The recent tribulations and mea culpa of Oprah Winfrey over her endorsement of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, a book of fabrications sold as a true story of triumph and redemption, brought together for me several strands related to the current state of truth and objectivity in our culture. For example, the movie “Munich”, Steven Spielberg’s account of the events leading up to the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games. I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to, because I am persuaded by a number of in-depth reviews that it is fiction with a political twist masquerading as history. Spielberg could have done better, and has (think of “Schindler’s List”), but he obviously chose to make a political statement involving the moral equivalency of the basis for the Palestinian plot that led the murderers to the heinous deed. No surprise here when one considers that the co-author of the screenplay is Tony Kushner, who has written and is known to believe such mythology as that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were innocent of spying for the Soviets and were “murdered, basically”. He and E. L. Doctorow, the author of The Book of Daniel, supposedly loosely based on the Rosenbergs, have made joint public appearances challenging the Rosenberg guilty verdict as a product of “a Puritan, punitive civil religion” and Cold War paranoia.There are any number of other examples, but my point is that we are constantly presented with works that, when truly exposed, really seem to be designed to offer and impose on us a kind of cultural therapy, as though we need to have our values reworked and our history restated and cleansed of all their prejudices and other baggage of our “oppressive” nature. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as truth in advertising is practiced with all of this historical fiction and public therapy. As suggested by Joseph Rago in a perceptive editorial, “when the aesthetics are pointless bathos and the opinions are the whole point, politics ought to be taken into account”, and I would add that a disclaimer should be clearly in view of the consumer. At some point, however, we need to get to the root of our disconnect from truth in labeling, which will be almost impossible until we engage in some serious repair of the main fount of our postmodern shaping of truth for political purposes—our institutions of higher education, particularly the elite colleges of liberal arts and journalism. As for Oprah’s eventually coming around to her public mea culpa and dressing down of Frey, good for her. We need more of that humility and commitment to truth from those who occupy large public pulpits. I want to believe she reversed herself for the right reasons.
You are here: / / Oprah and the Truth