third path, asking, "Why are we still talking about this?"
"It seems to be a lot of turmoil over something really small," said Kathy Dow, digital photography communications manager at Hewlett-Packard Co. "Remember this when you read memoirs. In his book, `Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir," William Zinsser says memoirists impose `narrative order on a jumble of half-remembered events. With that feat of manipulation, they arrive at a truth that is theirs alone."'
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71% of AdAge.com voters said they don?t think Oprah Winfrey?s brand was damaged by the James Frey flap, arguing that she rose above it--and maybe even added yet more polish to her halo--by berating Mr. Frey and his publisher for a full hour on her show. But 29% said the incident and her initial defense of Mr. Frey have hurt her reputation.
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