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A true story that Oprah won't touch


Though I long ago jettisoned the notion of hearing from Oprah, Eddie Anthony continues to wait for the big call from Chicago.

Unlike me, he's a dreamer and holds out hope that Ms. Winfrey will recognize the power and redemptive quality of his incredible story and broadcast it to all America - or at least the portion that's glued to each episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

The subject of "Sentenced to Science: One Black Man's Story of Imprisonment in America," Anthony can probably be forgiven for believing his story of enduring an array of Cold War medical experiments while incarcerated in the Philadelphia prison system is the equal of anything that appears on Oprah's show.

What he's now finding increasingly frustrating is Oprah's penchant for selecting extraordinary tales of survival that are, well, let's just say "highly embellished."

Just a few weeks ago, Oprah apologized to her viewers, saying she was "very disappointed" that a book she'd featured about friendship in a Nazi concentration camp turned out to be, more or less, a collection of "lies."

This is at least the second time Oprah and her staff have been taken by authors under the impression their stories needed an extra shot of drama to heighten their appeal and marketability.

A while back, Oprah embraced the tale of a young man confronting addiction and incarceration. It turned out that James Frey's memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," contained substantial fabrications leading to protracted embarrassment for the book's author, agent, publisher and, of course, Oprah.

Her most recent bout with untruths was Herman Rosenblat's remarkable wartime love story of how he first met his wife when they were children on opposite sides of a barbed-wire fence during the Holocaust.

Though he'd been an actual concentration-camp prisoner, Rosenblat obviously felt such stories were a dime a dozen, and an appearance on Oprah's show required something truly exceptional. Hence, the heart-rending but totally manufactured scene of a little girl throwing apples over a death-camp fence to a little boy who'd turn out to be her future husband.

As Oprah regrettably admitted, the lies only seem to get "bigger and bigger and bigger."

Anthony rankles at such historical baggage, especially when his own story is so unbelievable - yet true all the same. He'd like Oprah and her producers to know, if you want the real deal, give him a call.

Anthony has the requisite scars, bad memories and court documentation to certify his chilling story. He'd also be glad to share his experience as a human guinea pig while imprisoned in Philly's Holmesburg Prison, as he regularly does at college campuses around the country.

This is no ordinary feat, especially for a one-time functional illiterate who spent more time on a cellblock and as a drug addict than anyone the average American is likely to meet on the street - or on his favorite crime show.

No longer dependent on drugs or petty crime, Anthony is now a captivating campus speaker.

Next month, for example, when he appears at Jefferson Medical College and Brown University, he'll present an eye-opening account of what it was like to be an incarcerated test subject in the '60s for everything from diet studies to chemical-warfare agents. As usual, he'll challenge students to confront the question of how the nation that tried the Nazi doctors could've had such a cavalier attitude about using its own institutionalized citizens for experimentation.

I've told Ed on numerous occasions, don't sit by the phone. Oprah isn't going to call.

Sure he has the requisite criteria - a dramatic story with years behind bars, many more as a drug user, and the redemptive aspect of being a highly compelling college presenter - but Oprah and her people are examining other books now.

And it would also seem Anthony's story is missing one essential ingredient, a healthy dose of mendacity.

Allen M. Hornblum, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, is the author of "Acres of Skin" and "Sentenced to Science."

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