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Oprah club bestseller's accuracy questioned

'Fabricated' details fill memoir, says website

The Smoking Gun, a website famous for posting mug shots and embarrassing documents about the rich and infamous, is alleging that James Frey's best-selling memoir ''A Million Little Pieces" contains numerous ''wholly fabricated or wildly embellished" details.

Frey's book, which vividly describes his years of substance abuse and criminality, has sold at least 3.5 million copies since it was published in 2003, and was the best-selling nonfiction title of 2005. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks publishing sales, ''A Million Little Pieces" sold 1.77 million copies last year, second only to ''Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Fueling those sales was Oprah Winfrey, who named it the October selection for her Book Club. A sequel to ''A Million Little Pieces," ''My Friend Leonard," was published in June and also became a bestseller.

''This is the latest investigation into my past, and the latest attempt to discredit me," Frey, 36, wrote in a posting Saturday evening on his website, www.bigjimindustries.com. The posting was made in anticipation of the Smoking Gun article. ''So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life," he wrote.

Sloane Crosley, a spokeswoman for Doubleday and Anchor Books, the hardcover and paperback publishers of ''A Million Little Pieces," said in a statement yesterday, ''We stand in support of our author, James Frey, and his book, which has touched the lives of millions." When the Associated Press contacted a Frey spokeswoman, Jennifer Hayman, yesterday she cited that statement.

The 9,500-word Smoking Gun article, posted Sunday after what it calls ''a six-week investigation," alleges that Frey exaggerates and embellishes many details of his drug abuse and legal troubles. His book, for example, tells of a 1992 incident in Ohio during which he claims to have assaulted a policeman and have been charged with multiple offenses, including cocaine possession, that resulted in a 90-day jail term. But the Smoking Gun piece, citing police documents and interviews in Licking County, Ohio, claims that Frey was not charged with assaulting a policeman, that there were no drugs, and that Frey was released after paying a $733 cash bond.

The article alleges that Frey fabricated his involvement in a 1986 car-train crash in Michigan in which two teenage girls were killed. In the book, Frey says he went to a movie with one of the girls the night of the crash, suggesting that she was his girlfriend, and that he was interviewed by investigators afterward. According to officials and the parents of one of the girls, he was not at a movie with her and not interviewed by investigators, The Smoking Gun says. The girl's father is quoted as saying, ''I have never met Mr. Frey."

The Smoking Gun says it interviewed Frey three times. It quotes him as admitting during one interview that he did embellish a number of details in the book for ''obvious dramatic reasons."

On Friday, Frey's attorney, Martin D. Singer, e-mailed a five-page letter to The Smoking Gun that threatened legal action if the website published the story. Singer, whose Los Angeles law practice counts Jennifer Aniston and Britney Spears among its clients, was taking a deposition yesterday and was unavailable for comment, his secretary said.

William Bastone, editor of The Smoking Gun, said in a telephone interview yesterday that its investigation began with an e-mail suggesting the site post one of Frey's mug shots. ''That's not a bad idea," Bastone recalled thinking. ''Had we found it quickly, we'd just have put it on the site, and that would have been it."

What he and his colleagues found, Bastone said, was a series of discrepancies. ''The contemporary reports for the incidents in the book really didn't track with the often-melodramatic telling."

It's unclear what effect the allegations will have on readers. The Oprah's Book Club edition of ''A Million Little Pieces" was the best-selling book on Amazon.com yesterday.

Kristin McDowell, who works in the programming department of ESPN, said she read ''A Million Little Pieces" and considered it ''an amazing book, one of the best I've read in a long time." McDowell said she read the Smoking Gun article. ''It's kind of disappointing to hear, but they don't really change my opinion of the book," she said of the allegations. ''I figured a little of [the book] was embellished anyway, so I'm not going to take back all the positive things I've felt about it."

Frey, who has written the screenplay for a movie version of ''A Million Little Pieces," tentatively scheduled for release later this year, told Publishers Weekly in October that his next book will be a novel. ''I'm looking forward to showing people that I can write fiction, that I'm not just a guy who can write about himself."

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