Like a lot of writers, editors, agents, and others in the publishing industry, I've heard about the revelations regarding James Frey's book, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, and how elements of it were, apparently, extremely embellished. I just responded to a post on this on a message board, and decided to address it in my blog, too.
Part of a memoir's power is that it's supposed to be based on facts. That's one reason people pick up a memoir instead of a novel. Granted, a person's memory is not a perfect recording device. Things are forgotten, and other things that seem trivial, loom large. However, in Frey's case, I think it's the extent of the apparent embellishment that's upset people. I don't think it's surprising that some people feel that they've "been had," or that he "cheated." They thought they were getting mostly truth, and now they've found out they're getting partly truth, with a lot of exaggeration and embellishment.
To use as a comparison: I would have a lot more "author credibility" (and probably more respect from the media and the public in general) as a writer of medieval romances if I claimed to have a PhD in medieval history. I might have gotten bigger advances, or been snapped up more quickly by a publisher. After all, I do have a university degree, so I'd just be "embellishing" a little. And really, who would check? Nor would that claim have changed my writing. But I didn't do it because it would be a big fat lie.
That said, I also think a part of the controversy stems from a lingering bitterness among the publishing world that Oprah, or any one person, has the ability to "annoint" a book and launch it onto the bestseller list. To which I want to say, "Get over it." One of my books will never be an Oprah pick. Nor do I enjoy the sorts of books she picks. But if she gets more people reading anything, more power to her. And I certainly don't think it was her job, or anybody else in her production company's job, to check the veracity of the details in Frey's book. It was published as a memoir. It was not her responsibility to question that.
Jame Frey decided or agreed to call his book a memoir. The buck for whatever controversy comes his way stops with him, the same way he garnered all the praise and profit.