"We asked if you, your company, stood behind James's book as a work of nonfiction at the time, and they said absolutely," Ms. Winfrey said. "And they were also asked if their legal department had checked out the book, and they said yes. So in a press release sent out for the book in 2004 by your company, the book was described as brutally honest and an altering look at — at addiction. So how can you say that if you haven't checked it to be sure?"
Ms. Talese replied that while the Random House legal department checks nonfiction books to make sure that no one is defamed or libeled, it does not check the truth of the assertions made in a book.
Ms. Winfrey replied, "Well, that needs to change."
And so it will.
One former publisher said he believed that the publishing industry would have to change its practices at the behest of its biggest patron, Ms. Winfrey. Laurence J. Kirshbaum, who recently retired as the chief executive of the Time Warner Book Group and who now runs his own literary agency, said in an interview yesterday that "there is no question what she said will have a far-reaching impact on our business."
"Agents, publishers and authors are all going to have to be much more cautious in the way they approach the nonfiction market," Mr. Kirshbaum said. "Traditionally, publishers have not done fact-checking and vetting. But I think you are going to see memoirs read not only from a libel point of view but for factual accuracy. And where there are questions of possible exaggeration or distortion, the author is going to need to produce documentation."